The Weekenders Magazine ISSUE #5
FEATURING SERGE GAY JR.
Andrew J Stone Ariel Emerald Autumn Rinaldi Howie Good Ian Holmes John Dorsey James Sanchez Kent L Johnson K.R. Copeland Matthew Taub Simon Molloy EPIC POEM Darron: For the Love of a Crackhead â€“ Elle Jay
CONTENTS POETRY: 5
Waffle Irons: John Dorsey: 6 Morpheus: Simon Molloy: 7 Untitled: James Sanchez: 8 Rock Chick: Edward O’Dwyer: 9 The Year The Year Ended in June: Howie Good: 10 Plain Old Luck: Tim Gavin: 11 Legend: Ariel Emerald: 12 The Drunken Driver Has the Right of Way: Andrew Stone: 13 Motherfuckerless Brooklyn: Ron Singer: 14 …A Reply to… “Motherfuckerless Brooklyn”: Ron Singer: 15 Whiskey Songs: Ian Holmes: 16 Grandma Starts with G: G David Schwartz: 17 I am Not Sanata Claus: G David Schwartz: 18 I am Not Sanata Claus: G David Schwartz: 19 Your Forehead: G David Schwartz: 20 Heaven is Wherever: Ryan Swofford, Ed.: 21 A Letter from Sedna: K.R. Copeland: 26
Darron: For the Love of a Crackhead: 27 PROSE: 41
New Year’s at Mars: Matthew Taub: 42 Wheel of Life: James Lawless: 49 A Public Resource: Erika D. Price: 53 The Shadow: Autumn Rinaldi: 58 Guiding Christmas Spirit: Kent L Johnson: 64 A Newport for Dad: Jamez Chang: 70 The Vacuity: G.D. McFetridge: 71 Life Story: Ryan Swofford: 77
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ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: 84
Amour: 85 Banks of America: 86 Bar Salon: 87 Katrina’s Children: 88 Little Angel Eyes: 89 Part Perfect: 90 Voir Dire: 91 An Interview with Serge Gay Jr.: 92
SUPPORT THE WEEKENDERS: 96
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LETTER FROM THE EDITOR I can’t help but feel like The Weekenders is becoming more than some dumb-old Blogspot “literary magazine.” Maybe we have a small audience, but it’s growing. More and more people want to hang out with us. More and more people like our groove—the way that we do things. They say, “Wow, I’ve never met such a personal and loving edior. I wish all editors were like that.” Not all editors are like that, reader. It’s what makes us unique. Not just my cordiality, either—it’s the inviting spirit of the underground that we seem to hold and cherish. There is nothing more important to us than each other, and I think that if we keep that attitude going, we can spread some real love and make literature a wonderful aspect of society. It already is, but we’ll make it wonderful-er. I’ve got a story that I find pretty interesting. I had no idea that some writers think this way, but it really turned some gears in my own thinking. Ready? I got a submission from a guy that didn’t know that we don’t pay. It’s okay—I told him that we don’t pay. I said, “I’d be happy to withdraw your submission for you. It’s no big thing.” I just couldn’t understand, however, why gettnig paid was such a big deal. I mean, I can hardly afford to do anything, let alone pay someone else for something that is, well, being given to our readers completely free. I do all this work out of love. Pay someone for all of my hard work? I just don’t think that’s fair. I mean, I would if I could, but why go out of my way just to make a small percentage of my readership happy? And would it really make them that happy if I paid, say, a token payment for each submission taken? I take around 30-50 submissions per issue, out of maybe 100 total, so I guess I’d be spending about $50-100 per issue if I were to pay token payments for each submission. That’s $50-100 per month that I actually need, really bad. If I were funded through a university, it wouldn’t be hard at all. Or if I got a grant. Or if I used Kickstart and folks actually donated money. Page | 3
So, what I’m wondering is, if it would make my readers happy to pay a token, would anyone be willing to lend a few bucks so I could pay everyone a little bit (say, $1-10 per submission, regardless of type or length?) Maybe that would be fair, and it’d even be cost-effective if done right. We’ll have to see, but let’s just say that I’m thinking about paying folks. Writers have to eat. I get that. But do not—I repeat, do not—priorotize money over your passion. If I do this out of love, then what are you doing? Spread the love, and we’ll spread the money when the money comes. Be grateful, Weekenders. You are blessed. Enjoy the issue. Ryan Swofford, Ed. The Weekenders Magazine firstname.lastname@example.org
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WAFFLE IRONS By John Dorsey
as the cat sleeps peacefully over the grate on our kitchen floor i think about college the same streets of philadelphia that springsteen sang about where the homeless were not granted the dignity of house pets resting on hot grates to keep out the cold better than saint ides & wild irish rose leaving permanent indents across their face and all over their body like waffle irons less than human animals with unwanted tattoos.
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MORPHEUS By Simon Molloy
What dreams will visit this storm tossed mind, of angry thoughts and long lost time? What worlds to see in darkness deep, when the body yearns for elusive sleep? What faces shown from memoryâ€™s pile, will sidle close and stay awhile? What ancient songs from voices cold, will weave their tune through pictures old? When eyes are closed and head laid down, we know not when rest may be found. But dreams will fade, in this we trust, so we take the hand of Morpheus.
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By James Sanchez The ducks are fed daily Mixture of corn and milk Scattered across asphalt Dreams seized Her back a bell curve Blue ribbon Gold medal Proud of you I love you Betrayal Miscarriage Revolution Regret Miscarriage Forgiveness Children Home Ducks Sprinklers at noon
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ROCK CHICK By Edward O’Dwyer
She listens to punk rock bands, blasts it in the bedroom of her dingy upstairs flat. When on top she faces the big Sex Pistols poster hung above the headboard of her rocking bed, ignores neighbours’ banging on the walls, single mothers screaming for quiet, he with his head pillowed and pointed up, eyes feasting on her wild, untameable movement of hair and arms and breasts. They have not realised she’s really someplace else, far from their wasted pleas, never considered she could be front-row-centre now at a show playing just for her where he, rock star, god, shouts out, “You there in the front givin’ it everythin’ you’ve got! This one’s for you, baby!”
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THE YEAR THE YEAR ENDED IN JUNE By Howie Good
The scribes no longer agonized over how well the ornate language of royal edicts communicated. They had founded a cult of unintelligibility in which fish leaped out windows. Any wonder that some days the queen felt like an empty gray glove? The central square teemed with hangings and beheadings, with bonfires of extraordinary size. Children proved particularly adept at anticipating the eccentric behavior of the flames. Dead family members, meanwhile, refused to stay underground. Abandon ship! the court astrologer cried. Street dogs wagged their tails in delight.
