temenos Spring 2015
Paradigm Shift Confronting
Contradictions in Nature
temenos Spring 2015
© Copyright 2015, temenos All rights revert to the authors and artists. Published by: Temenos Anspach 215 Central Michigan University Mt. Pleasant, MI 48859 temenosjournal.com
Cover art, “Swimming (I am a Trout Dog)” by Egan Franks. Cover designed by Regan Schaeffer. Book designed by Amee Schmidt and typeset by Regan Schaeffer, with temenos and poem title fonts in Rockwell, edition titles in Engravers MT and Papyrus, and text in Adobe Garamond Pro.
Paradigm Shift 1
Temenos Staff Editor-in-Chief Regan Schaeffer Managing Editor Abigail Hollingsworth Fiction Editor Amanda Shepard Poetry Editor Hailee Sattavara Non-Fiction & Publicity Editor Samantha Dine Faculty Advisor Professor Darrin Doyle
Table of Contents Swimming (I am a Trout Dog) / Egan Franks
Freedom Tower NYC / Laura Kiselevach
Little Wing / Merrill Elizabeth Gray
Prayer for Currents / Kimberly Ann
On Quonny Pond / Benjamin Burgholzer
Night Fishing / AKaiser
Fenestration / Christopher Madden
Warm Outside / Paul Anderson
Infrastructure / Nicholas Perry
My Grandfather, The Fascist / Laura Valeri
Seasonal Affective Disorder / Elliott Niblock
Board Games on Driveways / Egan Franks
Cast Iron Reverie / Penny Baert Zywusko
Pain Is Inevitable, Suffering’s Subject Matter / Gerard Sarnat
The End of Being Delicate / Sarah Katz
She’s Not There / Robert Pope
WAITING / Matthew Moffett
To My Twenty-Year-Old Self / Rachel Corso
The Filtered Jungle / Nicholas Perry
The Phone Thieves / Raul Palma
Still Bright / Stephen Jones
Dervish Fisherman / Robert Vivian
Paradigm Shift 3
Freedom Tower NYC
Little Wing Point Pelee is home to three hundred and seventy species of birds I will learn their names Pause my life hover like a shiny black cormorant (double crested) A surveyor of new terrain— You marched on ahead of me studying the facts —focused on your personal geography astounded to be standing at the same latitude as San Francisco I hobbled behind—burning my feet on the sand holding our child my flipflop broken after flailing into Lake Erie to rescue him he waded beyond the hazard sign and almost tumbled off the edge of the earth This is what it felt like. Standing on the rim looking out— I could have lost him I had already lost you
—Merrill Elizabeth Gray
Paradigm Shift 5
Prayer for Currents The River gathers trashâ€”currents sift, push it back to shore. A man wades knee deep. Glass bottles emerge. He pulls them from the surface. He could say River, you are polluted or I have polluted you.
On Quonny Pond I have a friend who told me that the real secret to being a good fisherman is to have unlimited hope, to not just think, but know that every cast can be one that you’ll never forget, that an impossibility can transform into something timeless with a hope that bleeds into forever. One cast can become a picture that hangs on your wall until your death, that your great grandkids find in a box in the attic, wipe off the dust, and ask their grandfather, your son, about. He’ll smile and tell them the story in your own words and ask to take them fishing. We drive down the road along the jetty through the fog and the thick salt air. It’s 2 am in early June when Danny, Larry, and I arrive at the salt pond in Rhode Island, Quonochontaug Pond. The locals just call it Quonny. It translates to the ‘pond of the blackfish’ in native Narragansett, but we’re here for the striped bass that follow the bait into the ponds with the incoming tide. The striped bass migrate from Nova Scotia to the Outer Banks every year, following the bait and the warmer water temperatures into shore and small ponds like the one we are standing in. They were known to Narragansett people as ‘missuchekeke kequock.’ The Narragansett brought dugout canoes to these same ponds and fished for the bass with spears and small nets. Now, the gill nets dragged through the ocean are massive and have no way of differentiating between species of fish caught. The jetty behind us leads to the inlet towards the ocean in one direction and the boat launch in the other. A light fog lies over the pond, the moon is only a sliver, and the stars are few between the clouds. Across the pond stand a row of well-lit mansions and replanted trees. On clear nights when the tide goes slack, it’s hard to tell the water from the sky, the headlamps from the stars. The sunsets and sunrises bleed and swirl from the sky to the water. We park in the dirt lot and get out of the car. The sound and smell of the surf and the incoming tide fills my head. Larry looks around and seems confused. “So, where we going?” “Out there,” I say and point towards the water. “Can you see that buoy way out there?” I shine my headlamp in its direction. A reflector on the buoy gleams faintly back in the distance. “What?” The pitch in his voice is higher now. “How the hell we doing that?” I smile. “It’s a sand bar. The channel runs in the middle and the stripers follow the bait in on the changing tide. The rest is barely up to your waist.” “How deep is the channel?”
Paradigm Shift 7 “Twenty feet or so. Don’t fall off. It comes on fast. Two steps, and you’ll be over your head.” I exaggerate so they’ll be extra cautious. “What?” Larry’s voice is even higher now. “I’ll warn you when you’re close.” “You better. What the fuck.” The last time I was here, before things went from bad to worse, I was strung out on Oxycontin. I remember taking pills with my girlfriend at the time before we went out to fish. As soon as the tide turned and the sun set below the trees, the fish were everywhere. Shad, stripers, blues and bait, scintillating across the top of the water. They splashed and glistened under the moonlight like stars feeding on the smaller baitfish. We all caught fish that night, and I’m convinced anyone could have. I fished here for years when I was a teenager. On any given night then, there were headlamps of fishermen lined up from the jetty, to the boat launch, to the buoy and around the corner of the pond, but tonight there is no one except the three of us. If you follow the jetty’s point out and into the sea, about thirty miles out lies Block Island. Now a mecca for New England tourism, the Block was once home to the Narragansett people, from as early as 1300 BC. The island had about 1,000 of the estimated population of 20,000 natives in the area. By 1700, there were only 51 left, all of them destroyed or sent as slaves to the West Indies by the early colonialists in the Pequot War. I turn and see headlights coming down the dirt road, and a cop car pulls in next to my car. He rolls down the window. “You boys fishing tonight?” “Yeah.” “How’s it been?” “We just got up here.” “Oh yeah? At this time? It’s after 2 am.” “We got here when we could.” He smiles. “Hate to tell you, but the locals said it’s been slow. Well, good luck!” He rolls up his window and turns around to drive out of the parking lot. “When’s the last time you had a cop talk to you like that?” Larry asks Danny. I pause and think of the day I got arrested. Everything that day had gone smoothly. Ryan, Caitlin, and Kenny had all had money, but no car and no dealer, so they had called me to pick them up. They were all too young to drive. They offered me enough dope to cover my gas, and so that I wouldn’t be sick. The drive had been easy. There was no traffic, and the block wasn’t hot. We didn’t wait long for the
dealer to come. We pulled up to the dead end, got our dope, and left with no problems. The stamp had been a good stamp. I don’t remember what it was, but I remember being happy when I saw it. I headed out of Paterson towards Fairlawn and towards the highway. We drove over the bridge off River Road and made a right. We drove up to the stoplight, and there were two cop cars, one on either side of the road, facing our car. I swear, the last thing I said to the others before we pulled around the corner was that I’d never seen a cop on that road, which was true, until then. “Oh fuck.” Kenny had said. “Just relax. We’re just driving.” I tried not to think about the thirty bags of dope that were in my lap as I told everyone to relax. The light turned green, and the two cars pulled out behind me as I passed them. I can only imagine how we looked to those two cop cars. Four white kids, with out-of-state plates, all trying not to panic, with terror all over our pale, sunken faces. “Just relax,” I said, over and over. “They can’t pull us over. We aren’t doing anything wrong.” We all knew that wasn’t true. My hands were covered in sweat, and when the lights flashed in the rear-view mirror, I heard the blood pulse through my ears. I took the bags from my lap and tried to swallow them all. Bags of heroin are small and made of wax paper, but not as edible as I had thought. I gagged and choked as I pulled over and then quickly crammed them into my sock as the cop stepped out of his car. “License, registration, and insurance, please?” “Uh, sure, officer.” I stuttered and shuffled through the glove box. I handed him the papers, as another cop walked to the other side of the car. I tried not to look at either of them. He looked at the papers in his hands, then back to me. “What are you doing down here?” “Just picked up my friend from the college.” He smiled. “The college, huh? What street is that on?” “Umm..Fourth?” He looked at the other cop, raised his eyebrows and repeated, “Fourth. And where is Fourth, exactly?” “I don’t know the area too well. He was guiding me.” I pointed to Kenny in the passenger seat. Kenny waved and forced a smile. “Step out of the car. All of you.” They had split us all up and asked us all questions about what we had been doing that day and where we had actually come from. All of our answers were completely different. I had talked to them and pretended to be the dorky kid with the glasses, like I always did, but I wasn’t fooling
Paradigm Shift 9 anybody. They searched the three others before they got to me, but they found nothing on any of them because there was nothing on any of them to find. The cop walked towards me and sighed. “Okay, last one here. You have anything you want to tell me?” “No, sir.” “You really think we believe that all four of you are leaving a well-known drug area and nobody has anything on them?” His face looked stern and tired as he spoke. “I don’t know.” He sighed. “Just tell me where the drugs are. It’ll make things easier for you in court.” I hesitated, and took a deep breath as I shook my head. “I just don’t know what you’re talking about.” “Is there anything on you that’s going to stick me or stab me?” I remembered the syringe in my coat pocket. “No.” “I’m going to ask you again. Is there anything on you that can stick me or stab me?” His hands were by my sides, a few inches of fabric away from the syringe in my pocket. “No.” He patted me down and found nothing. At one point, his hands brushed over the dope bags and the syringe, but he didn’t seem to feel them. He started to take everything out of my jean pockets and then flipped them all inside out. Some change. A pack of cigarettes. A lighter. He turned to the other officer. “He’s clean.” “There’s no way. Go through that coat better.” He started to go through the many pockets of my pea coat. Passersby slowed down their cars and stared at me with my hands raised above my head. The way those people looked at me made me want to find them. Talk to them. Explain how this wasn’t my fault, that I just wasn’t made for their kind of life. The cop paused again after he went through all the pockets except the inside one on my chest, where the syringe was. He stared at the zipper. “We didn’t get this one, did we?” He put his hand directly on the syringe. “What’s that in there?” He unzipped the pocket and took it out and held it up to my face. “You know what, kid? Now, I’m pissed.” “I forgot it was in there.” “Shut up, and put your hands on your head.” I did, and in one motion, he grabbed them behind my back and handcuffed me. As he walked me towards the cop car, I saw everything for what it was. I wasn’t some hustler,
some gangster. I had no special ability to charm the police or authority figures. The kids I had in the car with me didn’t admire me or look up to me. They were kids, and I helped get them strung out. I was addicted to a drug that had run me into the ground. I had become all the things I said I would never be. I had lied, cheated, stole, and now, that was who I was. “What if this thing stuck me?” He waved the syringe in my face again. I was embarrassed at how old and overused it was. The numbers were barely smudged specks of ink, the plastic worn, the metal tip under the cap crooked and bent. “What if you have HIV and this thing had stuck me?” All the words and warnings of those who had known I was hooked before I did raced through me: That I already was addicted. That I couldn’t just stop when I wanted to. That I was ruining my life and didn’t know it. That everything around me was falling apart. That everything around me was a lie. “The cap’s still on it. I don’t have HIV.” He had laughed at me. His teeth were straight and white. “You don’t know that, kid.” He had read me my rights and put me in the back of the car. I stared at my sock where the dope was as we drove to the police station. Now, my waders already on, I tie the laces to my boots. “You all ready to go?” I say. Danny and Larry both nod, and we walk towards the water and the buoy. The water feels cool on my legs and feet as I walk into the pond. My eyes have already adjusted to the dark, but I know the place well enough that I don’t even need to see. “Just follow me,” I say. “It’s creepy out here in the dark, isn’t it?” Larry says. “Stop,” Danny says. I hear a splash behind me. Larry’s fumbling around in the water. “What the hell are you doing?” “Something just touched my leg.” “Oh yeah, there’s a lot of horseshoe crabs here. They try to mate with your boots.” “What the hell? Why would you not mention that there’s thousands of freaky fucking horseshoe crabs trying to fuck my boots out here?” I laugh. “I don’t know. I kind of forgot.” Every year in June, thousands of them fill the ponds to spawn. “Is the water glowing, or am I crazy?” Danny says. The water is glowing in blue pulses around our legs with each footstep from the bioluminescent plankton that are everywhere in the water. We hear a splash from the other side of the pond.
