The Paragon Journal - Issue Fifteen

Page 1







The Paragon Journal: Journal of Creative Arts - February 2019 Cover Art: Max Weiche Cover Design: Austin Shay Heading and Subheading Set: Roadway Text Set: Times New Roman All authors/artists retain the rights to their work. All work that appears in this journal has been published with permission of the author/artist. ISSN: 2470-7775 (print) ISSN: 2470-3834 (online) Want to be published? Submit your work to the sixteenth issue of The Paragon Journal. More information available at


PARAGONJOURNAL editor-in-chief

austin shay

managing editor

rishika goel

executive editor

emily eagle

senior editor copy editor graphic designer intern

sara stevenson ashley foy chris shearer kelleigh stevenson julia watson claire ahn


Pretty Like Me The Puzzle Phone Calls, Pasta, and SpongeBob Thin Hips Stop Tickling Me A Dialogue with Georgia O’Keeffe II: Ghost Ranch Another Sort of Griddle Next Time I’ll Be More Quiet Things Feel So Different Underwater Hospice Bed With A Single Step A Possibility of Joy Items Found/Not Found in My Cutlery Drawer


the editor

Hello Everyone! We have been slacking lately on our periodic publications, and for that we are sorry. However, we have been placing more emphasis on the work of our interns. You may have noticed that we have a rotating magazine (Koan, Lagom) that changes titles and submission criteria, and that is the work of our lovely intern teams. We are trying to provide more educational opportunities and sometimes that takes away from our daily duties. We are still an active publishing house, and look forward to see all of the work that you have for us. Keep an eye out for the submission details for Vellichor, or next intern magazine. Read On,

Austin Shay, Executive Director



I sat in the dark movie theater watching Crazy Rich Asians and found myself crying. Crying is not unusual for me, especially while watching cheesy romantic movies, my favorite genre. What was unusual about those tears was that they weren’t about the story, but about who was telling the story. Crazy Rich Asians is the first major Hollywood studio film written and directed by Asian Americans to feature an all-Asian cast. I went back a couple of days later and watched it again, trying to sort through the flood of memories and emotions that the diverse Asian cast released in me. I spent my teen years watching St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles, pining over boys--bad boys, brooding boys, shy rich boys. It was the eighties and my family had moved from Korea to Houston just as I was turning eleven. At the peak of my puberty, I crushed on the boys of the Brat Pack and cried over unrequited loves, both real and imagined. My favorite was Andrew McCarthy. I’ve always had a thing for baby faces and I fell in love with him in St. Elmo’s Fire and Pretty in Pink. I desperately wanted to be Demi Moore or Molly Ringwald. I permed my stubborn straight hair, willing it to emulate Demi’s wild and sexy curls, but my mom’s home perms always came out the same: frizzy. As for having Molly’s strawberry blond hair, I wasn’t allowed to color my hair because that would mean I was becoming too American. So coloring my hair became my ultimate goal when I got old enough to make my own decisions. I wanted to be like them, with their small faces, soft wavy hair and big round eyes the color of the sky or the Caribbean ocean. I wanted to look like them so that someone like Andrew McCarthy would want me. He would stand up for me and pick me over his friends and family. Because he loved me. I cried when McCarthy’s character in Pretty in Pink, Blane, succumbed to peer pressure and pulled away from his unpopular girlfriend, Andie, leaving her geeky best friend Duckie to take her to prom. It was a bittersweet moment for Duckie who had always loved her, but I was mad. I was team Blane all the way. I didn’t want to settle for Duckie. I wanted The Guy.

After watching these movies and wiping away tears of joy when the girl finally got the boy, I hoped to find love like that. I dreamt about standing in front of Blane or Jake, them holding my face and whispering that I was pretty and that they wanted me. But then the camera would pan out and I couldn’t see my face in the shot. I was always a faceless girl in my fantasies. I could picture myself looking into the bright, blue eyes of Andrew McCarthy and feel like I was floating in a cloudless sky. But what would he see in my black eyes? Looking at western faces all day, what the mirror reflected back at me was always jarring. I hated seeing my face in the mirror. The person who stood before me had small eyes that disappeared at the slightest hint of a smile. No one sang about the color of my eyes and my