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PLAIN OLD LUCK By Tim Gavin
So the whiskey transformed them into mythical figures with their Irish accents and roofers' mentality ready to fight over a wrong word or a missed round when one guy goes to take a piss as the bartender the true pastor of the parish listens to confessions of their true feelings as they made fists and pounded the bar in fury or mourning he hears a confession of how one man cheated on his wife with a woman who lived down the block he worked on her roof fixing a leak that ended up in her bedroom spoiling the vanity where she primped and primed herself for the nights that led her to the avenue and the juke box tavern where she didn't have to buy one drink they traded stories of emptiness and despair and crashed into an embrace to escape the reality of leaky roofs broken marriages and lost opportunities for peace for grace or for just plain old luck
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By Ariel Emerald He strode Dark as night Light shone Nothing more Noise and voices Laughter Tears Quiet refusal Solitude anger Atom as one To be then chewed By the public In front of the world Red apples Spit beauty On a splattered canvas.
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THE DRUNKEN DRIVER HAS THE RIGHT OF WAY By Andrew J. Stone
I am twenty & or teens at the Elephant Bar one-two-three(four?)-five (chug-a-lug) chug-a-lug there is light in this darkness waiting (wait) -ing to be unveiled the room(spins) -IamDwindlingredlight REDLIGHT (redlight?) homehomehomehomehomehome the slash of susurrus wind chimes wind chimes wonders I? wonders we? winking at the whiskey bottle unclothed & call i n g
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MOTHERFUCKERLESS BROOKLYN By Ron Singer
Thanks to vegans, yuppies, hipsters, muffies, the lurid and the florid give way to “Oh my God, these diaper prices!” and“Isn’t inflation the poo!” From“lick my dick,” to “macrobiotic,” from“asshole,” to “alternative,” the mother tongue is sucking hind tit: Brooklynese is lexiconically depleted. Thank god we still have our immigrants: 性交,, Chinese, for “fuck”; mierda, Spanish, for “shit.” But mark my words, motherfuckers, at this rate, how much longer can batty Brooklynites echolocate? Fucking A! If not for jerk-offs like me and you, the expletives would all be deleted. —The Brooklyn Rail, Dec 2009-Jan 2010
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SAY WHAT? A REPLY TO MR. RON SINGER’S “MOTHERFUCKERLESS BROOKLYN” By Ron Singer
Yo, Ronnie. Say what, illiewhacker! You gotta lotta shit wit’ you, gavoon. Do you really know fuck-all about that of which you speak, you skank ho? This“poem” of yours takes it up the coolee. What’s with the baby Spanish and Chinese? No estes chingando, you mamzer, you! Ormanzo le gausha, perhaps, Mon-soor? Duh-ta-duh, put it in your pocket, Ron. “Deplete the lexi-fucking-con”? I mean, not to give you leather, fuckweed, but you don’t even know the “lexicon.” You think you some badass motherfucker, but I bet you just some poo-sie from The Ci-ty.
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WHISKEY SONGS By Ian Holmes
ah hell, two O one three and the blues remains for everyman whiskey songs whiskey dreams kits cunt grind to major beats & minor scales all enveloping sex sex sex the sea whispered death on Paumanock shores but these our boys blow n' make our ladies whores soiled doves cleansing blue-rhythm electric disarming most many stoic men the face of love sex, love; whiskey dreams whiskey love & heaven tomorrow, maybe
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GRANDMA STARTS WITH G By G David Schwartz
Grandma starts with G Grandpa starts with coffee Think about this and then soon You'll see him out in the room
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I AM NOT SANATA CLAUS By G David Schwartz
No, I ma not Santa Claus I've got a white beard, thats all And I have warm boots in winter But that is really all I do give out books and toys But just to the kids And I do not do not like snow That just tells it all I am not Crisp Kringle I do not ever jingle So the truth to tell, always Santa has as of now, gone away But you can go to the mall And pick a Saint Nick from them all
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I AM NOT SANATA CLAUS By G David Schwartz
I am not Santa Claus I've got a beard But that is all So you now hear? I give toys to the kids and that is about all But certainly I vie a good give to Mrs Claus Oh sorry I misspoke Or I was just giving up with joke Well its time tot go And there is a lot of snow So giddy up Downer Hide hide de ho
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YOUR FOREHEAD By G David Schwartz
your forehead burns in the sky And your smile tries to deny all of the thoughts set in your eyes and your writs thats the surprise your eyes have never in any thought blinked or blanked or I've forgot and I will just say this To you sweet Melissa I'd like to see your eyes just for a tender kiss here were I cease to say anything must more today I say and think noting more Than that you I do adore
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HEAVEN IS WHEREVER By Ryan Swofford, Ed.
I was sitting on a bench eating a sandwich, minding my own business, when a young girl came my way with a stone in her heart and asked me which was should she go to get to heaven? and she said: If the circumstances are that I can’t get to heaven where should I go in any case? I swallowed my sandwich whole I asked her if she wanted to walk with me because I didn’t know where I was going similar to her predicament and I would be happy to go with her someplace wherever that might be She told me, as I stood up, that her grandmother went to heaven, not knowing where she was going, that her mother told her that (when she was younger than she is now) heaven is wherever and that I shouldn’t worry Page | 21
too much about it but that I should just wander like I am and, yes it would be a good idea I stood and put my arm around her and put a cigarette to my lips and we walked into the sunset with her hand on my hip and I wanted to take the cigarette from my lips and kiss her on the cheek if she would let me because I suddenly fell in love with this girl who thought heaven is wherever you want to walk We walked through valleys some were green, some were barren some were precious and new some were artificially made some were hot some were cold some were filled with untouchable objects, the sorts that made Adam and Eve peeved at Jesus for not letting them touch anything even when their naked bodies were tempting in and of themselves to each other and their lustful human Page | 22
eyeballs and brains We wandered through cities cities of smoke cities of smolder cities of industry cities of reek cities of stink cities of babies crying cities of babies, new and unused by the populace for money falling through drains which eventually flowed into rivers which eventually flowed into oceans which eventually flowed into our stomachs Which eventually flowed into our consciousness the human consciousness which makes us cry and loathe those who have managed to make the money flow into their bellies better than us better than us, even cities of money and ruin and plastic bottles flowing into the ocean, too and oil killing birds and otters and everything else, too suffocation by black ink in the ruined green ocean The water we drink, the same water Page | 23
that flows into us we poison and continue to walk We continued to walk this young girl and me through sandy marshes uncaring of our jeans being spoiled by the mud that we have created WE WALK with our heads high above the muck so that we donâ€™t have to look down so that we donâ€™t have to be disgusted by what we have made by what we have become WE WALK with the passion in our hearts with the dreams in our brains with the stones in our breasts in our breasts, we are heavy hurting dreadfully awaiting the time when the marsh has become to bogged down by our filth that we cannot move WE WALK awaiting a time when the heaven we have made for ourselves has become the hell we have overwritten on the sands of time with fingers of innocence with eyes of watchfulness we watch and see what is being done to our heaven, wherever Page | 24
it is, we watch, we see we hurt and we heal and we dream but we cannot look down at the marsh because it would ruin us We soon make it home we are sweaty and dirty full of filth and muck with tears in our eyes and the cigarette I was smoking is somewhere in the marsh, lost and the sandwich I was eating has been excreted, my selfish tendencies have made me ashamed to look at this young girl who I wanted to kiss but now I am disgusted by her by myself by the world I have wandered through and I sit down in my own filth on that same bench as when we started and I begin to weep for my heaven
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A LETTER FROM SEDNA By K.R. Copeland
Dear Father, it has been several sun cycles since last we spoke, since you broke my fingers from your boat and I sank like an orphaned anchor. My anger has since fizzled slightly, some. I’ve come to love my watery abode. The way the whales sing of blood and gold. The hold the darkness has in a shell’s fold. I admit the sea churn’s murder on my hair, but the company I’m keeping doesn’t care. The krill is billowing. The school fish bloom. There is beauty in abundance. There is love, more so than years ago, back on dry land. And though I owe my handlessness to you and your deceit, I am thankful, dad, I’ve learned to find and free pearls with my feet.