Paradigm Shift 11 “What the hell was that? Are there sharks in here?” “Sharks? Well, yeah, I guess if they wanted to, they could come right in. The ocean is right over there.” “What?” Danny’s voice is high-pitched again. “You know what? I hate saltwater fishing. I’m never doing this again. Something just touched my leg again.” I laugh to myself. “How old are you? Just relax.” I shine my headlamp into the water. “There’s bait everywhere. See it? That’s a good sign.” They both put their headlamps on and peer into the water. By now, we are almost to the buoy, and the fog is rolling in thicker. “This should be good,” I say. We are lined up ten or fifteen feet apart. I can barely see Danny, who is the further away from me. We all begin to cast at the same time. The waves in the distance, the rushing water of the incoming tide against my waist and the sounds of the fly line feel like prayer. As I fish, I think of the gill nets, and wonder if what I’ve heard about the stripers is true: That the numbers have dropped lower and lower each year since my early teens. That the regulations on this renewable resource, capable of sustaining the hunger of many people, are in actually in favor of commercial fisheries rather than restoration and preservation. In the early 80s, the entire stock of stripers collapsed and the population was thought irreparable, leading to the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act. Then, emergency regulations decreasing bag limits and the laws of commercial fishing were made to preserve the fish, and now, many advocates are calling for the same emergency regulations. Some say the stock has declined by over 90% in the last twenty years. Right now, there’s a two-fish-a-day limit, 28-inch minimum on stripers if you aren’t a commercial fisherman. But for commercial fishermen, there’s a 30-fish per day, 1.15 million pound-per-season quota, for each state where stripers run. Commercial fishermen are also expected to register the fish themselves, and it’s easy to see how this can become problematic. Illegal recreational fishing to sell striped bass to local fish markets is also prevalent. All of us have watched people haul fish away from jetties in garbage bags, too late at night for any DEC officer to show up in time. Natives from this area have a name for this. They call it wetigo, which translates from Algonquin as a cannibalism of the soul. Many Native Americans believed the colonists to be ill with this very sickness as they watched in horror as their people, villages, resources, and land were decimated. The natives knew that to take more than what was necessary, especially for money, was a disturbed way to think. I reel in and place my fly on the hookrest after a couple hours of fishing. None of us have caught anything, but the tide is beginning to turn again
and is almost slack. I look at my friends in a neat row on the ledge as they fish, and I wonder what they’re thinking. I feel guilty that the fish aren’t here, even though it has nothing to do with me. I see lights coming from the boat launch. I think it’s that same cop car. He pulls in and turns off his headlights as if he just wanted to watch us fish in the dark, even though I know he can’t see us through the fog. I put the rod under my armpit to stretch my fingers. I look down at my hands, salty and pruney, but free. I had been handcuffed to a bar on the wall and sat in an uncomfortable chair. The officer behind the desk had shaken his head as he looked at my driver’s license. “What the hell are you doing fucking with this stuff for?” “I don’t know.” “When did you start?” “17.” “Jesus. You’re just a kid, you know. A kid. You’re 20. Most kids your age are just hanging out. You know how old that girl in the other room is? She’s 14. 14.” “I know.” I couldn’t remember the last time I hung out with anyone without drugs, or why anyone would want to. He put his pen down. “You know, you’ll be lucky if you see 25 if you keep doing this shit. If the drugs don’t kill you, the lifestyle will.” “Yeah.” All I had been able to think about was the dope in my sock and how fucked I would be when he found it. 30 bags works out to over an ounce, a felony. With the other kids in the car, intent to distribute would be easy to prove. Minimum six-month suspension of driver’s license. Jail time, prison time. “Most of the people we arrest for this stuff are in their early 30s. You realize we sit across that bridge and arrest people like you all the time, right? You kids stick out like a sore thumb.” He went back to the paperwork. “If the drugs don’t kill you, the lifestyle will.” There had been a long pause as he filled out the paperwork. “So what really happened?” “We got robbed.” I surprised myself with the lie. “Exactly my point. How did you get mixed up in this? You’re just a kid.” This time, there was pain in his eyes when he said it to me. I think about how everything had jumped so quickly in the last few years, and how drugs had this gravity that had pulled me in to them, deeper and deeper, until I had broken under its weight. Now, I feel as though I
Paradigm Shift 13 have found the answer to so many things. Now, I could pay for optimism, confidence, and being level. I have a cousin who’s been shooting heroin on and off for fifteen years. As I write this now, he just got in to another detox. The first time I got caught with pills, he had sat me down and talked to me. He told me, “You have to understand, this shit is in our blood.” The room had been dimly lit, and he took a long drag from a cigarette as he spoke. “Grandpa had eight brothers, and all of them, except Grandpa and Alton, were shooting dope and speed in the 50s. They’re all dead. Suicides and overdoses. Everybody.” By the end of the conversation, instead of deterring me away from drugs, I felt more as if I was about to become part of a tribe, a lineage of dope fiends and junkies. The urge was always there to do more, to push myself and my body to new extremes, when, really, I just couldn’t stop running from how I felt. “It’s in my blood, I guess,” I had said to the cop. All he did was shake his head at me. Another cop walked into the room. “Everything good in here? Really didn’t find anything on him, huh?” “Just the needle.” The first cop continued with the paper work. “You check his socks and boots?” He put the pen down and furled his eyebrows for a moment. Jail time. Prison time. Felony probation. Parole. He had taken a breath to speak when a third cop rushed into the room. “You both better come out here for a second, and see this.” “Stay right here,” he said to me, even though I was still handcuffed to the wall. The three of them had laughed as they walked out of the room. I sat there for ten or fifteen minutes and wondered when he would find the dope in my sock. He came back into the room and walked towards me. He uncuffed me, and handed me a summons for a misdemeanor disorderly persons charge for the needle, which was later dropped. He never searched my sock and never found the drugs. My friend Brian had picked me up, and I had split the dope with him for the ride. I shot 15 bags that night with an old syringe that I found under the seat in his car. Two days later, I was in rehab. On the pond tonight, I think about what that all meant. How lucky I am to be standing here. Why some people can see objectively that drugs are dangerous, addicting, and evil, and choose to never get involved in them. The feeling I had, when I realized the thing I had thought was my salvation was my downfall. There had been some friends in high school who tried everything I did, once or twice, or maybe even a few times, and just stopped doing it. Said it wasn’t for them, that they just wanted to try it. I still don’t understand what a lot of it means as I stand there in the fog,
but maybe I donâ€™t have to. I breathe the warm, salt air deeply and smile. I have a friend who tells me the key to catching fish is to have unlimited hope, to not just think, but know, that every cast can be the cast that catches the fish of a lifetime. We wonâ€™t catch anything tonight, and in the future, Danny will keep true to his word and never fish saltwater again. Larry will fish for stripers obsessively, every spring. I find out, years later, that everyone who was in that car with me is clean today. There is also new legislation brought forth by thousands (mostly insane fishermen who wait each spring for the ice to thaw and the fish to return) who have petitioned, and fought for the amendment of striped bass regulations being voted on in New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maine in early 2015.
Paradigm Shift 15
Night Fishing I smoke a lot. It keeps the energy from flagging as the black night blows (it can’t howl at sea) and I haul and haul and haul our catch up in those unfair lighted nets. In constant keel, I never know if it’s the boat, or me, that’s careening. Cod to the north, ray to the south. The rays are the trickiest. The ones I can’t even look at as I beat their heads dry, fleshy wings flutterless. Cast them palled into their crates. We need to be sure to ship them dead. What the market wants these days: fresh dead fish. My father did not do this. He worked the entrails of an oiled factory. I wanted outside raw air around me. Now, I reek of salt. And when my water gear is shed and I still feel wet, all I want is to be inside, the bar, my bed.
Fenestration The day Jenny Riggans brought her dad for Career Day was also my birthday, and I missed most of his talk about being a window washer because I was focused on the cupcakes nobody made to send to school, the birthday cards that weren’t in the classroom and the mother that wouldn’t be squeezing me so tight that the air would leave me like an untied balloon. Mr. Riggans talked about skylights so clear that one might look towards heaven, and somehow I misheard his job and thought that he was a “window watcher.” This sounded like a great profession to me, and it opened a place for me to climb through and imagine wonderful things until Ms. Clark grabbed my ear and pulled me away from the window and stood me in the coat closet for being rude. Instead of a dark corner, I saw a window into the office building where my father was an accountant, and I saw him with his young assistant as they began to undress. They removed their heads like Halloween masks and revealed that they were made of numbers and circled each other until they became a cyclone funnel of equations. I knew why mom left, but not why being eight felt like infinity. Snooze Bar Mirek is the guy at the small appliance repair shop, and he is a talker, so much so that I am worried that he isn’t paying attention to repairing the snooze bar on my Sony Dream Machine. He has it apart fast, like a magic trick. “Good clock, best of the old stuff before everything went to WiFi and docking stations. Worth it to keep,” he says. The snooze bar has stopped working and I have been missing the shallow short dreams that feel like an Amuse-bouche of escape. The rear door of the shop has a window that faces a dumpster and a collection of broken vacuum cleaners piled in positions of surprise. The wire bars on the window make a grid, and the vacuum sculpture looks like an excavation of Pompeii, machines preserved in their last scream, frozen in place by uninvited lava. The shop smells like an ashtay. Mirek asks how old I am. I tell him that it’s my birthday. “Good, very good,” he says. “When I was seven, we were poor. Not unhappy, not starving, but nothing was ever new. Good doctors, school not so bad. We wrote on every part of the paper. Our town hadn’t been painted since after the war, so all grays and sepia tones, and laughter was the only other color. My mother made me a birthday cake out of chocolate that she’d scared up somehow. But there was not enough sugar for the icing. She went to the market and the shelves had only dust on them. Searching door to door didn’t yield any sugar, but she was able to trade a head scarf for some peanut butter.