1 | Creative Nonfiction

typical, flat Korean face seemed twice the size of Demi’s or Molly’s. No matter how much eyeliner I drew on the rims of my eyes or how much I tried to contour my cheeks and jawline with blush, my face never looked like theirs. I wasn’t pretty like them and certainly Andrew or Rob or Emilio would never want me. The reflection in the mirror was a daily reminder of my otherness. So I stopped looking at my face in the mirror and decided that unrequited love would be my specialty. When people ask me what it was like living in Texas in the eighties when there were few Asians around, I tell them how surprisingly normal my teen years were. I played in the marching band, went to pep rallies and football games. I hung out with my friends from band and honors classes and had a stereotypical teenage life. I don’t remember experiencing overt racism. But there were things that happened. Little things. These flashes of memories got stuffed in the back of my consciousness and mysteriously bubbled up to the surface while watching Crazy Rich Asians. In the 6th grade lunch line, a girl with blond pixie hair stared into my face and asked me if I could see my lashes. I don’t think she meant to be mean or racist. She was just a little girl too and hadn’t seen many Asians with our single-lidded eyes. My eyes looked different from hers and she was curious. Without the crease in the eyelid that help point lashes upward, my straight lashes shot out, almost at a downward angle. I stood there silent until she walked away. I didn’t speak much English back then, but it wasn’t the lack of language that kept me silent. It was embarrassment. I became self-conscious about my eyes and how different they looked from those around me. To this day, I don’t let anyone see me without my lashes curled and mascara on. I use waterproof mascara, not because I cry all the time or sweat a lot, but because waterproof mascaras hold the curls better than regular mascaras. I’ve spent a lifetime willing my lashes to curl upwards to help me feel like everyone else. Every Asian American kid has been taunted by some version of, “Ching Chong Ching Chong.” This is especially painful if the other kid also closes their eyes half way to mimic the stereotype of small Asian eyes. In junior high, a group of boys who all reminded me of Ricky Schroeder told me they knew how to tell Asians apart. They pulled the corners of their eyes down and said, “Japanese,” then pulled their eyes up and said, “Chinese,” and finally pulled their eyes out and said, “Korean.” They repeated the gesture over again laughing, “See? Japanese, Chinese, Korean!” I could feel my face getting hot, but I wasn’t angry. I was mortified. I wanted to close my eyes and make myself disappear. When I was finally old enough that I was allowed to wear makeup, I searched through pages of beauty magazines for tips on how to apply it. I wanted anything to help my eyes look bigger, rounder. As I stood at the drug store makeup aisle, I was disappointed to find that the instructions on all the eye shadow combos--Sweep light base shadow over the entire lid then follow the crease and apply darker shade to bring more dimension to the eye--didn’t apply to

2 | Creative Nonfiction

my single-lidded eyes. Since I didn’t have a crease that folded, there was nothing to guide my shadow application, just my stupid, bulging eyelids. There are some lucky Koreans who are born with eye folds, but not me. I got the worst of Korean eyes. With a pencil, I traced a line on my eyelid where a fold should have been and opened my eyes wide, forcing a crease. I could see the full circle of my iris and the entire length of my short lashes. Am I prettier now? More lovable? Most of my non-Asian friends have no idea what I mean when I talk about double or single-folded eyelids, also known as mono-lids. It’s a non-issue for them, but I’ve been struggling with it all my life. How do I explain that so many of my insecurities are tied to how I see my eyes and my face? Then there’s the Long Duk Dong of Sixteen Candles, the only Asian male I saw on screen besides Bruce Lee. And while I laughed along with my friends watching the movie, there was a part of me that felt uncomfortable. None of the boys at my Korean church were like him. Most of them grew up in the US, spoke perfect English, and were smart and funny. But those guys never had a chance against the curse of Long Duk Dong. When I was a sophomore, I was standing outside the band hall after marching band practice when a group of football players carried a chubby freshman player toward me and plopped him at my feet. I had seen him around. There were only a few of us Koreans in school so we were aware of each other. The kid tried to leave, but the big, burly football players blocked his escape and shoved him towards me. “Hey, he likes you!” “You want him to be your boyfriend?” they teased. Kids are mean. I get it. Maybe it was some sort of mild hazing for the new freshman player on their team. But in that moment, I loathed that kid for his flat face and slanty eyes. All I saw was Long Duk Dong standing in front of me and I didn’t want to be associated with him. Looking back, I can see that he was embarrassed too. Maybe it’s true that he liked me and made the mistake of confessing to his teammates, but I liked boys with hazel eyes and wavy hair named Richard, Patrick and Dallas. All I remember is feeling humiliated that the football players could only see me with that chubby Korean kid, and not with one of them. Fast forward to 1993: I watched The Joy Luck Club, an important movie because it was the first major studio film to feature a mostly Asian cast. The movie dealt with various motherdaughter relationships in Asian immigrant culture. I related to all of those issues, but they are not the reasons I remember the film. I remember it because of Andrew McCarthy. He was one of the few non-Asians in the movie and played a husband to one of the daughters. Andrew McCarthy, the man of my dreams, was married to an Asian woman. And somewhere deep inside, a little Korean girl rejoiced. So he likes Asian women! I felt hope. After that, I waited 25 years through Memoirs of Geisha, Crouching Tiger, Hidden

3 | Creative Nonfiction

Dragon and Kill Bill to finally see myself reflected on the screen again, not as an object to be collected, not as a martial arts expert nor as a bitchy killer, but as a fully-realized person worthy of love. No Asian fetish and no yellow fever. No Madam Butterfly and no Miss Saigon waiting for Lt. Pinkerton or an American GI to save me from myself. Just two people who look like me falling in love and figuring out how to have a relationship against all odds. Crazy Rich Asians. It’s your basic girl-meets-boy romance. They fall in love. They encounter obstacles. They overcome them and they live happily ever after. Nothing special. Nothing new. But everything new and so magical. In middle age, I fell in love with another silly romantic comedy. Crazy Rich Asians is funny and sweet. It’s got cute guys. Goodbye Andrew McCarthy! Hello Henry Golding and Chris Pang! And checks off all the things I love about rom-coms. But mostly, I loved the movie because it validated me. No Asian stereotypes to fit into or fight against. Representation in media matters. There are people who argue that there is too much focus on race. It’s just a movie for entertainment, they say, not a statement. But for me, Crazy Rich Asians was much more than a movie. It made me see that our eyes are beautiful as they are, whether they are dark, small and single-lidded, turning into a crescent moon when we smile, or are double-lidded and almond shaped, or are some form in between. It was an affirmation that we exist, in all our diversity. I’m not saying I’m going to go outside without makeup because of a movie or anything crazy like that. All I’m saying is that I saw myself in an ordinary love story on the big screen and I can finally begin to picture myself in my fantasies.