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DARRON: FOR THE LOVE OF A CRACKHEAD By Elle Jay
Anal Sex “Put it in my ass D.” “Do me D. Do me.” D: Hmm, let me see. What does this pussy mean to me? Hmm, let me see. How does she want it when she says, “do it to me”? Again she yells. “Damn. Shut up.” “Cum suck a pipe bitch.” I force her lips around my dick and she spits. “Bringg, The phone rings. Bringg, Bringg.” “Hello”— It’s my baby-moms on the phone. She wanna know what time I’ll be doin’ the same thing to her tonight. I told her eight or nine o’clock, “See you then.” My girl spits. “Click.” My girl spits again. “Put it in my ass then,” she mumbles, Put it in, put it in.” She bends then, and takes it up the ass like a true fiend. Her tiny crevices curve, crave and cave around my dick. She takes it up the ass again, again, and again. I give her all she wants and then Page | 27
I spit. It is between eight and nine o’clock It’s eight or nine o’ clock. “Knock, knock.” “Let me in.” It’s my baby-mom’s spot. My baby sits in a play pen. My baby-mama is thin, wiry, and spry. She loves it when baby-daddy is in them panties, ah sin! What’s this, what’s this? Pan cookin’, Let me see what we have within. Stew cookin’? Whole bunch of water boilin’within, Looks good. Let’s eat. Have a seat. She feeds my baby a sweet watery treat He plays, ignores it then. She eats the stew, And I rest my feet, Not quite ready to eat. “Get the treat,” she sputters, she spatters. “What’s the matter?” A clang. A clatter. “The soup,” she says. “The soup,” she says. “It’s in the wa- wa- wa- ta-ter,” she goes down with a splatter! The problem Page | 28
The treat is tilted at my baby’s lips. I run and rip it from between his grips. It did not touch my baby’s lips. But now, he cries from hunger. “Damn,” I need a pair of tits. Tits to sip. Hmm, let me see. ‘Cause my baby boy is hungry. Hmm, let me see. Tits to sip. “Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. The doorbell rings.” “Let me in, come quick.” “My baby-boy needs a sip.” “A sip from these tits?” She turns away. I slap her quick. “Let my baby boy have a sip.” “A sip from these tits? No, D—. Wait”! I grab her by the face. “The waters been tainted. My baby-mama choked, then fainted All I have left is my son. Your son. Our son now. You will feed my son like he’s your daughter Unless, you know where there’s fresh water.” “I know where there’s fresh water”— Water Water. By the countryside, Where no one resides, Let’s take a ride. Page | 29
By the by and by the bayou. Three years this girl has been by my side, Sometimes, I make her cry, But nothing comes before my son, the gun, or I. I met her in the city. Bright lights, Dark night, The club was empty. And there she was, I smiled. She shrugged. Then we danced like we was making love. It was about six months or so before she realized I was a ho. But she stuck by my side, down to ride, And now, I make her cry. The bright lights begin to fade. The roads become unpaved. The somber roar with fear. Unclear. No one wants to die. Yet thirst is like drowning on air. The city is drunk with the tormented Still so dependent On their water supply. But, by the by and by the bayou We have arrived. We have Arrived We arrive to a picture perfect scene. The country echoes peace, So serene To her grandpaâ€™s house A lodge long forgotten or talked about. It shells the former hells of pristine, glamour or glitz. And gives way to the marsh pits, Page | 30
The fields of green. And isolated neighbors, With no one for miles. I surrender to a silent sky Normally, this isolation would drive me wild, But tonight it stands As a hell of a chance To survive. Fresh water nearby. Hmm, let me see. What does this pussy mean to me? My girl, My girl, My child, The apple of my eye, They stay near the house, Which is dilapidated and two stories high. And I, The guy, Travel by the endless starlit gleam. Hmm, what does this pussy mean to me? My, my, my, My God. The endless starlit gleam I walk tall. Stand tall. More scared than a bitch. I walk far. Sinking into the muddy, cruddy pits. I hear a trickle, What could it be? Fresh water? Hmm, let me see What could it be? Page | 31
The trickle grows louder. And I hesitate a bit. The trickle grows louder, “Fa-thud! I hit the ground with a thud.” Losing my shoes to the mud. I grab hold of something. WATER. WATER. KICK! KICK! Splashing lifelessly Into the cold wet pits. I scream for help, Slipping deeper into its grip Life flashes in slow motion. I realize then, That this moment led to that moment And that that moment led to this moment The moment that you die. Death is inevitable. Life is inescapable. It is all clear to me now. In that moment. The moment that I drowned. The Wife and Child are by the House “Shush— Did you hear that? I think it came from over there. Let’s go check if it’s clear. Shush— No, wait— I should not go anywhere. Darron would want me to stay right‘ere.” Better do as he says Page | 32
‘Fore he comes back. With a wild-eyed smile he looks at me. Now here he is lookin’ all dumb, Sucking on his thumb. Finger-nails frail and paper-thin, I ought to tear him limb from limb! Hate him! Rip him! Tear him limb from limb! Then, Darron and I will be together forever. So, I cover his mouth and his eyes. As he begins to cry now. He begins to squirm. His body twists and turns. “Cry now,” his flesh mashed against mine. Mine. I am to treat him is if he is mine. The color of his flesh blends with mine. And when I see him, I see Darron in his eyes His cheeks and smile. To Reconsider Wait— This is a stupid fate. Darron would have my head, Then, I will be dead. This is a stupid fate. “Silence now child, Quit your cryin’. If I let something happen to you I’ll be next too You or I will not die tonight. But what are we going to do here now? Food, food. We need food. Page | 33
There, Over yonder in them there bushes, Flowers to grab that taste like sugar. I’ll pull them off the vine, twice, three times And then we will dine. It will feel fine. The honey suckle twine, We dined. As we waited for D, I thought, He should have been we, He should have been mine Who the fuck is she D? Where did this baby come from? I feel so dumb. I thought I was the one. And now I am stuck here caring for ya’ll son. The Mythical Dome I wake up I’m sticky and wet Blinded by blackness. I shudder to my knees, And curse the skies. Why do they got me down here Shivering and shit. “Shit!” I take a look around An enclosed pit. But there is an omniscient blue glow It attracts me a bit. I edge closer. I have nowhere else to go. I sense this is for the sake of my soul. The blue glow calls me near. I fear. But it hums clear. To return to the earth Page | 34
Your soul must be clear “Who the hell am I? The earth’s keeper?” I reply. You represent the sin of all men, it hums again “Sin, sin?” Oh yeah. Sin. “I represent the sin of all men? I am just living my life. Just in it to win it.” “As much as all sinners are,” it replies, Of an omniscient glow Two stories high. Forgiveness I get down on my knees And beg for its forgiveness. And begin to cry. Its omniscient glow grows darker. As I cry. I ask it “why, why, why it is doing this tonight.” It replies, I have to; for I am dying here. I live in the peace of men. And when there is no peace, there is no I. For I am the balance between the land. Between the trees and the birds, The hugs and the choice words, I am the great equalizer. The yin and yang as it were. It hums and I cry, “The peace of all men cannot be represented by I. For I am just a fellow so mellow and chill In this world, up in here How can I be someone that makes you die?” I sink deeper, Within the pit of the blue moon. Hands sinking into the seams, And now, he sees what I see. Page | 35