Paradigm Shift 17 “The cake looked like a museum piece that might be displayed next to a urinal or a telephone made of skunk hair. Everyone sang and there were candles that had barely been used. A happy memory. But the cake was terrible. Not like peanut butter cups. Not edible. More like a plot of a science fiction film where an experiment goes very, very wrong. My brother fed part of his to the dog and the dog wouldn’t eat it. But how we laughed. Even mother laughed so! The clock is fixed. You may dream again.” Mirek crushes out a cigarette into an overflowing glass ashtray. He has three packs of Liggett Select on their sides, lined up like soldiers. He turns the radio on, then reaches out with a yellow-stained finger. I feel like he is reaching for me in an intimate way, as if running his hand up my skirt or forcefully silencing something that I was just trying to give voice to. He presses the snooze bar. The music stops. “How much,” I say. I notice his hourly rate. Sixty an hour, one hour minimum. I wonder if I have enough room on my card, or if he even takes cards. I have maybe five dollars in my jean’s pocket. “Happy birthday, and many, many, more” he says, then lights another Liggett. Afters Mrs. Kazer was the librarian at P.S. 58 and she used to read to us after school. She wore large skirts with her family tartan on them, a blocky red pattern that looked to me like a nine-over-six window pane arrangement from an old house. She had several skirts, all fastened by a large, metal safety pin. I wondered if her existence would come undone if the pin were to let go. Perhaps she started the window thing, although I cannot tell for certain anymore. Monday through Friday, flotsam and jetsam like me turned up in the library after school, informally called Afters. I didn’t learn until many years later that she volunteered to stay after school to help the latchkey kids with homework. “Books are windows into other worlds, other lands, other people’s souls.” Mrs. K. said. She made us read out loud, and told us to work on our elocution. I had no idea what she meant, but I was afraid to interrupt her and ask. I thought it was a form of electrocution and that it meant we should read dangerously. I imagined the audience hearing me read and worried that they would step on the third rail of my stories. I was already working on my Buddy and Jack adventures, stories about a boy and his mischievous cat. It was basically a rip-off of the book Teaser and the Firecat. Jack the cat went everywhere with Buddy, including the tour of the Yummy Yummy Cake factory. Jack fell into the mixer and was baked in a cake, and when the kids tasted the cake at the end of the tour, Jack popped out and everyone was happy, even the fat baker and the mean school teacher.
Elocution. I took the step stool and looked it up in the big dictionary on the pedestal. The tan book was right under a window. I was looking at the sky, trying to see a family in the clouds. Mrs. Kazer told me to sit down at the table and close my eyes. I thought I was in trouble for daydreaming. But the kids were all sitting at the big table, smiling, and sang “Happy Birthday.” Mrs. Kazer presented a cupcake with a pink number nine candle on it. I never found out how she knew the date. My birthday was that Saturday, but somehow she knew. Now, when I read out loud, it is always for her. Even if I’m reading the label on a shirt or the information sticker on a new window. Drive-In During my second pregnancy scare, I lived in a converted warehouse across from the Starlight Drive-In. The town had grown up and edged around the Starlight grounds, and the theater had long ago closed. The concession stand and rows of poles with the radios were still there when I moved in, waiting for ghost cars to pull up and listen to the past. Most of the plywood screen was still intact, although a few 4 x 8 boards were peeling, and it was startling to see the sun shine through the screen in the morning. The sign with the arrow and stars was still there, and plastic letters advertised a double feature of American Graffiti and Jaws. The side of our loft that faced Starlight had one window, a small sash job that still had the iron weights in the side. The window was stuck fast, but we found a guy named Marv that worked at Yuddy’s to fix it for us. He smelled like paint thinner. Had the window repaired in an hour. Refused our money. He asked us to bake him a birthday cake for payment, and Michelle did. There was plenty of room in the loft for Michelle’s canvases and my piles of books from estate sales. Within a few weeks of our moving in, they renovated the Starlight and tore out all of the car speakers. We salvaged thirty of them from the dumpster, and also grabbed a few of the old letters and a Moxie sign. The new Starlight owners were Wall Street types that left the city for their own back-to-the land thing, but instead of farming and subsistence living, they built a mansion on Kezar Lake and paid to have the Fryeburg airport tarmac redone for their little jet. They put up two screens at the Starlight, a new projector booth, concession stand, and a playground in front of screen two. They updated the projectors and set up a broadcast signal to replace the car speakers. Our building was close enough to get the signal, and Michelle rigged up the car speakers to the Pioneer so that we could listen. Opening night was a double feature of shark flicks, Jaws
Paradigm Shift 19 and Deep Blue. Jaws had been the final movie shown before the original Starlight closed. Everything was blue that day from the pregnancy tester. The little blue positive line had grown and spilled out of the edges until blue filled the room. Michelle caught me crying with my shorts still at my ankles and was none too pleased that I hadn’t told her about the man and how it wouldn’t happen again. We forged an uneasy truce and by showtime we were seated on the couch by the window, looking at the distant dorsal fins and listening to the rasp of the speakers. We huddled at the edge of the couch to peer out the small window. “I hope it’s a shark,” Michelle said. “I want her to grow up to be a window watcher,” I said. Spooning Randy’s friend Cheryl is talking about a guy that she went home with a few weeks ago, an Irishman that talked like Chief O’Hara from Batman. He was a few years older, but funny. Cheryl tells one of his jokes but forgets the punch line. Guy is a great find: an apartment in a doorman building, good clothes, spends quality time at the gym, but does weird things. I am not listening. The waitress seats us at a table by the front window. The restaurant is in an old store front, and our table is raised up in the mannequin display area. “This is just so appropos,” I say. “I’ve had windows on my mind lately. This is just perfect. Wow.” “Really, Em? Windows? Not exactly rare. They are strikingly common. I mean, what is the ratio of windows to doors? I’m no Pythagoras, but I’m going to say the ratio is high. You’re dramatic, Emilia. We’re just a bunch of people sitting at a table by a window. Nothing kooky. No reason to make a spectacle out of this,” he says. “Lots of tables in windows.” He’s still mad that we are split up and this Cheryl person is supposed to be a buffer between us, levity, or maybe a levee. The staff bring coffee and Mimosas fast, and so far things look promising. We order the manholesize pancakes to share. They are the special, and the place is famous for giving the extras to the homeless. Randy jokes that they grow sequoia-sized pancake trees and slice off individual flapjacks with an old two-person saw. Randy is still charming. Still has the muscular swimmer’s physique that earned him the nickname Dolphin in high school because he was tall and looked like the Russian boxer from the movies. I almost miss him. Cheryl is eating up his act. I can see her eyeing him, wondering if climbing on top of him is like riding a dangerous carnival ride, an adventure that requires an E ticket.
I lick the coffee off my spoon and flip it over in my hand. The inside of the spoon is shiny, scratched, and reflects the hand-painted Pancake Heaven letters on the window. I can see the sky in the spoon, too, and the letters bend like sky writing. The slight discoloration of the spoon is rust-colored, and makes lines in the sky reflection. A shadow comes over the spoon. A couple peers in the window looking at the giant flapjacks. We wave and they are startled and move away. Another group stops and gawks. “This is like a pancake zoo,” I say. “A zoo where the animals eat giant food.” “My favorite pancake zoo,” Randy says. We have a good time. Cheryl finishes her story about spooning in bed with the Belfast guy and inexplicably tells us too many details. “He suddenly, you know, just shoved it in the stage door without any warning. Just like that. He said he wanted to possess me.” “How rude,” I say. Randy has inched closer to me and takes my hand in his. I feel something rubbing against the inside of my thigh, and I realize that it is Cheryl’s foot. I wonder if she is tipsy like I am after the pitchers of Mimosas. I look into her eyes, and then down, and the foot is quickly removed. She blushes. I was not the intended target. We have managed to eat half of one pancake. I drop a few tens on the table and get up and say my goodbyes. “Why are you going?” Randy says. “I thought we could hit a museum or hang out and whatnot.” “Right,” Cheryl says. “We’re like peas in a pod. You must stay.” “Thanks, but no thanks. It was nice to have a window into my past,” I say, “but Randy and I are just memories at this point.” “What the hell did I do now, Emilia? This was fun.” “You missed my birthday again,” I say. Randy counts backwards, the little relaxation technique he was reading about around the time things went south with us. When you get mad, count backwards and think before you speak. “I’ll make it up to you. I mean, we’ve been split up for a month now. This is so like you. I invite you to breakfast and we have a nice time and all, and you find some obscure reason or event that I can’t control to bring me down. So I missed your birthday. How do I fix the past?” “Actually, Randy, today is my birthday.” I leave them and exit and wave to them through the window. I look at them and I wonder what they are saying, but I am distracted. Even from this distance, the pancakes are enormous. Windows on the World
Paradigm Shift 21 I stand on the ledge by the table and press my face against the window. It is a long way down, a long way anywhere from here. It is August of 1976, and my father has brought us to this lavish restaurant for lunch to appease my mother and ameliorate his transgressions against their sacred vows of marriage. They argue at the bar, sip martinis and breathe fire at one another like dragons. Mom is wearing a Halston dress that ties in front, a payoff that won’t pay off. She is stunning, especially when she is mad, and this is the mom that I will picture later after she flies away like Mary Poppins. My forehead presses against the cool glass, and I see New Jersey and Lady Liberty. I am a piece of blank paper, carried in an updraft to here, floating gently above everything. I am Wendy, looking for lost boys and crushing hard on Peter. This is the highest that I’ve ever been. Later when we brave the swirling winds of the observation deck I will know that the restaurant was somehow higher. Even when my father and his fear of heights yanks me down off the window ledge so hard that I fall and cut my elbow, I will remember that the secret to flying is not an invisible airplane or wings that can melt in sunlight. Flying is visualizing yourself floating out of a window into the clouds and never fearing the ground. I am me, just a flying girl in Mary Janes with a shiny Bicentennial quarter in her pocket, listening to the wind confess and plead for forgiveness. Then and now, I am always here, pressed against a window 106 stories over Manhattan. I forgive you, wind. It’s okay, I say. I actually understand. I mean it, wind, Zephyrus, Smith, or whatever your name really is. I am talking to you. I really, really, forgive you. Everything is going to be fine. You don’t have to whisper anymore. Say “Happy Birthday” to me. Say it like you mean it. Don’t be shy.