4 | Creative Nonfiction



In the senior apartment house, completed puzzle boards, with hundreds of tiny pieces, line the hallway, like the mosaic of photos on her refrigerator: smiling with her husband for an occasion, grandchildren as babies, then college grads; and a little white dog who died decades ago. Her husband is gone three years, children and grandchildren dispersed; her porcelain ornaments, record collection, sold to fit her into these small rooms. Now, even the bones of her vertebrae no longer align. She, herself, is like a puzzle piece that no longer fits in any board.

6 | Poetry



Yard work seemed to calm Trent after long and stressful days, along with visits from his nephew Ross. His blond hair shining in the sun, resembling a halo, ice blue eyes, pale cheeks littered with freckles, and small little nose Trent “stole” when Ross was three. Thank God he has his mother’s looks and brains, Trent conveyed. Genna pulled into the driveway in her silver SUV. Once the SUV was put into park, Ross had begun running toward his uncle in childhood excitement and joy. “Make sure he doesn’t watch TV,” Genna warned as Ross wrapped his arms around Trent. “He’s grounded for the week.” “I’ll do that,” Trent replied, giving his six-year-old nephew a bear hug, lifting his feet off the concrete driveway. “Be good, Ross.” Genna took off to her law firm. “Alright, Boss,” Trent started, laid-back and leading his nephew into the living room he’d spent the afternoon cleaning, “why are you grounded?” “I hit another boy because he called me a stupid-head,” Ross justified. “Still no reason to hit someone,” Trent responded. “Have you had dinner, yet?” “No. Mom orders pizza most of the time. I’m getting sick of it.” “Just wait until college; it’ll become your staple food,” Trent joked. “Then I won’t go to college.” “What are you hungry for, Boss?” “Spaghetti.” “Good. I have a lot to get rid of. Do you want a root beer to go with it?” “Can’t.” Ross sat on the aged living room sofa, feet barely touching the ground. “I have a dentist appointment tomorrow. Mom wants me to drink more water.” Ross pouted again before he began searching for the television remote. “Pepsi, then?” “Yeah.” Ross quickly found the remote under one of the cushions and turned it to Nickelodeon. “I’ll take the can.” He stood up, posture straight. “I’m a big boy, now.” Trent chuckled. He’s too cute for his own good. “Here you go, kiddo.” He offered the can to his nephew with relief, as he had no clean glasses to offer as his dishwater needed repair, again. “When will the spaghetti be done?” “Five minutes.”

7 | Fiction

“Can you ask Mom if I can stay here for the week?” “Sure, why?” Trent momentarily left the spaghetti on the stove to get a beer from the refrigerator. “Because I don’t want to go back home.” Ross’s answer stopped Trent in his tracks. He reentered the living room without his beer, prepared for a grim conversation. With footsteps feeling pounds heavier, Trent began his short journey to face Ross. “Why don’t you want to go home?” He kneeled down to face his nephew. “’Cause when me and Mom come home, she’s all angry and quiet. When I ask if Dad’s coming back, she asks me about school,” Ross answered in a small voice, making Trent see Ross as three years old again. “Is Dad coming back?” “I don’t know,” Trent responded as honestly as he could. “Why did he leave?” Ross’s voice was barely a whisper. “Adult manners, something you’re too little to know,” Trent replied too quickly. “Was it something I did?” Ross’s eyes began shining with tears. “No, of course not.” Trent wiped his nephew’s eyes gently and desperately in an attempt to keep Ross calm. “Was it something Mom did?” Tears began to escape Trent’s fingertips. “No.” A continuous flow of tears came from Ross’s freckled cheeks. “Was it something Dad did?” “No.” Trent felt a pang of guilt of lying to Ross. “Then why is Dad gone? Why is Mom mad? Will he come back?” Ross’s face began turning pink in resentment. “That’s enough questions for right now. Dinner’s ready.” Trent never felt more relieved than he was as he began preparing Ross’s dinner, which seemed to distract him for the time being; sitting in the living room watching cartoons with a Pepsi in his hand and spaghetti covered in a mound of Parmesan cheese. How do you tell your nephew his dad used to know some bad people, and that they found him? Trent asked himself. How do you tell him that you knew the kind of people your dad was with, the kinds of things he, and how you didn’t tell his mom? <> “Are you sure you can’t work things out with him?” Trent pleaded with Genna. “There is no way in hell I’m forgiving that jack-ass!” Genna screamed, livid. “He walked out on us!” “He had a good reason,” Trent replied, considerably relaxed. “He owed money to people you never want to owe money from.” “And put me and our little boy in danger!”