And how I make my girl cry. He sees the hitting and the snorting ‘caine, And reminds me we are all one in the same Feel no shame. But I am the mellow fellow that can’t stay dry. The one in the same. No Shame So I feel no shame. Down here in the rain. But all I feel is pain. Like a lame. Damn! How do I rebuild my strength, my soul, my world? Get down on your knees and take the blame Not for your actions but for your girl In your world You are the son of man “In this day-in-age the son of man is not my damn name. I dye yellow, With a knife in my back, From some sort of attack, From all this damn blame.” The blue turns black. It is in your hands now D You have to take the blame. Or else I die. And the world dies with me. “How, how, how can this be? ME! I am the son of man? It’s in my hands? Take it back!” —BLACK— Page | 36
The world is going to end! And only I stand, As a hell of a chance to survive. The End I take a step back. Darkness surrounds I. There is no way back. No way back to my girl, my world, My son or I will die. It is up to me to save the world. I crumble, I quake, I break, It is up to me to save the land. So I take the blame. I crumble, I break, The land begins to shake. The son of man. More like the sin of man. “Shit. I ain’t shit.” Stuck here at this moon’s core With no way to escape. “Shit! Damn!” All right, Let’s make a plan. If I take the blame What is to be my fate? The end is near That is clear What is to be all our fates is clear My dear The end is near. The Contemplation Stuck froze Page | 37
I contemplate Doo doo Dee dee Doo doo dee Do Do do do Do Do Dee Dying is my only option, But I will be born again. I give this thing a hug Expecting it to take my soul or something. Get off me, it says To restore the peace You must shed blood. I tap a vein. In the name of his holy I share the pain. Thoughts are tormented Blackness than dark Stark What has this world come to? Who knew? I take the vein It goes empty I die in vane But in his holy name What is to be tamed? The Beginning I feel the world oozing away The taste of blood dark and sweet as I fall, black and gray swirls surrounding me I hit the mud. And feel the cold clay swallow me whole Page | 38
This is it for me I wish I were here to see the victory And I say goodbye to this miserable life Stomach nauseating And the taste of bile at my lips Desperate I begin to cry Teardrop stains My life My child The apple of my eye What do they mean to me? My last hope and prayer is that they will be there For they are everything to me I take my last gulp of fresh air Death becomes I “D, come back for me” The mythical sphere draws near Looming over my body As if celebrating over my grave I hate this thing! My girl draws near she has come back for me How can this be? She escapes the haze to save me? The Death How could this be? “D come back to me.” How could this be? Someone wants to save me? A grimy nigga I have made my peace with this world. I smile a smile she cannot see. And I caress a cheek she cannot feel. For she is me And we are we. And this is our son, Or so it be. Page | 39
Just then the mythical sphere approaches Bursting at the seams, causing a flood. Our bodies are wiped clean. Washing away the blood, dirt and mud. The earth has been restored. Peace to the land Harmony between she and I Our souls united Forever She and I Peace has been restored to the land, And I am The great I am. The Son of Man. Cleansed of my sins. And now I know for sure That we have a new future As woman, child and man, The great I am.
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NEW YEAR’S AT MARS By Matthew Taub
Daylight would filter into Mars Bar during afternoon hours, sunshine intruding through tiled windows above and a glass block wall below, both slabbed over by a decade’s worth of brush strokes and grime. One painted layer superimposed upon the next, only the white illumination from first street and second avenue made it through—any street scenes were lost in the process, obscured by a constant stream of murals and graffiti that changed on a monthly basis. Still, it was enough to lend a hand, to sanitize a world of wretched filth, filled with anarchists, weirdoes, zippies, old-timer regulars, naked lunatics and the drug dealers who serviced them, all trying to squint their eyes until their cue—nightfall—properly arrived, when no such buffer would sanitize their antics. Around the corner from the vacant lots surrounding Extra Place Alley, CBGBs and McGurk's Suicide Hall, it was a threehundred and sixty five day Halloween party, epicenter for all that was zany, eccentric, the surrounding neighborhood’s unofficial headquarters. Why Tim Mallin wanted to go here for New Year’s Eve, Mark Newstein had no idea. Something about his new expunk girlfriend Sheila and her affinity for the place. But what did he care anyway? Mark’s life was over in more ways than one. Poor hygienic standards immediately announced themselves upon entry by an overwhelmingly foul smell, confirmed only further by a lack of toilet paper in the bathrooms, except for little strips that dangled from the ceiling, stuck to the high surface by gobs of chewed gum. It was evening by the time they arrived, eleven or so, the party on in full. The backside of neon beer signs in the window Page | 42
and the approaching and departing cars in the distance combined for an artificial moonlight, joined by tiny lined bulbs of the Christmas string variety, hung along the perimeter, the glow reflecting off an array of glass bottles hugging the walls, the tops of metal cans sitting on reserve, and local artists’ contributions hung on every vertical space available. The colors splashed together— red, green, blue, purple, white—weaving through the bar counter’s wavy, corroded wood in a range of drifting hues, an oil spill cesspool pattern that then cascaded back off to the distance, far corners where patrons sniffed heroin, drew temporary tattoos on each other with sharpie markers, or lit lighters into their mouths as a dare. “Who the FUCK is this?” In places where civilization reigned, it would have passed as a pleasant greeting. The grizzly old-timer (“Gay Ramiro,” as he was known) sniped at Mark with words and eyes. But Mark had had it with brash treatment. “Your long lost brother,” he quipped. “If you’re my long lost brother, then give me a fucking dollar for the juke.” “Funny, I came back to ask you for the same thing.” Mark smiled slightly, before realizing he shouldn’t have. “YOU GOT A FUCKIN’ PROBLEM?” The man’s fist shook back and forth in mid air, fighting stance at the ready. “Hey, take it down a notch,” Tim whispered in Mark’s ear. “Play nice, huh? I want Shiela to like you,” he fumbled over how it came out. “And vice versa,” he tried to correct. Tim had long since quit the aspiring actor bit, but it had taken awhile for to get traction in new footing. He finally found it in a master’s program in education, where Sheila, a failed musician, was also enrolled, and of the same forgiving heart—of someone starting anew. Page | 43