Warm Outside watching the wind blow the snow around in white rivets so long and slanted it looks like the air has stripes, like some great invisible white tiger three-toed turkey tracks trail off into trees (proof of motion, life in action), the wintered woods where wind touches but branches, the tallest elms and maples whose branches branch out like skeletal fingers wagging in the wind “come closer,” they call, “there’s a trail made for man by man—take a walk into the wilderness, never mind the wind through your window, it’s warm outside— never mind the warnings; there are no tigers here, no teeth to tear your skin; it’s only winter, friend wind is the breath of birth you were born here, too”
Paradigm Shift 23
My Grandfather, The Fascist “My grandfather is a Fascist!” I bounced around as I said this to people, my skirt flopping around my stick legs. “My grandfather is a Fascist, Fascist, Fascist!” It was summer and Sunday, and after church, and I wore my gray pleated skirt and my white socks and my shiny leather flats. I was jumping squares in the giardini, Piombino’s town gardens with two fountains and koi fishes and benches where old people sat and read newspapers, and platforms where children played tag and jump rope. The sun teased us with the promise of summer, while the wind, blowing in from the sea, begged to remind us there was time yet for more winter. At six, what I knew about Fascists was that they were men who wanted women to wear skirts. My grandfather always said he didn’t like it when women wore pants. “Why’s that, Nonno?” “Because when women wear skirts, you can sneak up a fold to see their legs,” he said. In spite of that, he was a gentleman. He dressed in long dark suits and good leather shoes, which he polished every day with a pig’s hairbrush, long stroke after careful long stroke, before he set off to his daily walk around town. His long tufts of white hair obeyed the rules of his comb, too, regardless how hard the wind blew a thin spray of saltwater above the brick seawall. Fascists in the movies wore black shirts and casual slacks, caps lowered tight on their foreheads, not like my grandfather’s tailored coat and beret. The Italians I knew shook a finger fondly at my nose and said, “But remember, the Fascists weren’t like the German Nazis. Mussolini did good things for Italy, like establish labor laws, and draining the Maremma.” “My grandfather is a Fascist,” I bellowed, leaping with a twist, as my pleated skirt fanned out like a pinwheel. My shoes slapped a clipped sound on the asphalt. “FFFFascistahhh,” I teased the consonants and vowels with my tongue. An old woman slapped an arm on my elbow and tightened ancient fingers on my flesh, her nails hooking my Sunday wool cardigan. “Nah!” she roared, the exhalation of her vowel rattling in her throat. “Why do you say such lies about your grandfather? Aren’t you the Valeri girl?” Her eyebrows collected above her nose in a fury of black tufts. The ridge of her forehead reddened around her blackheads. “Dr. Valeri, the pharmacist, he saved many lives.”
Paradigm Shift 25 During the war my grandfather gave away antibiotics even to those people who didn’t have ration cards. When everyone fled Piombino for the safety of the countryside, he stayed. Piombino had a working steel mill and was a major target for bombings, especially when the Germans retreated. But my grandfather, when you asked him why he didn’t leave, too, scoffed, “Someone had to dispense the medicine, no?” I danced around him with fireworks of questions popping from my mouth, following him from room to room of the five-room apartment he had inhabited since before my father was born. “But weren’t you afraid for Nonna? Weren’t you afraid for Dad?” He shoved the air with a flat hand. “When death comes, it comes. What’s the point of being afraid?” When the bomb sirens tore the family from sleep, my grandfather gripped his Leika from under the bed and rushed to the living room windows. While everyone else shuffled quietly to the shelters, he shoved the wooden storm shutters open and clicked picture after picture, elbows on the window sill, squaring the moon, or a tree, or a sunset-struck cumulous in his frame. Rows of those pictures now paneled the cabinet doors where Grandma kept her teacups and saucers and Grandpa’s collection of Bitter San Pellegrino glasses and Peroni ale mugs arranged in neat rows and turned lip-down on cotton crochet. Those glossy home prints of buildings cracked by a plume of black smoke rising in the sunset dotted the stained glass cabinet with my grandfather’s sense of beauty. “My grandfather voted for the Fascist party once. He did. He told me.” The old lady wrenched my elbow up and shook it. “You don’t know what you’re saying. Don’t you study history in school?” “Mussolini did great things for the country,” I parroted. “Like establish labor laws and draining the Maremma.” The old lady looked at me like a crow, her chin thrust to the side. She sighed. “Ah! Poor Dr. Valeri.” Before he died, my grandfather walked with me through the town’s gardens every afternoon after lunch, to keep fit. He liked to feed the koi fish with the stale bread he patiently rubbed through his calloused thumb and finger until his plastic bag swelled fat with breadcrumbs. Every day, someone would stop him, hook her arm around his bicep and say, “Dr. Valeri! How good to see you.” He fussed over such greetings, shaking hands, clapping shoulders, inquiring after the family. But always, when the greeter was gone, frustration would squeeze his face down to furrows, and complaints streamed through his teeth: “I have no idea who that was. I don’t remember. Every day
someone comes, but who? I’m a stupid, stupid old man.” He’d thrust out his chin with a quick jerk, his mouth tugging down at the corners simultaneously with his eyebrows tilting. He always seemed so shocked and surprised by the well-known ailments of old age. Many times in my life, I have thought about what my mother later told me: that when the Fascists seized control of northern Italy, my grandfather’s mother, a rabbi’s daughter, had escaped from Turin and hidden in Piombino, remaining anonymous by the good will of neighbors. Throughout the war, my grandfather gave away powdered milk to young mothers and antibiotics to old men who could never pay him. Over time, the face of his charity blurred, along with the colors of his beloved koi fish when his cataracts gradually clouded his sight. Mom said, “Someone paid for those medicines. The State, probably. Or else he paid with his own salary. Nonno was never rich; do you see why?” The day I asked him the thorny question about his political affiliations, I was holding my grandfather’s hand, and we had just turned the corner where the fruit shop vendor propped his cases of apricots and peaches and plucked them out with paper to weigh them on a steel scale. Grandpa was wearing his navy blue suit. The bag of tender apricots bumped against my knee, bruising to a dark orange sweetness. “Grandpa, during the war did you ever vote Fascist?” Probably, I’d just seen a movie about it. Or else in history class we were covering World War II. My grandfather stumbled ahead as though I’d just slugged him with one of the oars of his gondola, the one he brought down to Piombino from Venice when the pharmacist’s job moved him to Tuscany. He muttered something. I could not understand at first. Usually he liked to share his opinions with a tight mouth and a bellowing voice, the wrinkles over his lips deepening with each outraged word. But today he cleared his throat and spoke into his hand, his lips smacking consonants together in odd rhythms as he rubbed his mouth. “What, Nonno?” “They came to the house late at night, destroying everything. They slashed mattresses. They broke plates over your face. They turned over shelves. They beat you until you fell to the ground and cracked your head on the pavement.” When I was fifteen, my grandfather was already diagnosed with dementia. He still liked to take breadcrumbs to the fish. He trembled and breathed hard from his lungs, one long foot after the other scraping dust from the asphalt. He looked at me and smiled, and said, “You’re an angel. Where did you come from?”
Paradigm Shift 27 “I’m your granddaughter,” I told him, hating to break the spell of his near-death fantasy. We sat on the dew-wet bench, still sticky with new paint. He patted my knee, looking at the pleats of my skirt. “You’re kind to me. I don’t know what I have done to deserve you.” He threw a handful of crumbs to the koi fish that swam up to peck at the surface of the water.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Missoula valleyâ€™s broken golds gone out in the breeze like a revolver muzzle-flash, a half-flame whose fire ossifies and falls to the dirt, crush of metalyellow foil. I knew a young man from New York who could not eat with his mouth when the cold came. A mother who needed artificial light. In March, or maybe later, if the winter was a moonbarren man without a face lashing us in ice, praying to break anything we might name, trees tear out blossoms from their fingers, let them fall like bloodied nails. As the snow-mute world you had commanded moves without you some are portioned in sunlight. Some reach for the knife.
Paradigm Shift 29
Board Games on Driveways
Cast Iron Reverie She stood at the kitchen island and watched him make his way to the deck. It was a big kitchen—15 steps across the floor from refrigerator to the sliders—with Mexican tiles and a color scheme created to take the heat away from any summer day. He balanced a plate of raw chicken breasts in one hand and held a tall iced tea with lemon—no sweetener of course—in the other. He was handsome, she thought. Average height, lightly tanned, runner’s calves. In the 12 years they’d been together, she had seldom seen his face look tired or craggy. His coffee-colored eyes matched his hair. Even at this age, he still had his hairline, and it never looked untrimmed. He looked healthy and strong and had the casual, easy walk of a frequent golfer. She looked at him, mesmerized, as he continued across the kitchen. As she realized he was talking, his words moved into her consciousness, “…don’t get it. You’d think they’d pay a little more attention to what is obviously a potential asset to….” It didn’t matter to what. He criticized and complained about everything. He thought it brought him credibility, but all it really got him was life with an uncaring woman. She knew he was only talking at her and she murmured mm-m-m as he passed by the island. He looked so perfect with his just-wide-enough shoulders, tight butt, and pool-clean bare feet. He held the plate of chicken like a waiter delivering wine to drink with dinner, while the tea at 1st rib height was ready to be called upon as soon as he felt the first flash of heat on the deck. She reached up and brought down the skillet. It was black from years of seasoning, her grandmother’s cast iron pan, but it was perfect for carmelized onions. Despite its weight, she was still able to lift it off the hook by its rim, give it a short toss, and catch it by the handle at the last second. She took pleasure in that action. It made her feel strong and coordinated and, until she became old and weak, it was a predictable success. She caught the handle and for a moment it felt the way her tennis racquet felt so many years ago. She flipped the head back and felt it touch the groove of her shoulder blade. It came up straight and strong, and, without even a grunt of effort, she aced it at his back. It was really more like a tomahawk than a tennis racquet, she thought detachedly, as it spun toward his shirt. Over and over it looped, not quite in slow motion but each spin definable and satisfying.
Paradigm Shift 31 His chest lurched forward and his head snapped back from the force of the handle hitting his neck, causing his arms to splay like a young gymnast beginning a routine. The chicken and the barbecue sauce and his blood all blended together with the tea and what used to be his brain stem, and she couldn’t tell which parts of the jumble were his. Thank God, she thought, cast iron simply makes a sturdy thud. It would be annoying to have to listen to clanging metal before cleaning up that mess. She looked up from his blood and saw him—still walking, still whining. She looked up toward the doorway and called to his perfect, living body, “Honey, the veggies will be ready when the chicken is done.” Her hand continued to slice onions into the skillet as her horrified brain asked Am I crazy? Damn. I love him. I know I do. Discomfort trickled through her as the hidden place in her mind whispered, “splat.”
—Penny Baert Zywusko
Pain Is Inevitable, Suffering’s Subject Matter Slept in, I wake to microwaved neck warmer, French Roast brewing, French Toast to plump me up while avoiding Pop’s obit in the LA Times. My wife speaks softly, “We’ll go when you’re ready.” Tortoiseshells turned in from everyone but the funeral director who demands signatures and a fat check, I feel like Greta Garbo fleeing from the casket room fast. Hefty staff in black suits and shades are my blocking backs to put off being confronted by the consolation of friends and family—I hide away under the white gazebo before joining mourners as the rent-a-rabbi calls us to order. After the service, a new-place-new-face not-on-the-wagon veiled bombshell, jerky slo-mo as a woodcut, tosses next-to-last dirt on Dad’s grave, seductively offers the handle to my shovel-ready ex-JewBu son who whispers he’ll dig the same for me, that living in the present is over-rated. At first I regret not leaping into the pit until noticing that for the first time in years, Mom wills herself to see as well as veritably hear what’s really happening around her. Nodding and smiling graciously, she thanks all the eulogists, invites the crowd back to the house for deli and schnapps.