8 | Fiction

Trent took a deep breath. He wanted to tell Genna her husband’s intention for running away: he wanted them safe. A dangerous part of his life was coming back; past friends with criminal records. It was a life he had put behind him when Trent granted him permission to ask out Genna and eventually marry her. “Look, sis,” Trent sighed, “can I talk to you later? I want you to calm down.” “You can’t walk away from me! You knew all along, and you had me believing he was the perfect man, that he wasn’t keeping any secrets. Only, low and behold, he was nothing but a distributor and seller of God knows what …” <> “Alright, Boss. Do you want another Pepsi?” “No. I don’t want to get another cavity. Mom will tell me that I’ll have to get fake teeth if I get too many.” Classic Gen. “Boss, can I tell you a secret?” “Yeah.” Ross seemed to light up in anticipation, his gaze away from the TV. “Your mom and I used to have sodas every day, sometimes four a day. Does it look like we have fake teeth?” He smiled, showing Ross his real teeth. “Um, no.” “Exactly, but remember to use a toothbrush.” “Can I have more then?” “Sure.” Trent seemed content sitting with his favorite nephew watching “The Brave Little Toaster.” As the movie neared its end, he looked at his phone to see he was receiving a call from Lola: his fuck from two days ago. <> “Are you available next week?” Lola asked, her voice sultry and seductive, matching her Maxim-like appearance—voluptuous body, soft brown hair, alabaster skin, ruby lips, and mesmerizing dark eyes. Trent began getting dressed. “No.” He put on his T-shirt. “I’m going to be busy.” “Too bad,” Lola cooed, seductive tone still present as she lay beside him, red silk sheets covering her breasts; breasts Trent had seen, touched, and kissed numerous times. “I’ve missed you.” “Don’t focus your time on me. There are other men who would kill each other just to touch you.” “True, but you treat me nice.” Trent could hear Lola rising from her bed, and watched as she donned an oversized Megadeath shirt and bright green clogs. She left momentarily to make herself her noon Manhattan. “I want to see you again.” “We’re seeing each other now.” “Just consider it, okay?” Lola’s voice trembled a bit as she sat beside him, a full drink in her manicured hand. “I hate meeting you so sporadically. Are you ashamed of me? My profes-

9 | Fiction

sion? The fact I chose it?” “No. I called you. And sometimes my work schedule is unpredictable…” “You’re a freelance journalist, not a lawyer. Even then, lawyers are more willing to spend their time and money on me. I mean something to them. Much more than one night every other month of fucking and me finding a few crumpled up twenties on my nightstand and a note like some people.” Lola was livid, but tried to control it. Trent believed she was being passiveaggressive. “Sorry for getting angry,” Lola retorted, taking a long swig of her drink. “Don’t be. You have the right to be angry.” “I’ll remember that next time when my head hits the headboard.” Trent attempted a weak smile before walking out of Lola’s loft. She drank her Manhattan and stripped off her dated t-shirt in exchange for shorts and a bandeau. She still kept her clogs on as she prepared for her next client, though she often expressed wonder to Trent as to why she put in the effort to get dressed a certain way for them in first place. “It’s not like the men remember what I wear anyway. You might be the exception, but how would I know?” Lola once asked. “You looked pretty when you wore that red dress,” commented Trent. Lola smiled sweetly before making herself another cocktail. <> When he let his phone go to voicemail, he received a text from her asking if he could give her a ride back to her loft. Take a taxi. I’m sure u have enough money, Trent replied before deleting Lola’s number from his cell phone. He rejoined Ross for the last five minutes of the movie. With Genna promoted to paralegal and having to find a secretary, Ross’s stay with Trent became more frequent. Ross was given a spare key to be able to go to his house to pack a bag for his stays with Trent. During one visit, Trent had picked up takeout before Ross was dropped off. He was still sick of eating pizza. “Uncle T, I’m not grounded anymore,” Ross announced. “I’ve been suspended from school, though.” Trent groaned softly. “Did you hit that boy again?” “Yes, but for a good reason.”’ “Which is…?” Ross swallowed his bite of chicken stir-fry. “He kept pulling on a girl’s hair after she told him to stop. The teacher didn’t do anything about it, so I did.” Trent sighed heavily in disbelief, and then turned to Ross. He noticed a bandage wrapped around his knuckles. “And you’re suspended why?” “’Cause little boys don’t hurt other little boys. Mom said she’ll try to talk to the school, but she’s too busy.” “I’ll talk to them for you, Boss.”