The old-timer was still fuming, and wouldn’t quit. “This is MY BAR, man.” Amy Koteles had seen the routine a hundred times. She quickly handed a goth girl her “bud heavy” then paced over. “Look—he’s a regular,” she said. “If I have to break this up, I’m siding with him.” Mark chuckled; he hadn’t been rolled like this in years. He pulled not one, but two dollars from his wallet—a peace offering. “Don’t give him the money!” another man, whom they called “Windows,” cautioned, Mark wondering about the etymology— rumor was he stuck his head through one of the glass tiles to escape when the police raided, but it could have just as easily been the high vacancy rate where teeth once appeared. “Ramiro plays the worst shit!” But the warning was too late, the juke already spinning Sid Vicious’s version of “My Way.” Ramiro gave “Windows” a mean look before returning to Mark. “I’m still watching you!” he threatened, but attention was already shifting elsewhere. “NEW YEAR'S EVE AT THE END OF THE WORLD, YEAH!” The druggie was strung-out, fat, hairy, naked (the most noticeable quality by far), and standing atop the counter as he began to dance, his privates flailing over drinkers seated beneath. “GONNA BE THE BEST NIGHT OF OUR LIVES! THE BEST—“ —THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD. Ceiling fans blades ripped into the druggie’s head in a rapid succession. SMACK. His body came careening down in a slow-motion belly flop, smashing glass bottles to pieces, their fragments shooting into the air like shrapnel. When everyone realized they were alright— having instinctively ducked out of the way—bellowed laughter echoed all around. A tattered former model dragged the man’s Page | 44
body off the bar and super-glued one of his hands to his forehead before he regained consciousness. “Lucille!” Johnny Bizarre screamed. He was shirtless, wearing only a red cape and matching Speedo. “Grab that sheet over there and collect all the pieces—I’ll lay on it and you can walk on my chest!” A few minions did the legwork to assemble such a spectacle. “AAAH!”Johnny screamed a few minutes later in pleasurable pain, sharp shards lacerating his backside. But Mark wasn’t watching the torture Lucille inflicted, but Lucille herself. Latina or Asian, he couldn’t decide, perhaps a mix. Petite frame, low cut dress, shaggy black hair, heavy aqua eyeliner, not dominatrix, maybe goth, goth-light. “That was very brave of you,” Mark offered sarcastically when she finished. “Thank you,” she replied in a loopy tone, high as a kite, settling up next to him. “Got a cigarette?” Was everyone here looking for something for nothing? “Sorry. Don’t smoke. I can buy you a drink though.” “Okay,” she said indifferently. A friend tossed her a loosie and she lit up. Mark pulled back. “What’s wrong? Don’t like girls who puff?” She blew smokering kisses at him. Mark looked her over. “Like making out with a chimney, to be honest.” She smiled, clanking glasses. “You should shut your mouth.” “They tell me that a lot here it seems.” “You should shut it,” she leaned into him, “because if you do, you might just get laid.” She smiled. Mark threw his head back to study the face in front of him. Was her horny posture that of the New Year’s variety, druginduced, or just the magic of Mars Bar itself? Before he could Page | 45
dwell, she outstretched a finger and curled it toward her, signaling Mark to make his move. He leaned in, tongues locking, part of him rising quickly. “Follow me,” she said. In the bathroom closest to the wall, the draft from outside winds made them shiver. Lucille arranged a few lines on top of the paper towel dispenser. “Wanna party?” “Not for me,” he declined. “Besides, I don’t want that—I want you,” he lied. “Probably best.” She snorted. “Make you limp anyway.” Right when she finished, he threw her on top the pathetic excuse for a sink—someone had recently emptied a can of paint down the drain, remnants still wet to the touch. Bright yellow globs covered her ass and Mark’s left hand as he briskly groped it. They began to tear at each other’s clothing when the door was banged upon violently. “NO SEX!” Bartender Amy yelled. Mark was now a confirmed enemy. They opened the door and ran out ahead of her, into the frigid air. “Catch me!” Lucille said. Mark ran after her, and into a parking garage the next block up. “Shhh!” she indicated with that same finger, now over her lips. The crept into the second floor, between a Jeep Grand Cherokee and a silver BMW. He threw her against the BMW, but the yuppie alarm was too sensitive. She put her hands upon the jeep instead, where he pulled her garments down, almost ripping them to pieces, and pounded away. “HARDER!” she said. “Fuck me harder!” Page | 46
“Yeah,” she said. “Oh, fuck yeah.” Punished for so long, for Mark it was a transference of adjudication. He grabbed the back of her neck, tugged her hair, made it hurt. She leaned in close to him when they finished. That had that tender moment, before it was all business again, before hastily coming back out. “Goodbye stranger,” she said when they returned to the ground floor, hopping into a cab and shooting away. Something about the excitement was uplifting but then immediately self-destructive, euphoria in one moment transferring into despair in the next. Mark was too old for this sort of nonsense. Before last week, he didn’t even know Tim had a new girlfriend; it was like a game of romantic musical chairs, Mark likely to be the last one standing. He thought of Stephanie, of all he had lost with her. Where would she be spending tonight? He picked up a nearby pay phone and dialed, knowing she was out, waiting for her answering machine to greet him. “I CAN’T PRETEND LIKE IT’S OKAY,” he screamed over a truck barreling down Second Avenue. WHAP-Waaaaaa. It roared as it raced towards Houston only to stop at the light. “GET OUT OF IT! Call off the engagement. Come see me. I know that makes no sense, that it might be too late, but I just can’t bear it. I JUST CAN’T BEAR NOT HAVING SAID EVERYTHING I NEED TO SAY.” The machine beeped, cutting him off. He simply called again, a little calmer this time. “I know if I don’t say this, I might never get the chance.” With a second message he was approaching the scary-stalker threshold, but knew it would be the last time he would reach out to her anyway. Still, he felt guilty—her fiancé might intercept the Page | 47
message, and Stephanie would no doubt be pissed at his cavalier disregard of such an obvious risk. “I want to know what every weekend of your life has been like since things didn’t work out between us. I should have been there! I should still be there! Every day even! I want to know about every day of your life. Well, okay, I don’t need to know, like, every waking minute— you probably having boring, drawnout work days, and who wants to hear about that crap? What I mean is, I can’t stand the idea of missing the exciting parts— your witty comments, your hilarious take on things, the moments I’m bursting out laughing, and you’re laughing, then looking at you, longing for you. Those are the moments that matter. The rest is just pretense. Those are the moments I need to be there. I can’t possibly imagine missing out on them. On missing out on you.” He hung up, wondering what was the use. She was in too deep by now; couldn’t call him back even if she wanted to. Sneaking back into Mars, a borrowed TV with bunny ears and bouncing, fuzzy picture provided a makeshift ball-drop viewing spectacle. But on screen was the aftermath— Mark had missed it. Confetti laced through the air in front of the Virgin Megastore, the image then cutting back to the Ball and “2000,” what for so long seemed like such a far away, futuristic number that was now upon them. A Discover Card sign (the company must have paid a fortune) was visible just below, and finally a triumphant Giuliani, massive comb-over and buck-toothed smile, giddy and gleaming over a city forever changed.