Paradigm Shift 33
The End of Being Delicate About 47 to 65 million years ago, the Seychelles broke off from the supercontinent Gondwana–one of two landmasses comprising the supercontinent Pangaea–splitting the [Gardiner’s] frogs off from other species. So hearing through the mouth may actually be a holdover from ancient life-forms, say [the study’s] authors. —National Geographic On my pinky fingernail, the Gardiner’s frog swallows an unapologetic hurricane of breath. You are so tiny, I whisper to it, noise throbbing its rubbery, frogly head, the “i” in “tiny” not tiny like a breadcrumb, but as an eye in a keyhole that stares as if it knows embarrassing things about you. I think I am being gentle. I think I have gentle thoughts about gentle things, but my fat voice fumbles over skin the ridges of lips jerking back a layer over a hole of throat.
She’s Not There I listened when she said he always wore black shorts and tee shirt, and no shoes, when she was growing up. He had dark hair, freckles, his name was Irving—awfully specific for an imaginary boy, but I accepted it. Since what happened her first year at Ohio State, I wondered how I didn’t see the warning signs. I might have now, when you can talk about such things more openly. I hadn’t seen her for years, and when I got back from her funeral yesterday, I listened to a song popular when we were together. Maureen and I considered ourselves related. We told strangers we were kissing cousins, never considering what they might have thought when we said such a thing. We never cared and weren’t related. I suppose she was my girlfriend, though the term seems inappropriate. Perhaps intimate friends, though not intimate in the way that first springs to mind and not like brother and sister either. Maureen and I were friends for several years, an unconscious friendship, perhaps, a childish friendship: accepting and assumed. This began at fourteen or fifteen, the years when friendships can be made and lost in a moment. We walked to the bus together, met in the halls, and showed up at each other’s houses without notice. Our lives continued, each in our own way, but we arrived at the real center when we were together, though we didn’t really think about it. When she told me about her imaginary friend, I didn’t think much about him. Part of the development of our friendship was the effect of her being almost a year older, which makes a difference at that age. Then, when she was a senior, I was a junior. She had been one of those kids whose parents put her in first grade early—not an enormous difference, but it put me in a more childlike position with her. At fifteen, Maureen was three inches shorter than me. As I shot to six feet, she shot up as well, the proportions remaining the same. She was darkhaired, dark and rich and thick, and her eyes were a brown that could be identified as gold. I see them as I write this, quietly luminous and alive. We played a game in the early years we sometimes took up later as well: lookinto-my-eyes. She would say, “Look into my eyes,” and after a moment of focusing, I would be looking into her eyes until nothing remained, while she was doing the same. Sometimes I looked in the mirror at my own eyes to find what she might have seen. The strangeness of this I hardly need explain to anyone who has tried it: your own eyes in the mirror become eyes of another, something outside of yourself. You look, until there is nothing but the other eyes, and
Paradigm Shift 35 that was what we did together. If we laughed, the game broke up. If we did not, and there was nothing but her eyes, then nothing else existed. Her nose was straight, almost, with a slight rise in the middle, imperceptible to anyone who had not held it in his fingers and searched out its shape. It gave her face a bold directness and something else as well: a curious, indefinable quality of being unknowable. I’m certain this is too much to invest her nose with, but we tried to describe each other’s features, in an attempt to know what it meant to have the faces we possessed, or which possessed us. We were kids and treated each other as friends, though I acknowledge that I never acted this way with anyone else. I felt her lips to get to know them, and she felt mine. Hers looked plumper than they were, very firm and curled at both ends. She had a nice, nearly pointed chin, a soft throat I can still feel in my hands. We played look-into-my-eyes, and blind-man, lying on the floor or outside under a tree. We lost all sense of time, which might be why we did it. We got to know each other’s faces—and heads. We felt bumps and shapes and ears, the back of the neck. I had, or have, a virtual bust of Maureen in my hands. I don’t know what she saw, but she knew my head better than I did. Other kids may or may not have done things like this. We moved between talk and silence without much reflection. How many hours we spent, slumped on rubber swings at a nearby playground, very nearly outside of existence, as far as the rest of the world was concerned! Picnics, movies, frequent sleepovers—our parents understood our relationship was not sexual. How many times when I dragged through the house did my mother ask, without thinking, “Where’s Maureen?” Maureen and I would go to the lake that last summer, when she was eighteen, with a few neighborhood children in tow. Maureen and her mother packed lunch, so we didn’t have to spend anything on food. We were a unit that needed little from the outside. She actually got paid for taking children with us, a babysitting job that freed mothers for an afternoon. She would drive over in her Beetle in the morning, put some of the food in our refrigerator, and we’d have cereal in the dining room while Maureen talked with my mother. Maureen left the keys to her Beetle for my mother and we loaded Mom’s car—food, towels, beach toys—and off we’d go. When we pulled in the driveway of the Simmons’ house and beeped, out came Kenny and his younger sister Kate, and Billy Franklyn, who lived a few houses down, and sometimes Sean Willis, already in bathing suits. Mrs. Simmons came out in jeans and tee shirt, hair hidden under a Cleveland Indians ball cap, with money for Maureen, profuse thanks, and a little raving about all she had to do that day. Maureen’s laughter let her
know everything would be fine and she would see us later. In no time, we were on the road with the sound of children’s voices around us, laughing naturally as an old married couple. At the lake everyone piled out, spread a couple of blankets and towels, dragged out the cooler. First thing, Maureen headed down to the water and ran right in and swam out to the platform. I sat on a little concrete wall, two feet high, separating the grassy lawn from the sand, talking with the kids as they played at shovels and pails. I enjoyed it, and when I looked out at Maureen, swimming between the two rafts or sitting on the edge of one, we waved at each other, if she saw me. Then she swam back and stood dripping, wringing water out of her hair. She sat beside me for a while, and then we ended up on the blankets. She had her ritual. The swim, the tanning, and then she’d come to sit with me. I couldn’t leave kids unattended, but I didn’t mind watching them. They’d forget I was there and play in the water or talk to kids they knew. Then she’d be with me, wearing one of two bathing suits, both twopiece, red with white dots, or blue with white dots. She looked cute in both, tall with straight legs, a nice shape, more athletic than hourglass, a belly button like a smudge. She did have a bosom, nothing terrific, a natural, normal bosom. We could have been brother and sister. My hair had more blonde in it, and bluer eyes, shoulders a little broader. The bump in my nose was bigger. Aside from differences we looked alike, and the kids could have been ours, except for Sean, who was brown with an inch-high Afro. We could have been a family, is what I’m getting at. The sparks between Maureen and me were of the same intensity as a married couple, without the tension. At some point in the afternoon the kids gathered on blankets to eat lunch, drink lemonade or iced tea. Maureen made them lie in the sun fortyfive minutes before they went back in the water. That was our time. We’d head to the water. She’d be on my shoulders, screeching like any teenager, splashing, talking. Sometimes we met other kids, like the younger ones had, and we hung out with them until the little ones ran down and asked if they could go in the water. We’d take them to the bathroom, apply sunscreen to those who needed it, then sit on the wall again. In the afternoon, we’d walk halfway around the little lake. The kids played in trees and the playground, variations on the theme of a day at the lake, one idea of heaven—what they wanted to do most. Then we’d load them up and off we’d go: simple, nothing big about it. Drop them at home, head back ourselves. Often we’d be bushed and lie down for a nap on the couch in front of the television, which had a pull-out bed so we could crash, and often my mother came home to find us sacked out on the couch with our mouths open, our arms twisted up. Dad hadn’t been with us since I’d been ten, but we functioned like
Paradigm Shift 37 family. Maureen and I were comfortable at my house. If we were really tired, we would head up to my big bed and take a nap. When she woke up it was with the energy of a dog, back at it instantly. Off she’d go in her Beetle car. If we did do something later, I’d see her that evening. That is the whole story, as average as any you’ve ever heard. We were happy because we were ourselves. There are more moments to recall, when I put my mind to it. One afternoon when we had fallen asleep in my bed in our bathing suits, I woke up to find her sitting up on the side of the bed, her back to me, with her head in her hands. “What’s wrong?” I asked her. “I saw him today, at the lake, on the other side, watching me.” “Who was watching you?” She shrugged without looking back at me. That gesture made me understand. “The boy in the black shorts?” Irving. “He doesn’t wear shorts anymore. Black pants, long sleeves, a black cap.” “You saw him at the lake?” She nodded. “And I saw him just now.” She had me scared. “You just woke up,” I said. “You had a dream about the little boy.” “He’s not little,” she said, “not now.” “He’s gotten older?” When she glanced back she said, “Itch my back, will you, Jim?” I reached up, scratching lightly with one hand. “Harder,” she said, “more in the middle.” I obliged and she squirmed and said, “All over.” I sat up scratching her back with both hands, making red traceries on her tan skin while she groaned. When her shoulders relaxed, she sighed and stood up, stepping out of her bathing suit bottoms and undoing the top all at once. She put on a pair of light blue shorts I liked, and a white top. She leaned and put a little kiss on my lips, just a peck, soft and moist, and said, “You hit all the right spots.” Then she was gone, swinging her suit beside her. When I went downstairs, my mother was in the kitchen mixing up pasta salad. She asked what the groaning was all about. “Maureen had an itch.” Mother’s face reddened. “On her back,” I said. Mom didn’t say anything more on the subject. She became distracted when I asked if I could have some of that salad. We sat, talked a while, then I read my book until Maureen beeped out front and I went out and we walked all over the neighborhood in the dark. The moon was big and yellow, with quite a few stars. Here in Akron, lights from town usually
dim the stars. It was nice sitting on the swings until late, talking and just hanging there. She was excited about school in the fall, at Ohio State, but worried she would miss me too much. “It’s not that far away,” I told her. “I can be there in three hours.” “More like four.” “That’s not forever.” “I’ll probably only see you some weekends. I’ll have to work on my classes and you’ll still be in school all day.” It embarrassed me that she would be in college and I would still be in high school. “All you have to do is call and I’ll skip and come down to see you.” “I know that won’t happen,” she said. “It’s hopeless.” We sat awhile and then I stood and she hung onto me and cried softly. I thought it was unusual that a girl who would be in college was acting like this to a high school boy, but I was used to doing what she wanted. I put my arms around her. “The summer isn’t over, not by a long shot,” I said. “We have another month.” She nodded and sniffled. “I’m just thinking how everything will change for me. I won’t be a little girl anymore.” “You’re not a little girl now,” I said. “In the old days, a girl might be married at your age. You’re going to college to study microbiology while I finish high school. You’ll be going to class without having to be in one building all day. You’ll meet new people.” For some reason, I started crying a little. We stood hugging until it was time to go. That was the start of the end of summer, the last summer I didn’t have a job that took a lot of my time, just mowing yards and such. It seems odd I didn’t even think about a job. My mother never said a thing, but by the following summer I was taking care of myself. She told me she had known I would and hadn’t wanted me to have to start sooner than I had to, for which I am grateful. Everything Maureen and I did together after that was colored by that night by the swings, when she felt things changing. If we went to a movie, she leaned on my shoulder with my arm around her. When I took her home one night, she wanted to go somewhere private. I had been helping with a little league team on which Sean Willis played, so I knew of a baseball field off the side and below the level of the road, surrounded by trees. I parked the car on first base line, turned it off, and opened the windows to the sound of frogs and crickets. She crept over to me and held her face close to mine and said, “Look into my eyes.”