10 | Fiction

“Thanks, Uncle T. Do you still have Pepsi?” “No, just fruit punch.” “I’ll take it anyway.” Trent retreated into the kitchen. As he was pouring a cup of juice, he heard his phone ringing from the living room. Curious, Ross picked it up, seeing what was Lola’s number. “Who is it?” Trent asked, serving himself more dumplings and orange chicken. “I don’t know.” Trent made his way back to the living room with the fruit punch in a Batman glass. “No one to fuss about. Let it ring.” He held out his hand for Ross to give him the phone. Ross did with some reluctance and watched his uncle place his phone on the other side of the couch. With a second helping of orange chicken, dumplings, and can of Coors Light, Trent turned the TV onto Nickelodeon, which was having a SpongeBob SquarePants marathon. Ross didn’t seem to be as distracted by the life of the yellow sea sponge as much as Trent would’ve expected. “Why didn’t you pick it up?” “I don’t want to,” Trent retorted quickly, pretending to pay attention to the TV. “Why?” There was a short silence. “The person calling is someone I don’t like.” “Why?” “She doesn’t understand me.” Ross looked puzzled. “Then why see her?” “She’s nice and she’s fun, but she doesn’t make me happy.... She wants things I don’t.” “Sorry, Uncle T. Will you meet someone who will make you happy?” “That’s what I have you and your mom for.” He shook up Ross’s hair much to his amusement. “I still like that episode,” Ross commented during a commercial break. “The ‘Normal’ one?” “Yes.” “Why’s that?” “Because SpongeBob was happier when he was ‘abnormal’. I mean, why should he be normal if he wasn’t happy being normal?” Trent smiled again. “I like the way you think, Boss.” As commercials played, there was an urgent knock on the door causing Ross to drop his empty soda can. Trent quietly made his way to the door. Looking through the peephole, a knot formed in his stomach. “Ross, go into my room and lock the door. Don’t come out unless I say so.” “Why, Uncle T?”

11 | Fiction

“Just go.” Worried and confused, Ross left. It wasn’t until Trent heard the bedroom door lock when he let Lola in. “Why are you here?” Lola swayed her hips as she entered the home. “Is that how you greet all your expensive fucks?” “When they come here uninvited, yes. Now why are you here?” “I hate screwing random men. The money’s great, but I only want one man to have me. Exclusively.” Lola pouted her lips, a move Trent was familiar with. “I want to be part of you.” “Well, keep dreaming. I know you too well, Lola.” Trent stepped away from her, turning off the television. “You know some dangerous people, and I know you got a new recruit to sell your opiate pills.” Lola tensed momentarily, but Trent saw it. “He won’t hurt anyone. He’s too much of a softy when it comes to taking care of people.” “Why are you telling me this? You’ve kept that part of yourself away from me.” Lola walked closer to him, running her manicured fingers along his arm as her scarlet lips neared Trent’s ear. “Because the new recruit wanted me to give you a message… personally. He said that you know him, but those are his words.” “Out with it, Lola,” Trent growled. “He said he can’t leave; he knows too much about my world. You know, he let his dick wander and thought with the wrong brain,” Lola giggled. “If he leaves, it’ll be the end for his son. You know, the one in your room right now?” A cold marble of sweat rolled down Trent’s neck. “How do you know about Ross?” “Like any father who instantly regrets leaving, he carries a picture of his kid—the same one you have in your wallet. I’m smarter than you give me credit for.” With a quick clearing of her throat Lola continued, “Now, will we be exclusive? For the safety of your nephew?” “You’re sick.” “But you’d still fuck me anyway.” … “Say hi to Ross for me,” chimed Lola while leaving. “Don’t delete my number.” “I won’t,” Trent lied. Once she was gone, he made an anonymous call to the police about Lola before telling his nephew he could come back to the living room. “What was that about?” asked Ross, sitting back on the sofa. “Nothing, Boss. Everything is fine.” Trent took the empty food containers off of his coffee table and turned the TV to the next episode of SpongeBob: “No Nose Knows”. “Uncle T, have you seen this episode?” Ross asked. “No, have you?” Trent returned, joining Ross, with a can of Bud Light.

12 | Fiction

“Yeah. It’s funny. Patrick wants to get a nose so he can smell stuff,” Ross eagerly explained to his uncle. Not mindless, so much as childish and a brief distraction, Trent relayed internally. “How does it end?” “I can’t tell you. You’ll have to watch it with me.”

13 | Fiction


HENRY STANTON (After Lucille Clifton) When you are thirty you are very seldom ancient as you are seldom does it wash through you fifty no sixty is the time for melting snow when you are thirty the earth shears against itself and some one else's large hips sway your thin hips ache with the act of wanting for the flame in your chest to flare in your eyes and off the writhing tip of your tongue and even when you get down on your knees to the muse you are pounding the sofa with your fists.