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WHEEL OF LIFE By James Lawless
It’s early morning. We’re in bed. The room is dark and the house is cold. My wife begins to stir beneath the flannel sheets. “Please don’t take your body heater away,” I say while burying my sleepy head in the pillow. It’s good to have a place to light. I didn’t always have a house in Italy to live in. When I first came to this country I lived in a tent in the Alps. The tent was home. That image enters my mind behind my closed eyes. I hug my wife, and I imagine I’m in that tent. When one’s eyes are closed one can be anywhere. The house disappears. We’re magically sleeping again. Every day is like a holiday for me in Italy, except the holidays of course, because on holidays the people in our apartment building don’t go to work. And they make disturbing noises. Like now. Someone from the floor above is banging, maybe hammering a picture on the wall. This brings me back from Sleepville. The hammering starts a chain reaction that triggers the barking of our neighbor’s yappy dog, and we get up. There must be a way of turning this noise around and have it work for me. *** After lunch I take the bus to Milan. I enter in the back, so I don’t have to punch my ticket. It’s the Epiphany, an Italian national holiday. There’s never ticket controls on holidays. Most passengers are foreigners. Today we’re all foreigners. There are Blacks, Orientals, Indians, many people from eastern countries like Poland and Russia, but no Italians. Most people are fidgeting with cell phones: either with their heads bowed over them as if they were idols or talking on them in some earsplitting native languages. This used to bother me. All of those languages were just noises until I began studying them. It’s not like I learned much, just enough to recognize a few common words and Page | 49
phrases like “go, come, eat, thank you, how’s it going?” This information is easily attainable in public libraries or on the Internet. A very small vocabulary is usually enough to decipher between Urdu or Arabic, Kurdish or Turkish or whatever language that’s being spoken. This interest changed my outlook for the better. Gallivanting around Milan became much more fun. I get off the bus at Piazza Gobetti and walk to the Lambrate metro stop. On the top of the stairs there’s a large green plastic garbage bag tucked upside-down against the railing with a yellow ski jacket and blankets inside. Under the bag some wool sweaters lie on the pavement. I lift one of the sweaters and underneath is a dark green winter vest, the warm kind. I hold it up to my body. It’s my size. I’m dressed warmly enough, but I like the vest. I tuck it under my arm and descend the stairs. I’ve always been a rag picker. A young Black man about half my age is going down the stairs along side of me. He’s carrying a small drum in one hand and a ringing cell phone in the other. We’re both on our way to the subway entrance. He begins speaking an African dialect on the cell phone. He says, “Naka mu demee?" Then there’s a pause, and he says, “hepikat." My ears perk, and I keep step with him. After a few seconds of reaction time I figure out he was saying ‘how's it going?’ in Wolof. When he finishes his call at the bottom of the stairs we stop in front of the subway entrance. I say to him in Italian, “You’re from Senegal”. “Yes. Have you been there?” His head lifts and his chin beard points in my direction. He shifts the drum under his arm. “No, but I heard you say ‘Naka mu demee?’I don’t speak Wolof, but I know words and some phrases. I try to guess where a person’s from by the few words I know. It’s a game I play.” His mouth stretches into a smile illuminating his even white teeth. “But there was this other word you said... ‘hepikat.'" “Hepikat,” he repeats with a smile as he runs his fingers down his goatee. “That’s my friend’s nickname. The word means ‘one who has his eyes open, a person that’s aware’”. Page | 50
I don’t say anything to him, but I recognize that Senegalese word as the origin of the phrase ‘hip cat’. The words ‘hip’ and ‘hep’ in beat slang English came from the word ‘hepikat’ in Senegalese, that means ‘one who is aware’. I read it in Wikipedia. As I think these profound thoughts I eye the ticket controller’s booth and see it’s empty. “I have a ticket;” I say to the Senegalese man. “Do you want to enter the metro with me?” His dark eyes sparkle as they widen; his head nods just slightly. I insert my metro ticket into the subway gate slot and the gate’s plastic barrier opens. I walk in with the Black man at my heels in perfect ‘two for the price of one timing,’ a sort of piggyback dance. “Grazie” he says crossing the mechanical entrance barrier just as it zooms shut behind us. “It was nothing,” I say with a shrug over my shoulder. The Black man goes to the right and I go down the stairs to the left. We twist our necks a bit to watch each other as we take our separate paths. The electric sign over the underground platform reads 5 minutes to the next subway. I turn the corner and see a middleaged drunk man sitting on the pavement with his legs spread and his back leaning against a snack dispenser. He’s wearing multiripped blue jeans and a thin blue work shirt and shivering while staring at his shaking hands. His face becomes a wrinkled mess as his eyes blink tightly closed and then the wrinkles form in new places when he opens his eyes widely. After that he puts his face in his hands in a pitiful way. I fumble with the vest that was wrapped around my arm and open a package of crackers I was saving for a snack. I put one cracker in his hand. He holds the cracker in both hands and gazes upon it as if it were a holy host and he a priest. I put the rest of the package of crackers in the top pocket of his work shirt and drape the warm vest I was holding around his shoulders. He lifts his head and says ‘thank you’ in Albanian. My subway screeches to a halt and I board it.