Paradigm Shift 39 It was dark, with lots of lightning bugs drifting, but I could feel warmth from her face, the smell of her sweet scent. Our mouths were on each other’s, kissing. My head swam. I took off her blouse and her thin bra so her breasts came against my chest. I kissed them and pressed my face on them. We crawled in the back seat and I leaned over her, but then she screamed and covered herself with whatever was close. “What’s wrong?” I whispered. She pointed at the open window opposite her. “Someone was there, at the window!” My heart beat hard in my chest; my hands and arms shook. I pulled on my shirt and got out of the car and walked around a couple of times, squinting into the trees. I set my hands on my hips and listened. “I can’t see anyone,” I said. She lay back on the seat, her eyes closed, with the overhead light illuminating her face. She looked for a moment as if she were dead. “Maureen,” I whispered into the car. “I know who it was.” Her voice shivered. I stared at her and she stared at me. She held her blouse in front of her breasts, but she had nothing on her bottom half. “I love you,” I whispered through the window. “It was him.” “I love you,” I repeated, no matter how hard it had been to say it the first time. “Let’s go home,” she whispered back, buttoning her blouse. I watched her search for her pants before I got in and started the car. We drove out of the baseball field, onto the road. Next day, Saturday, when I called, she wasn’t home. She had gone shopping with a girl from the lake. She was busy with this and that for a few days. She discovered she had to move into her dorm early for orientation. It became clear I would not be going down to see her as much as I thought. If that was a way of saying good-bye and putting some distance between us, it worked. My heart felt like dead weight in my chest. If I hadn’t told her I loved her, I wouldn’t have had to admit it to myself. If I’d never been naked with her, I wouldn’t be longing for it the way I was. I went around like a man falling off a cliff. I couldn’t quite get my breath. I felt dizzy all the time. I didn’t understand what had happened to me. Before school started again, I woke up from a dead sleep in the middle of the night remembering how she’d seen him out the window. I saw him clearly then, myself: a young man in black shirt and cap peering in the window, his face blank and haunted, frightened and threatening all at once.
A few weeks later, I rode my bicycle to her house and talked with her mother, who said Maureen was having trouble at school. I thought she meant with classes, something about exams and grades. But she meant worse trouble than that. Her silence told me more than I could imagine. The mystery was too much for me. As I lay sleepless in the bed where we once slept, Irving became the shadow on the back of my skull. I felt him there with a deep sense of irritation, an itch I could not reach. I knew it was his fault. During the day I sometimes saw him at the corner of my eye. Once I spun and saw this shadow on a wall, sliding away from me—my own. He eluded me until darkness fell. I couldn’t fall into a deep sleep anymore. My mother came into my room one morning when she heard me crying. She rubbed my hair, told me to stay home from school, take a walk, read a book. I lay in bed all morning, an invalid. Maureen had come back from school by this time and had a private room at St. Thomas, but when I called, her mother did not encourage me. That afternoon I couldn’t bear the ache that had taken up permanent residence in my chest. I rode my bicycle around her block many times before I laid it on the walk and went to the back door. It took a long time, repeated knocking on the window with my knuckle before her mother came to the door.She leaned out to look at me, her eyes red, a tissue crumpled in her fist. “I just don’t know what I can do for you,” she said. “Can I see her at the hospital?” Her mother shrugged her shoulders. Her chin quivered. When she closed her eyes, a tear shook loose and landed on my arm. “You could,” she said. “But she’s not there.” “What does that mean?” I shouted. She shut the door—a rattle was so thin it sounded like his name: Irving. When I looked inside, through the window on the door, I saw the shadow slipping further into the house. That’s when I shoved my fist right through the window. When I drew it out—red blood streaming down my wrist—it was the only thing that I could stand to look at anymore. That’s what I remember most vividly, and it was something that I could understand. No one told me anything, so I was left on my own to find the answer. In those days, no one talked about mental illnesses. All the words that might have been descriptive simply meant crazy, or split personality—there were no gradations, no acceptable ways to think about it. It was kept secret and shameful. I couldn’t imagine any of it.
Paradigm Shift 41 There was a song at the time, by a group called The Zombies, with the line her mother had said to me in explanation: “She’s not there.” I listened to that song, long after its popularity waned, as the only explanation allowed to me. The words didn’t exactly fit, but its haunting tone did. I finished high school and went off to college myself, and I did well and enjoyed it and all, but I felt bereft. Everything I was doing there, Maureen was missing. And I knew for sure that I had been in love with her all along. I did see her a few times in those years, when it was known she couldn’t go back to what she had been. Sometimes it was fine, but just nothing like the same. That made me feel worse than anything. I had to accept that a door had closed on the past, and there would be no access in the future, ever.
WAITING the orchid does not blossom— water drips nearby
Paradigm Shift 43
TO MY TWENTY-YEAR-OLD SELF You’ve been talking about reading King Lear for a year to see why we all laugh at gilded butterflies. You say, you have your theories but you’d rather read contemporary poetry— undress me, you say—licking your finger turning through pages. You have just gotten off the 5 o’clock train from New Haven and you’re drunk off seven nips of tequila. I’m not wearing any underwear. We’re not even back at my place yet, and all I can think about is what you’re not wearing in the places that you should because of me. We’re silent together on the subway. You stop reading and licking because I tell you I miss you. I feel like too much tequila— you still look beautiful like a 1950’s secretary. You sit the small book down on my desk unzip yourself, letting your fitted black dress fall around your white high heels. Stepping only a foot closer.
You wait for me to touch you I wait for you to say something I’m not good at this. Covering your chest with the cross of your summer arms. Your lips are sucking tequila over a salted rim. I ask you if I’m more of an asshole now that I think it might be too late. You think long before you really answer — yes— placing the glass down, well, your eyes move to watch the city sidewalk behind me. I hear the jingle of footsteps and smile because you’re smiling at the people walking, I think you broke even. Bright string lights hang over old Modelo signs. We’re sitting eating vegetarian enchiladas. You would’ve never taken me out to dinner last September. I tell you you’re different now. You continue to stare and sip more tequila from the double margarita you didn’t even order.
Paradigm Shift 45 Trying to hide yourself beneath yourself and succeeding, almost too easily. I watch you shake out your hair as if— you truly believe this is what I want —you— looking up from the floor then over at me, fully dressed, on my bed. Your eyes: two wide, two brown, too wet. You blink them back to dry the black around them. Show me how much you’ve missed me.
The Filtered Jungle
Paradigm Shift 47
The Phone Thieves The bartender’s Nokia 7260 is a cool fucking phone. Sleek—redtrimming on the sides. Lightweight. Better battery life than my Ericsson. Her phone automatically accesses Yahoo when she holds down zero. It takes pics. Has a flash and everything. She usually tucks it into the elastic on her shorts, but today she left the phone between two clean ashtrays. Now those ashtrays are overflowing, smoldering. She digs through the ash, the butts, rakes her fingers across the bar top. “My phone,” she says. She digs some more, then slams her palm on the bar. “Fucking balseros,” she says. “Did you see them?” She isn’t talking to me. She’s pacing back and forth, rubbing her face, drawing trails of ash down her cheeks. Now she’s washing her hands in ice, the strap of her tank sliding off her shoulder. “Fuck my life,” she says. A calypso player beats his pan violently; he sings towards the bay. The bartender hates that guy. Usually she throws a lemon wedge at him, laughs about it, how utterly oblivious that guy is, beating his pans. But today she says, “Fuck the calypso player,” and she chugs her pilsner. “Which balseros?” I ask. But she doesn’t hear me. She dries her hands on a towel and then digs through the ashtrays again, raking her fingers across the bar top like she might have missed it. The calypso players beats his pans, oblivious. I feel oblivious too, because I didn’t notice the thieves. I might have noticed if I didn’t have to pee all the time. Enlarged prostate. A few beers and there’s no holding back. It’s a slow burn, the way it just drips out. They probably took her phone during one of the many instances when I dripped into the urinal. Now I lean over the bar, call her over. “Describe the balseros,” I say. The bartender looks at me like she’s never seen me before, like she doesn’t serve me three Stellas, three times a week. She sits on her stool, lights a cigarette, and then looks past me, to the bay, as if she could see these balseros out there, getting away with her phone. Weather’s shitty; it’s been this way for weeks—not good for an outdoor bar in Bay Side. She’s blowing smoke into the bay, the rain, the mist. Miami’s skyline is hardly visible through it all, but I can see her clearly; she’s better looking than most of the girls I date—like the hue of the pilsner she’s drinking goes straight to her hair, her eyes, her skin. She hasn’t said it, but I know she’s been under the sun lately: her butterscotch shoulders, the pale straps running down into her tank.
I thought I saw her at the beach last week, walking along the shore in an Army green two-piece. I thought I saw her at the grocery store, pushing around a cart filled with two-liter bottles of Coke, and flopping around in yellow Crocs. I thought I saw her in traffic, waving at me through the tinted glass of a Ford Focus. “I thought I saw you...” “It’s gone,” she says. “Fuck my life.” “Try calling it.” “Try calling it?” “Try.” “How stupid can they be?” “I’ll call it then,” I say, pulling out my phone. “Give me your digits.” “Digits? Fat chance, Perv.” “I’m just trying to be nice.” “Sure you are,” she says and walks away. But after a little while she returns, leans closer to me and says, “Sorry. Customers hit on me all the time. You want me to call, then I’ll do the dialing.” She stands, leans over the bar, takes my phone and dials. No answer. “Try again,” I say. “Try a few times.” No answer. No answer. “No answer,” she says and slides my phone back. “At least we tried,” I say. “You better delete my number.” “I will.” “You better.” “I will.” “Fucking balseros.” “I know,” I say. “Fuck them.” The bartender unplugs her charger and tosses it in the trash. It’s really raining now, curtains of it coming across Bay Side. Patrons close out their tabs, run off into the storm. The calypso guy doesn’t pack up his equipment, but rather continues banging his pan. “Fuck the calypso player,” she says and laughs. Thunder booms far off. When it’s just me and her sitting under the aluminum canopy listening to the rain fall and the music, I order another beer. She pops it open, slides it over. Then she digs through the ashtray, rakes her fingers through it. “I’m in insurance, you know?” I say. “Was the phone insured?” She paces back and forth. Sits on her stool and lights another cigarette. “Was it insured?” I ask. But she’s ignoring me again, looking out at the bay. “Fucking balseros,” she says. Later, driving home, I dial her number again. It rings. No answer. Just her voicemail greeting: “It’s me. Leave a message.”