14 | Poetry



“George! Stop tickling me!” Sarah screamed, mid-giggle. The grass froze, the wind froze, the bees that clustered around the small white clovers froze. Dogs froze suspended in midair from the pure screech of sexual innocence that carried from Sarah’s soft mouth on a blanket at a dog park in Lake Hollywood, all the way across the Pacific to Catalina Island, where a ladybug froze mid-flight. Sarah and her friends sat together like they were playing hooky, even though it was hours after school, and most of their parents knew where they were. George, who had learned as early as 8th grade how to sniff out the empaths, looked Sarah in the eye and held his charged hand hovering over her ribcage, teasing contact. “Happy?” he said. “You wish,” she said, swatting his hand away. Sarah bit down on her molars to stop the smile that tugged up on the corners of her belly. Sarah and George and Mayella and Shannon and Tom and Cooper all sat in the late-afternoon sun, breathing in the rarified air of high school seniors in their second semester. The freedom of a future planned and a past survived. If you stood in the center of their coven, they would all be backlit. “Hey,” said Cooper, his brown hair lush like pudding. He tried to inhale his electronic pipe like James Dean from that old movie he caught a minute of on HBO, but he knew deep down that a cigarette without a flame was just a flashlight. “You guys wanna come to my house and get some grub?” He asked on the exhale, the pineapple smoke distracting more than one of the dogs nearby. Cooper’s house had been their clubhouse, lots of supplies with little supervision. “Can’t,” said Mayella. “My stupid mom said I had to come home tonight. She’s got total abandonment issues. It’s like ever since I got into college, she got more strict.” Mayella rolled over on to her back and looked up, wondering if her dad was looking down on her. Shannon and Tom sat back to back, the reigning king and queen. Shannon’s long blond hair was highlighted and curled to look fresh from the salt thick waves of the ocean, miles and miles and miles and miles and miles away from her home in Encino. Tom was team captain for water polo and lacrosse and cut himself with so much discipline, not even Shannon knew. “We can come.” Shannon’s words came from the center of twelve unpacked Russian dolls, small and cavernous. She had been high since noon. Sarah was waiting for George to answer. She should go home but couldn’t miss the opportunity to keep her body in the vicinity of George. Shannon stretched out her Hawaiian Tropic leg and pushed her toe into Sarah’s thigh. “You coming, Sarah? Sarah Sahara. Sarah don’t-care-a?” Sarah placed a bet. “Yeah, totally.” “What about you, George? Lordy George? George-y-pordgey?” The rhymes tickled Shannon’s tongue like popcorn-flavored jellybeans melted together in a glove compartment. “Can’t,” lied George. It was too late for Sarah to change her mind. Now she was stuck with everyone but the one she wanted. Stuck for hours pretending that these friendships would last as many years into the future as they had existed in the past. Stuck away from her family whom she already missed since she got into college. She would look back on this day, after her first divorce, and remember how she betrayed herself. George reached over and grazed his fingers under Mayella’s ribcage. “George! Stop tickling me!” She screamed, mid-giggle. Sarah froze.

17 | Fiction



God decreed: Move that mountain in paint and you can have it. Daringly—you believed Her. But you had to die first. Now your spirit comes in and out of serious play here at Ghost Ranch along with the brujos and brujas. The Tiwa elder towers above us spirit tall along the path near the school built in your backyard because he is curious about those of us who have lost our sacredness in this valley of death. And my friend asks, Why do they call this Ghost Ranch?

You like to spook the tourists by blowing in the ear of those even slightly aware. Memories they will never forget. As for me, you noticed my return but there was no love loss only begrudging acknowledgment— like an old lady who does not trust the living. You want to know if we are serious. You are used to working with so little. I remind you we’ve met before in a New Orleans museum, hoping this familiarity wins your approval. You don’t remember me, why should you, but I was the one wearing the mind of the critic as if I’d had anything useful to say.

19 | Poetry

I took it upon myself to evaluate a lesser masterpiece in order to impress a friend. Yes. I dared. And you packed a punch, nearly landed me on my knees when you revealed the full power of the death mask hidden in the folds of that mountain you moved in paint. Humbled—I’ve returned all this way to the mountain of my belonging where not even you decides who sees into the empty space of the pelvis bone where all life begins and ends in the twinkling of the creative eye. I say, YES. I say YES to the wayward, jet-set cowgirls who teased your aesthetic sensibility of beauty and who yodeled coyote songs under the vacant eyes of the bleached steer’s head. I say YES to the eternal joy sprung like water from your youthful heart in this land without rain. I say YES to the spindly branches and wind-carved trunks of the cedar trees who hold their beauty long past death. To you, I say, YES. I say, YES. I say, YES to the entire mountain of my heart.

20 | Poetry

The way it was gifted to you, Dear Georgia, on this magnificent day at Ghost Ranch, I dare say YES to you.

21 | Poetry



The fire was lit before his arrival to the torn down basketball court. He was ready for praise. The man they found on the road was almost crucified, but his survival was not necessary. This was always meant to be a homicidal rage. The light reflected from the blaze somewhere deep inside he knew he always hated the gays. The man’s heart was raised by hate, no one to love that son.

23 | Poetry



We are only shadows of ourselves Gliding silently through the Fields of wreckage Our wings as big as airplanes And faces like cracked blue china Oh my beautiful dying rose You must know How it pains me to see you this way Is what I thought of saying But of course I simply looked at my shoes in silence While the buildings burned and crashed Around me I told you once That I could never love anything more Than the feeling of my lungs Searing white hot in my sunken chest As you walked away again

Nail my feet to the sidewalk The rain will make my Filthy goddamn heart Clean And this will all make sense later When we see it on tv

24 | Poetry



A dancing origami spider Came skittering of my ear this morning And died on the blue scarf Covering the nightstand my mother gave me I thought nothing of it Just wasted another cough drop Because I like the taste And drew pictures of hibiscus flowers On pieces of trash I can’t throw out Without needles poking My softest places I’ve never really understood anything I suppose Now when I think I’m losing my mind I try to remember That when it happens I won’t know It is happening So this soul crushing dread Must simply be a byproduct of my Tenaciously lingering sanity

Dear sense and reason Please wrap me in your warm embrace and Hold me close on rainy nights When my face looks unfamiliar And when it is time That you must leave me Please drop my body Out in the desert On a cliff overlooking miles Of red clay Scrub bushes And brown hawks circling overhead I’ll lie back and let my bones Become rock and soil And I will have no further use for your wisdom