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*** In Duomo Plaza there’s an old partially bald Romanian man sitting against a trash can with his legs tucked under him playing slow sad music on a soprano saxophone. He’s playing a tune called ‘Summertime’. The sole of his left shoe is detached and reminds me of an open mouth singing the words to the tune he’s playing, words only heard in my head. His green quilted winter vest recalls the one I gave the Albanian. The musician’s sax case is open and it contains two pictures. One picture is the sax player when he was a young smiling man with a full head of hair holding a baby. In the other picture he has his arm around a woman. There’s love in those pictures. Underneath the pictures is some writing in Italian that reads: ‘It has been 14 years since I felt happiness. Life is a wheel. Help me in this moment of difficulty’. I drop a coin in his sax case. As I’m about to leave someone in the crowd asks the sax player what he meant by ‘Life is a wheel’. He looks up and says, “Where I find myself today, you might find yourself tomorrow.” *** The winter darkness arrives early. I take the bus home from ‘Piazza Aspromonte,’ which means Bitter Mountain Plaza. Through the window of the bus I see the Albanian man I met previously in the underground. Now he’s ambling on the sidewalk. My fingers touch the cold bus window in an unseen gesture of communication. His body heater seems to be working better, and he’s more adequately dressed for the cold. His warm looking yellow ski jacket is zipped over his chin. There’s a green plastic bag slung over his shoulder. I recognize that garbage bag as the one I saw stuck in the stairway railing at the Lambrate metro station in the afternoon. That bag filled with blankets and the ski jacket must have been his all along, as well as the vest I gave him. I crane my neck to watch him as the bus pulls away. In my last glimpse he is eating a cracker as he walks wheel of life. Page | 52
A PUBLIC RESOURCE By Erika D. Price
When the food ran out I started eating toothpaste. It’s best if you squeeze it out into thin lines on the side of the sink and let it dry into a gummy substance that can be picked off and chewed like taffy. I ate all the sugar pills from my old birth control packs as well. I ate the crusty ketchup that clung to the sides of the bottle. I found a fossilized box of Milk Duds under the bed from last Halloween. I ate that too, cutting each Dud into twenty thin, cement-hard strips with my fabric scissors. When I first moved to the city, I said I’d never live in a garden apartment. Four years, five jobs, and six shattered relationships later, I did. I’d come to the city with talents, a gapfree resume, and enough of a savings to have standards. A savings which dwindled with every subsequent firing, impulse quit, break-up, and resultant bleary-eyed, Zip car-furnished move. This city wasn’t big on security deposits, either; they were all about fees. Move-in fees, application fees, sublease fees, early termination fees. Jobs cost money too: filing fees, HR fees, ID card fees, drug tests, background checks. Parking. Stop light tickets. Bar tabs I couldn’t remember accruing. Lost driver’s license fees. Money I owed exes, for scraped walls and battered couches, cable and groceries. My funds were slowly nipped away. Poverty is an opportunistic and auto-catalytic disease. When the storm came I was happy, almost. My apartment is half underground, a glorified basement really, with tiny distorted windows rimming the top foot of the wall to the ceiling. I knew I was going to be trapped; all the forecasts said I would be. But it seemed like a glorious break. No one would expect me to find a quote-unquote real job if I couldn’t leave the house. I couldn’t be begrudged my -bleach-stained sweatshirts and cracked shoes. The storm was a break from the pressure to try, the pressure to suffer through the cold without adequate boots, the pressure to find money to eat. Even better, it wasn’t a break from Page | 53
my now-normal stream of revenue. At least, not as long as the power and wireless were on. I sponged wireless off the apartment of fratboys above me. Their wireless was nicknamed CUNTSPLIFF and the password was “admin.” It didn’t take too many late-night tries to crack the code, after I first moved in. In fact I might have figured it out on my phone when I initially viewed the apartment; it might have even been part of my decision. I can’t remember how my mind worked back then, in the drip-dry months before I figured out how to make some dough. But once I got online, I bought a new webcam, I remember that much. The rest was easy. Set up the account, took a few snapshots in low light, turned the video stream on. The money trickled in as if from a tap. Someone once compared Law and Order: SVU to a public resource, like water: it was always on when you needed it. So too are skimpily-clad poverty-tinged women in basement apartments. So too are voyeurs with income to expend late at night. Two days after the storm came, the water got cold. My hotplate still worked, however, so I set my big popcorn pot boiling and slowly filled the tub. I considered making the whole misadventure a webcam gimmick. Surely there were weird dominant types who’d be turned on by the idea of a sad urban waif, held captive by natural disaster, stripping and strutting around her apartment on camera, desperately wasting away. In fact, I decided against the idea because it was too good. Suppose I got stuck inside for a really considerable amount of time. What if it did become a wasting game? I’d lose my anonymity if I starved on screen. I drew the curtains and turned up the lights, combed my hair and lined my eyes, pretended as if I could walk out the door at any moment, or that some fictional cuckolded boyfriend could wander in. A lot of my viewers were into the cuckolding thing. On the morning of day three I stacked a milk crate on top of my swivel chair and peeked at the garden windows. I say “peeked at” instead of “peeked out” because they were still filled Page | 54
with snow. The news said four feet. The city’s outraged left-wing gossip rags said plenty of people were still trapped in the grips of the icy deluge. The sporty right-wing blogs from the suburbs said this wasn’t so; they said there was a rash of crime, that no one was going in to work. They fretted about the man-hours perishing under the sleet and the lost GDP. I smiled and spoke to them, aloud in my apartment. I’m doing what I can to fight revenue loss, I said. I’m bringing jobs into the city. And it was true enough. They’d have told me to reinvest, but I couldn’t spend a dime while I was still frozen in. My stomach rumbled all day and I filled it with toothpaste and tea. I was officially fiscally conservative, I announced to the empty room. That night I could hear screaming. I couldn’t tell if it hailed from the street or the rooms above my head. I felt very alone at first, but then I got to thinking about the dozens and dozens of apartment units above my head, and the dozens and dozens of beds and couches sitting inhabited in the space above me, and how many of those people were crying? Or starving? Or feeling very alone? Or having surreptitious panic attacks? Or contemplating something catastrophic? Or fearing or hating the person they shared their unit, or bed, or couch with? And this made me feel both more alone and not at all alone. I played all the music in my iTunes. There were embarrassing songs I hadn’t heard since high school. There were songs that reminded me of this or that self-assured asshole I’d frittered away money on. I played my music and danced for my viewers; they laughed and smiled and showered me in lascivious emoticons, but they could not hear the songs I used, because I kept the mic off. They had to guess, or fill it in with their own. On day five, in the middle of the day, I pulled out my trombone. I never dared play it in all the time I’d lived in the city, for fear of roommates, neighbors, or boyfriends mocking me. I imagined the snow as a buffer against the sound, somehow, or a block against the view of rolling eyes. An honorable patron of mine caught me playing from the corner of the camera’s view and Page | 55
asked me to insert it into myself. I’d done such a thing before, but never with an instrument of art. I threw the trombone across the room and flipped the laptop down. I could hear scraping on the sixth day. From a shovel? A truck? I was eating the cardboard from the Milk Duds package by then, so I hopped in place and pressed my ear against the wall, trying and hoping to hear a rescuer. But snow still covered the windows by the time it all got dark. I was used to managing solitude. I didn’t worry for a moment that I couldn’t handle it. I had photographs and old letters; I had message boards, and chat rooms full of clients, and Tumblr, and Facebook profiles to stalk. I had podcasts to fill the aural void with human noise. Necessity had lent me lessons in how to socially snack, empty calories that give the semblance of connection, and I was filling myself up. I knew the snow-in was tenuous. It’s not that loneliness isn’t terrible. It is. But far more terrifying is being alone and not feeling the loneliness anymore. That is the worst thing; that’s the end. They dug out the doors and stoops, and cleaned the sidewalks. But no one realized, right away, that there was another door under the stoop, leading to the garden apartments. The people above ground were free after the second day. They piled the snow right by my windows, and I had no way to signal there was a person inside. It was a week and a day after the storm that the sun came out in full force and carved a little beam of light in my window on the east side. The water trickled down and gave me a slit to peek out of. I clawed at that space and banged my hands and head against the glass, perched on the milk crate and the chair, until someone walking their Schnauzer leaned down, saw my frantic eye peering out at him, and startled. When I was let out, the sun made my eyes squint into narrow black lines. I stumbled onto the slushy ground and someone said I was speaking too loudly. I’d lost all sense, already, of what volume was correct. I was halfway down the Page | 56
block on the way to the Jewel and shivering when I realized I’d forgotten my wallet, and I was halfway out the door a second time when I realized I was naked. Because I had failed to spend any of my newfound income on health insurance, I was sent to the cheap-o hospital. They didn’t give me internet privileges. Once my potassium and sodium levels were better and my body went out of ketosis, I was sent home, but by then I’d violated my contract (which stipulated two one-hour video sessions per day, minimum). My pay account was shut down. And that’s the story of how I got out of sex work. I got a busboy gig at the 4am bar/restaurant on the corner, where the clients screamed and squealed and dug into the cement of the basement with their shuffleboard sticks. There was a great deal of suffering, perversion, and sorrow in the place, but at least it was all out in the open, where it could be seen and touched, whenever you needed it.