Paradigm Shift 49 It’s still raining when I get to my apartment—a small, carpeted space in downtown. Now that I have a real job, I can afford to live on my own. I’d left the windows cracked open for fresh air. When I enter, the vertical blinds are waving, rising, falling, crashing into one another. The claims I’ve been investigating have lifted off my coffee table and are whirling about the room. Maybe it’s the beers, but I like this—the chaos, the smell of rain, the sight of all my busy work in disarray—and so I fall onto my couch, kick off my shoes, and close my eyes. But I can’t sleep. Occasionally I reach onto the coffee table, take my phone, and redial her number. It rings. No answer. Just her voice: “It’s me. Leave a message.” “It’s me. Leave a message.” “It’s me. Leave a message.” The blinds rise and fall. I’m in and out of sleep, listening to her voice. In the dark, the glow of the display screen mesmerizes me. And something about the wind and the blinds reminds me of the ocean’s surf. I see her there on the beach, Army green two-piece tossed at her side. She’s lying in the sand, golden, waxed, lathered in coconut tanning lotion. Her eyes are closed, her nipples shriveled and adorned with emerald rods. She’s surrounded by sea shells and coiled wires and the husks of cell phones, weathered shards—ruby, navy, hot pink. Balseros in frayed clothing run along the surf, scavenging, taking as much wire as they can, as lightning drips down the horizon. In this dream, she opens her eyes—two bright displays—and says. “It’s me. Leave a message. Leave a message. It’s me. Go to the bathroom. Go pee.” I wake to my phone vibrating. It’s her number. I answer: “Hello.” “Deja de llamarme, Maricon,” the thief says. I don’t say anything. “Oye. Maricon. Me oyes? Hear me?” “Who is this?” I ask. “Que coño, compadre? Deja de llamarme.” “Ladron. Thief,” I say. “You are the thief.” He yells into the phone. “Ladron,” I yell. “Ladron? Estas confundido. Esto no es tuyo.” “Do you realize that my girlfriend has been crying all day about this?” I say. “Que? Español.” “My girlfriend. Mi novia.” “Tu novia, eh?” I ask him why he’s stolen my girlfriend’s phone, and he claims someone
sold him the phone for forty dollars. Says he’d be happy to return the phone so long as I pay him for his troubles. Says he’s tired of getting my phone calls. Says I should be screwing my girlfriend, not calling her phone. I know the guy’s full of shit. I even hear the accomplices laughing in the back of the call, but I act thankful, sincere, and I mark down the address. “No policia,” he says. “No policia,” I confirm and hang up. I’m surprised when I leave my building’s parking garage that it’s still dark—five in the morning. It’s no longer raining, but the streets are flooded, and the palm leaves are swaying in the gusts. From the high-rises in downtown, I drive towards the Miami River, to a neighborhood surrounded by junkyards. Most of the houses in this neighborhood are on the river, which is more detrimental to their value than most people would think—insurance companies won’t cover these kinds of homes. The river itself is a channel for scrap ships and petroleum rigs. This close to the water, the houses deteriorate faster, especially since the river is mostly salt water now. Wood rots. Insects eat at the roof, the frames. Sometimes with heavy rains, the dirt on the riverbanks erodes, revealing bits of buried scrap: car parts, barrels, tires. This is a very poor neighborhood, where people use buckets for mailboxes. They spray paint house numbers on exposed cinderblock. It’s the kind of neighborhood I don’t usually have a reason to visit. Driving though these flooded streets, A/C blasting, makes me want to pee. The pressure’s building in my bladder, burning at the edge of my penis. Every dark corner, tree, post, bucket, seems an invitation. But I feel safe in my car, so I hold it. Coming up on the address, there’s a porch light on at one house and some men standing outside with flashlights. They shine their lights at me when I approach, so I pull over across the street and get out of the car. At this point, it’s not that I want to be a hero anymore. I’ve really got to pee. Three young men stand shirtless at the entrance. One of them—shaved head, skin blotchy, black patches meshing into pink—rests his hands on an aluminum baseball bat. This kid’s biting his lip, and he looks angry, worked-up. The other two, twins, it seems, have their arms crossed; they’re identical in every way—height, hair style, stance—except one of them has an eagle tattooed on his chest. Standing the way they’re standing, the twins’ nipples line up. All of these guys are grilling me, shining their flashlights at me, looking at me like they might punch in my face before handing over that phone. The kid with the bat starts tapping the sidewalk with the aluminum end—that metallic sound slices through the neighborhood, slices into my bladder, even. “El dinero?” one of them asks as I approach.
Paradigm Shift 51 “You mind turning those off?” I say. “Por favor.” “El dinero?” he says, tapping the sidewalk with his bat. “Let me see the phone first,” I say, stepping closer to them. One of the guys tosses me the phone. I fumble; it slides down the sidewalk into a puddle, but it doesn’t break. “Shit,” I say. Now I’m on my knee drying the phone off on my shirt. The phone’s not broken though. I check the display: thirty-two missed calls. “I’ve got to pee so bad,” I say. “El dinero,” they say. I hand them the cash. “This forty,” one of them says. “We say ochenta por el telefono.” “That wasn’t our agreement.” “Ochenta.” I pocket the phone, sleek, step back from them and the light. The kid with the bat steps closer. He’s tapping the pavement, but he might as well be butting my bladder. “You give it,” he says. “You leave it with you.” “What?” I search through my pockets, find some loose bills, coins, totaling to about fifty-six dollars. “This is all I got,” I say, handing them the cash. The kid with the bat takes it, raises the bat, then enters the house. “Dale las gracias,” one of them calls into the house. “A ese gringo de mierda?” “You must excuse all of our friend,” the guy with the tattoo says. “He speak English very poorly.” The men shut off their flashlights and enter the house. I enter after them. It takes them a moment to realize that I’ve followed them into the house. The guy with the bat pushes me towards the door. “Bye bye,” he says. “Bathroom,” I say. “El baño.” “Bye bye.” “Por favor,” I say. “You gonna shit?” he says and laughs. Then he makes a farting noise. “Just pee.” “Que dijo, Acere?” one of the twins says. “Tengo que usar el baño,” I say. “I have to pee.” “Y porque no lo dijiste, Acere?” “El baño, por favor?” The guy with the tattoo eyes me, but nods and directs me to their bathroom. I rush through the living room, past a small domino table, and into the bathroom, and slam the door. The bathroom’s disgusting—green walls, paint chipping, mold. Next to the toilet, someone’s stapled pages from a dirty magazine: girls in heels, bent over, a giant target zoning in on their asses; breasts and more breasts,
stacked one next to another by the faucet; women’s faces, their eyes struck out with permanent marker, cocks drawn up alongside their lips. I flush; the toilet gurgles, nearly overflows. I wash my hands in yellowish water, dry them on my jeans, for fear of the stiff rag on the towel rack. Somebody bangs on the door, yells, “Oye. No te pajas,” and laughs. They all laugh. The guys are sitting at the domino table drinking beers and watching a black-and-white movie on a small television when I exit the bathroom. The furniture in the room is sparse, and it’s clear from the stacks of worn clothing and blankets that at least one person sleeps on the burgundy couch by the front door. “Cerveza?” The guy with the bat asks. He’s snapped open a Natural Ice and set it at the table, even though I haven’t asked. I settle in at the table, push some fichas out of the way. “Thank you guys,” I say. “I had to pee so bad.” They nod, drink from their beers. I push the beer away. I’m drawn to the fichas. They look authentic, made of animal bone. Inscribed on their back side is the Cuban flag. These are new Cubans. Twenty-first century marielitos, I realize. Balseros, as the bartender had referred to them. I know, because my mother tells me that these are the kinds of Cubans I need to stay away from. They live off the government, rob, cheat, leech off their relatives. I know they’re bad. And I regret being among them, reduced to their filth. It’s people like this that make me never want to go to Cuba. Fucking robbing people’s phones. Living this way. I sip from the beer to appease them, though it’s late and I’m not particularly in the mood to drink anymore. What I want to do is get back to my apartment and look through the phone. “Quieres jugar? Play?” one of them asks. “Con un gringo?” the guy with the bat says. “Los gringos son malisimo.” “Los gringos son los mejores,” I say. “The best.” I’m not sure why I’ve said it. I’m not really gringo. I’m Cuban, but not like them. And I love dominoes. They laugh. Then I say, “You haven’t played real Cuban dominoes until you’ve played with a Cuban gringo.” “Quieres jugar?” they ask. “No. I really need to go,” I say. “We play,” the one with the bat says, finally setting it down against the wall and sitting across from me. “Amado,” he says, offering his open hand. We shake. One of them draws out some domino racks from beneath the table, says,
Paradigm Shift 53 “Aqui se habla Español.” Then they rack up and play even though the sun is rising. They’re not used to the way I play. And it takes Amado a moment to adjust to my style. Rather than systematically playing my strongest hand, I often start out by baiting the opponent’s strong hand so that they deplete it. At first, nobody is quite sure what I’m doing. They jeer at me and Amado, but then we win. And we keep on winning. Something strange happens. We’re playing dominoes, slamming fichas, teasing each other about our plays, and I’m not seeing the filth anymore. We are a machine, placing one ficha at a time, watching how it all turns out, each and every game. When it’s almost eight, Amado gets up and starts getting dressed for work. “What are you doing?” I ask. “We’re winning.” “Trabajo,” he says. Then he buttons on a McDonald’s uniform, visor and everything. And he plays one more hand before he has to leave for work. We lose this time. Now I’m leaving too. We all promise we’ll play again, and we hug each other. I offer Amado a ride, but he insists on walking. When I drive away, they stand at the door of that dilapidated house, all shirtless except for Amado. A barge loaded with scrap passes behind them. It’s been a long time since I’ve been around good people. But now it’s just me and the bartender’s phone. I touch it, and it lights up: 32 missed calls. In my apartment, I roast a pot of coffee and sit at my counter looking down at the bartender’s phone. This is the closest I’ve been to her. I’ve made a mental promise not to look through her phone, but it’s hard to drink my coffee without prodding. I trace my finger along the silver “S” on the phone’s face, pass my fingers over the keypad, and I activate the display screen. Then I’m inside her phone, opening folders. There are three photos saved on the device: the one of her and her boyfriend; a view of Miami’s skyline from the bay; and a picture of a fresh scar that runs from her belly button to her hip. I zoom in on her hip, her skin. I can see the whirl of her little hairs around the scar. As I’m moving about her stomach, the pic’s interrupted by an incoming call—it’s William White with a “Dirty Diana” ringtone. I set the phone down, let the call go to voicemail, but it’s playing that song loudly, vibrating all over the counter like it might get up and spin off. Once I’m sure there’s no risk of answering the phone, I pick it up again and look through her contacts. There are eight: Mario Acosta; Daddy; Erica Losa; Alejandro Pla; Ximena Suarez; Tia Wilma; Robbie Rico; and William White. Of these, there’s an extensive messaging conversation with Mario Acosta. Lots of lovey-dovey stuff, but there’s also the occasional “Where are you?” “Fuck you.” “I needed you today.” Then there’s the name, Carina.