25 | Poetry



My dog, Cody, is at the foot of the bed Chewing the fur on her dog-knee With the intensity of a warlord on the field Looking into my eyes With the sun shining into her face And I don’t believe in god But if there were one I think it would live in the hearts Of rescue chihuahuas And homeless children I’m an open wound most days pleading with banality To stop salting my wounds And stealing my lunch money And in the quiet hours of the early evening With the smell of piss from the street Hanging high in the dusky sky I remember what it was like To wake up drunk In a strange hotel room With a strange man Who did not speak English I sink my haunches deeper into the soft earth Beneath me and watch the backs of my eyelids explode with stars I bet you didn’t know I was a Supernova

27 | Poetry



My grandfather died in his living room oblivious to the loved ones around him. His sister, his wife and her children, my siblings and cousins, they were all there to send him off and it would never make a damn lick of difference to the pitiful old man. God, he deserved better than dying in a nearly catomocosed state in a bed he’d never seen having a nurse come in everyday to wash him, having his stepson emptying his catheter when she was busy attending some other cracked chunk of flesh. The lights were off and the drapes, normally blue but now painted black with shadow, were drawn (no use disturbing a dead man resting) but the dull glistening of the white sheets smothering his lanky frame still shone, shone like when you look outside and see the sun’s rays covering the Earth in a blanket of divine light, only to step outside and have the icy wind bite to your bare bones, your flesh trying to shake loose like leaves in October. October was when it happened, when a hospice bed fulfilled its promise of becoming a death bed. The home’s warmth just wasn’t there, and the frigid air produced tragedy sure as spark makes flame. Tragedy is only too strong a word if you never saw his cheerful smile cut through every negative emotion in a room, never heard the strum of his guitar be met with his steely voice, never saw the love he poured into his cooking because he knew he was stuffing the bellies of those who stuffed his heart. His sense of humor was damn dry, more dry than bones sticking out in the desert, but all the children loved him through every sarcastic quip and mock conniption. My older sister and our cousins loved him. My brother and I loved him too, even though we didn’t have the time to get as close to the man. Hell, he was a friendly giant in a small town - everyone loved him. They’d bring food and flowers and anecdotes in the coming days, but for now there was just a tight circle around him as his breath rasped. I like to think he was thinking of my grandma. My grandma was a nurse for a long time, so she knew that the last sense to go is hearing. After as long as she felt comfortable keeping him to herself, she leaned in to the hair-filled ear of her third husband, the ancient cartilage of a man she spent a third year of her life with, and said, choking back tears, I’ll be okay. Just do what you need to do. And that’s what he did. He didn’t like fuss (he was a relic from the post-depression, post-WWII time after all) and he would’ve hated being dependent on people who were supposed to be dependent on him. But those last moments were as peaceful as a life lived being snuffed out can be, and thinking that smoothed things later on when the food and flowers and anecdotes came. The small, thick ball of white fuzz that rested on his lap whimpered and jumped following the sigh when he passed. “Is he about to pass?” “I think he just did.” He did. What more was there to say? Nothing, apparently, given the heavy silence and stifled sobs that followed. He was oblivious to all of this, of course. He was a good man and he left a world in the dark with a sigh. His bed sighed when the morgue picked him up, just another cadaver for the books. The hospital picked up their bed soon after. It should’ve been a relief seeing that monstrosity leave the living room filled wall to wall with the couple’s life, but all anyone wanted was a few more

30 | Creative Nonfiction

days of him laying there. But it’s selfish to want a man to live like that, so this wasn’t uttered, just felt, and if that feels wrong to you, that’s good because that means you haven’t been there. My dad stopped talking when he nearly cried talking to his kids about it and I’ve never been so grateful for silence. Silence has a way of creeping in. All sorts of family came and went, and we’d sit in the living room where he died and tell stories of the man, times when he was a saving angel to be admired, times when he was a cranky old man that people loved too much to take seriously. But there’d be those moments when the conversation would stop, when talks would implode and silence would be there, his breathing clear as any of the uncle’s and friend’s and in-law’s. He’d toss in his two cents and then he’d leave, but eventually he’d waltz right back in, like a boss walking into the successful store he’s owned for decades. But it wasn’t always a gentle, nearly unnoticeable dance. Sometimes my grandma would nearly break down, and he’d put on a mad sprint and rush in with the impersonal energy of water rushing into a submerged creature’s lungs. We drove home after a week, but my grandma didn’t have that luxury. She covered the mirror by her bed because she was worried she’d see him in it. Four years after the bed moved out, she’d move out of the house because her MS made upkeep an insurmountable task. Four years after his sigh, I’d write this because I read a story about grief in Creative Writing and it would bring all this back up and I’d need to get it out or I’d scream until my trachea split.

31 | Creative Nonfiction



I. Here I stand amidst the wreckage of a thousand souls, many from causes far greater than my own. But the sea is benevolent in her indifference and I feel welcome here among their bones and ornaments. The sea birds, though seem to find humor in my suffering and they taunt me as I edge closer to the boiling sea. The sand collapses beneath my toes and pulls me forward while the water laps gently around my calves, then my knees. The birds circle me, their excitement growing as I enter the sea and I know they want to eat my eyes II. Naked and shivering, I glance back at the shore where my clothes, carefully folded, sit just above high tide. One step more and the current will take me and the waves curl like beckoning fingers. Sounds amplify, and the breaking waves become thunderclaps while the sea birds’ calls ever more shrill and demanding. I cannot think, and I cannot reason as I am now no more than a vessel for a soul clamoring for escape. One step more, just one step more and I can end it. Do it, the birds scream at me for they are now in full blood lust; do it, the waves whisper; do it, I think just before I step forward into the swirling waters. III. The dark water closes over my head and the cold-water shocks me. I am suddenly roused, and I instinctively struggle to raise my head above the water. For a moment, I am uncertain in my determination and I fight to reach the surface of the water; but my hands break the water’s surface and my fingers seek purchase from nothingness and I can struggle no higher. My final breath escapes in a bloom of bubbles and I sink again, the bright surface rippling and darkening. Peace finally comes, and I struggle no more. The growing darkness becomes a blanket tucked under my chin. IV. In my mind’s eye, I see a night sky filled with millions of twinkling stars. Which one is you, I wonder, and how will I find you? But, my love, I have time now, all the time in the universe. And I am coming to you.

33 | Poetry



Items found in my cutlery drawer…

Items not found in my cutlery drawer…

The world’s sharpest knife The world’s dullest knife The little knife with the loose wooden handle the knife stolen from the restaurant at the stag do His and hers stainless cheese knives (made in England) My mum’s pickle fork A spork A dozen teaspoons The perfect spoon for Pot Noodles Desert spoons spooning Corkscrew from a Bradford charity shop The memories of six Chinese meals Lost chopsticks Brass pheasant nutcrackers that give you bruises Water tank key A never used melon baler A Sushi fish Eight champagne corks A letter knife given to me by my daughter Two useful lengths of coat hanger wire (one white, one brown)

The keys you have searched for all your life The perfect gift for someone who has everything Splits An ode to a hungry dog A hangover cure that works The correct spelling of ‘accommodate’ The reason I am stood at the top of the stairs this morning My new password Earwax flavoured jam The lost recordings of Sesame Street One ring to rule them all Self-threading needles A sign reading ‘do not walk on the grass’ A three-point turn A U-Turn A U-Boat A U-Bend A human shield A human zoo World peace Tea bags

46 | Poetry


J. Bebout is a scientist seeking truth through prose. He is the author/coauthor of more than two-dozen technical articles and reports.

Henry Stanton's fiction and poetry appear in 2River, The A3 Review, Avatar, The Baltimore City Paper, The Baltimore Sun Magazine, Pindeldyboz, Salt & Syntax, SmokeLong Quarterly, Word Riot, and The Write Launch among other publications. His poetry was selected for the A3 Review Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the Eyewear 9th Fortnight Prize for Poetry. His fiction received an Honorable Mention acceptance for the Salt & Syntax Fiction Contest. Winston Plowes shares his floating home in Calderale UK with his 16-year-old cat, Sausage. He teaches creative writing in schools and to local groups. His latest collection Tales from the Tachograph was published jointly with Gaia Holmes in 2018 by Calder Valley Poetry. After a long career as a lawyer, Donna Robbins obtained an MFA from the Stonecoast Writers program. Their first book, The Left Side of My Life, was published by Moon Pie Press in 2015. Max Weiche is a 16 year old from California and Texas. He is a junior in high school and plans on getting a nursing degree and selling art on the side. When he isn’t working on art he is probably at school, sleeping, or watching Netflix in his room. Nicole Storey is a writer from Albuquerque, New Mexico. In her free time she practices yoga, plays with her dog and basks in the sun like a lizard. Her work has been published by Chronically Lit and Bitterzoet Magazine. Patricia Meeks taught English composition and creative writing, and hold a BA in Creative Writing from Louisiana State University, an MFA in Creative Writing from Wichita State University, and an MA in Counseling from Southwestern College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is currently a medical integration clinician (LPC) in Southern Colorado. Max Bayer has a BA from City College of New York and a PhD from Rutgers University, and he currently works as a health care consultant. His short stories and essays have appeared in Silk Road: A literary, Cross Roads, Carbon Culture

Review, Existere Journal, Adelaide Literary Journal and Streetlight Magazine. Max has also worked in the Peace Corps. Idalis Nieves is a graduate student at Linfield College who majors in Creative Writing. Gillian Shure wrote, directed, and shot the short film Touched, for which they won Best Director at the Beverly Hills Shorts Film Festival. They have a BA from the University of Southern California School of Theatre and they are currently studying writing with Jack Grapes. Brayden Kennedy can be found hanging around North West Arkansas. When he isn't swamped with homework, he's reading novels and comics. If he's not doing that, he's either watching movies (cyberpunk or horror), or thinking about his friend's dog Birdie, because Birdie is the best dog ever. Rim Chon a corporate number cruncher by day and an aspiring writer by night. In her former life, she was a classical musician. She is currently working on a collection of stories that she hopes will manifest into a memoire about her journey through faith and spirituality. She has been a member of Thomas Boyd’s Writing Workshop and The Inwood Writer’s Workshop for five years. This is her first submission. Asher Ryan is a graduate student studying paleo-anthropology at the University of Iowa. When he is not spending his evening in the college classroom, he is a high school biology teacher focusing on evolution and the development of our current environment.

The Paragon Journal | February 2019 | Issue 15