“Carina, you at the bar?” “Thank you, Cari.” “Cari the little Poopsie.” “I love you, Carina.” “I’m sorry, Cari.” And there’s the calendar—all those visits to the doctor, all those bills to pay: Verizon, AMEX, Netflix, Ford, Sallie Mae. Her birthday weekend: March 15th through the 17th, marked by little green turtles. Another call interrupts my browsing. This time it’s Tia Wilma with a “Who Let the Dogs Out” ringtone. I set the phone down, and I take my coffee and sit by the window. Though I live in a small apartment, I lean out just enough, so I can see Biscayne Bay between the slit of two commercial buildings. Soon, this phone will be in her hands again. I’m not sure how Carina will react, but I like to think she’ll be happy. She’ll pull a barstool next to me and take my arm. She’ll thank me for being so brave, and kiss my cheek. There will be plans to hang out at my place. Afterwards, we’ll lie in bed, going through our phones, our e-mails, occasionally glancing at each other and ducking beneath the sheets for more. We’ll pick our own ringtones: “Love Me Two Times” or maybe “Bold as Love” Just ask the axis! Yeah, Yeah, Yeah! In the evening, I put on my best dress shirt, tuck it into my jeans. I can feel the bulges, first of my phone in one pant pocket, but also Carina’s in the other. I drive to Bay Side, arriving in the lot at the same time as the calypso player. The musician is trying to pull his gear out of his van. I approach the man to help, but he drops it, raises his fists and threatens to punch. “You think I’m a thief?” I ask. The musician eyes me off. Carina’s at the bar, sitting on her stool. Weather’s nicer today—blue metallic waters, gold and red infused in the clouds. There’s a breeze coming in from the Atlantic, which makes the small posters and receipts Carina’s stapled to the bar wall flutter. It’s still early, and most of the tourists at Bay Side have yet to visit the bar. They opt for the stores, the restaurants, the one-hour boat tours on the bay. Party boats illuminated by disco lights cross the bar in the distance. I sit, smile. “How are you?” I ask. Carina smiles and stares into me, but just as quickly stares off like she’s never seen me before. “What’ll it be?” When I don’t answer, she sits on her stool, smoking a cigarette, and
Paradigm Shift 55 poking at a small orange box. I take out her phone, lay it on the bar top, but she doesn’t notice. She’s ripping the cardboard off the box, then the plastic. She takes out a new phone; this one’s a BlackBerry. She unravels the power cord, puts it to charge behind the cash register. Now she’s smiling, sitting in a veil of smoke. “You decided yet?” she yells across the bar. The calypso player sets up by the water. “Fucking calypso player,” she says. “Same songs. Each night. Same shit. So you gonna have something or what?” “Your name’s Carina, right?” She slides off the bar, steps up on something so she’s looking down at me. “Who’s asking?” “I heard.” “Heard from who?” “I just heard it.” “You following me around?” she asks, pointing at my face. “What?” “You heard me,” she says. “You the one following me around?” “I don’t know what you’re talking about? Why would I follow you around? Why would I do that?” I ask. “I know you,” she says. “You’re the guy that was asking me a zillion questions about my phone? Did you take it? Were you the one?” “I’ll take a Carina, please. Corona.” “You the one? You the fucking guy?” “I didn’t come here to be interrogated,” I say. “Creeps like you. Then get the fuck out of here,” she says, tossing a lemon wedge at me and returning to her stool. “Get the fuck out of here. You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me.” I push my stool back from the bar, stand. “Go,” she says. “Get out of here.” “But...” “Go.” Before leaving, I take the phone from between the two ashtrays, and pocket it. Now I’m walking along the bay, listening to calypso, feeling the shape of her phone against my thigh. She’s throwing lemon wedges at me, casting me off like I’m one of the balseros. In the car, I scroll through her phone. I know I can take it back to my apartment and look for more of her. I know I can do this all night until it dies in my hands.
Still Bright â€” After viewing a Japanese scroll at the Detroit Institute of Arts Moon emerging from cloud half-hidden but brilliant who needs a pointing finger once seen what cloud could hide it still bright and rising long after it is gone
Paradigm Shift 57
Dervish Fisherman Born of the dry fly lighter than drop of ink or blood, my blood, all blood, the chlorophyll of a leaf and how you keep casting inside me again and again the livelong day into dreams for when I am not in the river I am murmuring river, river and dervish heart of the endless cast and bright precious loops and dear whisper, dear tear drop diviner and this looping of microfilament and floating line and my heart at the end of it balanced on the hackle of a blue wing olive smaller than any speck of miracle and a miracle itself, the rod bending, the rod bending me in holy cradle, both of us bowing to the water inside us and how love comes in the form of a river and how the water knows my heart and blood as its own, oh, thou knowest and movest me, for never was I never part of this flowing water and flashing fish and clear, clear current carrying me, carrying everyone and see through all the way to eternity and my own lateral lines picking up the faint vibrations of every humming life and the time I sank to my knees in the river after losing the fish of my dreams, which bore an ache and wound in me that keeps on yearning, but who is worthy of a dream fish and who among us can breathe in water as he can, she can, and it was enough (it must be) to know I pierced his lips and caused him pain and for this I would die again and again in order to live once more as when the fish vanished I was most myself, on my knees in the river and grandfather watching over me, letting me know that all of the world is in me, even the dead, even the moon, the fish and the stars as I bowed again to what I did not understand in wild rushing water that kept saying gladness, gladness, gladness over the glistening pebbles and stones.
Bios Paul Anderson earned his MA from Central Michigan University and will earn his MFA from University of Arkansas-Monticello this coming May. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Cardinal Sins, the Absent Willow Review, Thunder Sandwich, and Temenos. He currently teaches English at Mid-Michigan Community College and obsesses over his dog’s alopecia and the Tristero. Kimberly Ann currently teaches freshman composition at Central Michigan University where she is also pursuing a graduate degree in creative writing. She lives with her children and a small dog in a small house, in a small village, in the central Michigan area. Her poems have appeared in Ruminate Magazine, Temenos, the Central Review, and on Narrativality coffee bags. Benjamin Burgholzer’s work has appeared in the Little Patuxent Review, Stonesthrow Review, Metazen, Ragazine, and was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize. When he’s not writing or teaching, he spends as much time as possible on rivers and mountains. Rachel Corso is currently a senior undergraduate at Quinnipiac University. Her poetry has been featured in Helix, Broad!, on bar napkins, and in Microsoft Word documents archived on her outdated MacBook Pro. For now, she likes to pride herself on being considered a “Hamden Townie.” Egan Franks graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in May of 2014. As a painter, she currently works with primary tools and rudimentary themes in order to create art from old memories. Franks lives in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, where she is a proud co-owner of an Australian Cattle Dog named Uncle Muscles. Merrill Elizabeth Gray’s writing has appeared in Grain Magazine, Spring vol viii, Blue Skies Poetry, Crazy Pineapple Press, Fieldstone Review, Four Ties Lit Review, Misfitmagazine, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Bitterzoet and Joy, Interrupted, an anthology on motherhood and loss (Fat Daddy’s Farm, 2013). She teaches online in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Paradigm Shift 59 Stephen Jones is a Detroit-based writer, teacher, scholar, and journalist, whose poetry has appeared in Abandon Automobile, a collection of Detroit poets published by Wayne State University Press; Maxis Review; Poet in the House, an anthology published by Broadside Press; Buddhist Poetry Review, online; Third Wednesday, and the Detroit Sunday Journal. He also is the co-author of two documentary histories, African Americans in Congress and Presidents and Black America. AKaiser has been a resident at Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts inWyoming, USA, and this spring is in residency at JIWAR, a center for urban creativity in Barcelona, Spain. She has work published or soon to be published, in ROAR, Coldnoon:Travel Poetics and Amsterdam Quarterly. Sarah Katz is an MFA candidate in creative writing at American University in Washington, DC. Her poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, The Healing Muse, Heavy Feather Review, jmww, From the Depths, and an anthology published by Handtype Press called Deaf Lit Extravaganza. She currently reads essay submissions to the Writerâ€™s Chronicle and poetry submissions to Folio Literary Journal. Laura Kiselevach decided to pursue her passion for photography after 20 years of working as a visual designer and photo stylist for such clients as Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY, and The New York Times. Using only her well-trained eye and a smart phone camera, she captures both the grandeur and minutiae of her everyday life. Lauraâ€™s work has been published inWilde Magazine, Quickest Flipest, The Casserole, Muzzle Magazine, and exhibited at galleries in New York City, Florida and Los Angeles. A native of a small coal town in northeastern Pennsylvania, Laura lives in New York City. Christopher Madden has a BA in English from the University of Wisconsin, and an MFA in creative writing from Fairfield University. His work has appeared in Airways Magazine and Temenos. He lives in Connecticut, where he is an adjunct instructor of writing at Fairfield University. He owns a lot of books and a bass guitar named Rocinante. Matthew Moffett lives in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, with his wife and two kids. He has had poems published or are set to be published in the Central Review, Open Palm Print, and Modern Haiku. He thanks you for reading his poems.
temenos Elliott Niblock was born in Appleton, WI, and studied at Macalester College (BA), Harvard Divinity School (MTS), and the University of Montana (MFA). His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Boiler, Marathon Literary Review, Off the Coast, and elsewhere. Niblock works as a freelance writer, dividing his time between Missoula and itinerancy. Raul Palma is a PhD student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an Assistant Editor of Fiction for Prairie Schooner. Winner of the Mari Sandoz/Prairie Schooner Story Prize and the Soul-Making Keats Mary Mackey Prize, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Alimentum, decomP magazinE, Midwestern Gothic, NANO Fiction, Saw Palm: Florida Literature & Art, Rhino, and elsewhere. Nicholas Perry is an artist based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. An abstractionist by heart, his work revolves around the sensations of memory. His work has been featured in The Driftwood Press, The Cream City Review, Empty Sink Publishing, The Newplainsreview, and many more. Robert Pope has published a novel, Jack’s Universe, and a collection of stories, Private Acts, as well as many stories and personal essays in journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, The Kenyon Review, and Conium Review. He teaches at The University of Akron. Gerard Sarnat MD received his education at Harvard and Stanford, has established and staffed clinics for the disenfranchised, been a CEO of healthcare organizations, and a Stanford professor. He and his wife of forty-five years have three children and two grandchildren with more on the way, and live in the room above their oldest daughter’s garage. He is the author of three critically acclaimed collections: HOMELESS CHRONICLES from Abraham to Burning Man (2010), Disputes (2012), and 17s (2014) in which each poem, stanza or line has 17 syllables. Gerard is currently featured as Songs of Eretz Poetry Review’s Poet of the Week with one of his poems appearing daily, the second poet ever to be so honored.
Paradigm Shift 61 Laura Valeri is the author of two story collections, Safe in Your Head, a winner of the Stephen F. Austin University Literary Prize in Fiction, and The Kinds of Things Saints Do, an Iowa John Simmons Award winner. Her work appears in numerous journals, including Glimmer Train, Creative Nonfiction, Waccamaw, Conjunctions, and most recently, Fiction Southeast, the Sycamore Review, and Panhandler. She teaches at Georgia Southern University and is founding editor of Wraparound South, a literary magazine. Robert Vivian has published four novels and two books of meditative essays. He teaches at Alma College and is a core faculty member in the low-residency MFA program at the Vermont College Of Fine Arts. He’s working on a collection of dervish essays entitled Mystery My Country. Penny Baert Zywusko enjoys friends and family, gardening, road trips, and greater journeys where she finds inspiration in the beauties of nature and the puzzles of human nature. She was raised in Maine and, for a few years, attended a one-room school, where, by the time she finished second grade, she had learned to diagram compound-complex sentences and to love the word “participle.” Her work has appeared in Still Crazy Literary Magazine.