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THE SHADOW By Autumn Rinaldi
He kissed her shadow; it was all he could reach at the time. Of course, he didn’t have a chance with her; she was the best looking girl on the beach. And the best looking girl in town. She’d come for the summer with her family, people he’d known in town for a few years, but he’d never seen her before. There was speculation between him and his friends. “She’d been shut up in an institution,” one of his friends told him. “That’s why we don’t know who she is.” But when he finally talked to her, before he kissed her shadow, she was devoid of any noticeable psychological disorder (he and his friends watched her closely to see if she had fits of twitching, and they were disappointed). She had the same scratchy accent her family possessed: a clipped, Bronx-y vernacular. This, of course, had made him want her more. Why was she here now on the Rhode Island coast, then? Maybe she’d been jailed in the past for some drug thing, he imagined. He liked to do a lot of imagining about the girl. And he liked to watch her walk. She cast the perfect shadow behind her at nine in the morning on her way to work at the drugstore, where they let girls as young as sixteen work the candy counter. A good summer job that most girls around there were proud of; some were at the soda fountain, a few he knew even were qualified to be lifeguards. He was disappointed when he found out she was working at the drugstore and not the beach; she would have cast her perfect shadow across the sand from high up on the lifeguard stand. Maybe they wouldn’t let her lifeguard because of her accent, but no; he was sure she would use it far more across the counter at Sam’s Drugs and Pharmacy than pulling in drowning swimmers. She would have been easy to watch on her tall pedestal, but he ran out of excuses to visit Sam’s Drugs. A lost baseball over the fence got him in there one afternoon. A new edition of Mad Magazine, another morning. And they simply didn’t want a young kid to wander around the store, Page | 58
peeking at the older, strange girl behind the counter, so he had to plan his visits carefully. He didn’t officially say anything to her until that day on the street. She was leaving the drugstore and he’d been hanging out in front of the auxiliary. The girl paused as she passed, as did her shadow streaming along the smooth walk, but he was sure the shadow moved just for a second after its owner stopped; he held his breath. “Hey there,” the girl said, deadpan. “You come in my store a lot, don’t you?” He nodded. “Yes, m-” He’d started to say ma’am, then stopped himself just in time. The girl nodded back and gave him a strange smile, one that he imagined belonged on the faces of all the girls back in the Bronx, a smile that wasn’t used much around this town. “I’m Kimberly,” she said, glancing around, as if she had more than enough things to do rather than talk to him, but he caught her looking at him out of the corner of her eye. Even though he was three years her junior, he felt something mutual pass between them as she ran her tongue over her top lip. He watched, fascinated. Then he wiped his hand on his pants and stuck it out towards her, suddenly realizing he looked silly. But to his surprise, Kimberly smiled and shook it. “Yeah, you come in a lot,” she said, amusement making her dark brown eyes crinkle into little half-moon shapes. “But you look like a kid, not one of these old fogeys around here, so there’s no need for formality. But I don’t mind that you have manners. People around here would rather die if anyone said they didn’t, and they haven’t been really friendly around me. That’s the thing: if you’re like them, they treat you like you’re sitting next to them wearing new Sunday underwear.” “I don’t go in that much,” he said, ignoring her last statement. “Just for baseballs and stuff.” He stuffed his fists in his pockets and tried to breathe.
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“Hey, don’t get offended. Where I came from, you learn real quick not to get offended, or to take things people say so seriously. Okay?” He shrugged. That sounded cool, and he wouldn’t mind being like that, being rough like her and her dark, thick hair that had a mind of its own in the seaside humidity, not like any other girls of any age around town, as if one day she’d emerged from the ocean with it dripping down her back like a clump of seaweed just down there on the coast. Maybe she had swum to town from the Bronx, and that was why her hair always looked slightly wet, as if she would never be able to dry it completely. The girl continued looking about herself as if she was supposed to be somewhere else, then down at him. Kimberly was at least seven inches taller. “Hey, do you want to go to the beach with me?” she asked. “I’ve been standing all day and I feel like sticking my feet in the sand.” Who was he to argue? He sputtered something unintelligible while she laughed, and she turned to cross the street. He followed her, keeping his eyes on her back while keeping an eye out for cars, and spent the rest of the journey to the beach somewhere in between the earth and space. Kimberly took off her shoes the moment they reached the boardwalk, not minding the fact that it had baked to a golden brown for the entire day in direct sun. “Much better. You can’t do this in New York. All the beaches are piles of trash, and it’s hard not to step on dead bodies the mobs killed.” She paused for him to laugh, but he only stared at her. Kimberly rolled her eyes. “Relax! God, I’ve never seen a dead body on the beach. Remember what I told you about taking things so seriously?” “Right,” he said, blushing. “I knew you were kidding.” Kimberly picked up speed as the surface of the wood was starting to take effect on the soles of her feet. “Sure you did.” She started to run. “Come on, my feet hurt!”Kim didn’t stop until they reached the surf. “Ah, better. Nothing better than this. No
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dead bodies,” she glanced and him and smiled, “and no customers to wait on.” He let himself laugh. No dead bodies, he thought, giddy with overwhelming senses. He carefully took off his own shoes and set them by a row of sunbathing chairs. “I like to bring my board sometimes,” he dared to say. “I can’t stand on it yet, but I can get to my knees a lot.” Kim didn’t react but waded in to her knees and stepped back a little when she saw a bigger wave coming. “What’s your name, kiddo?” she asked, squinting into the sun. “Jimmy,” he said as little wings in his stomach threatened to expel the chocolate milk and chili dog he’d had at noon. “What’s yours?” he asked automatically, then closed his eyes, all hope for keeping down his lunch abandoned. Idiot, he thought. Stupid, stupid idiot. “I told you already, it’s Kimberly,” she said, sounding annoyed, then stopped. “Ah-ha, you’re just trying to offend me, aren’t you? Good one.” Her lips pushed out into a funny little sneer that he wanted to kiss more than anything in the world. “You’re a smart kid.” Jimmy tried to regain his balance as he lost his footing in the sand, his heart still in his throat, but he busied himself with drawing a squiggle in the sand with a toe. “Of course I was trying to offend you,” he lied. “And I got you!” Kim smiled then, actually turning her full attention to him, full sun on her face."You sure did.” Looking around herself again, she came closer to him. He stared first at his feet, then at her waist approaching, the only safe place he thought he could look. Not at her chest, he vowed himself. Not her face, either. He held his breath as she put her arm around his shoulders and didn’t breathe again for as long as he could stand it. She smelled like something minty, and also soft, like the fabric softener his mom used double the amount of when he played baseball in the spring. “I like you, kid,” Kim said, smiling that smile he couldn’t understand but didn’t care to; here he was on a late summer afternoon with the new girl, the older girl, on the beach with her Page | 61
arm around him. He desperately hoped someone was on the surf nearby that would see them and ask him about it later. “Oh yeah, her name is Kim,” he’d say to one of his buddies. “She smells like fresh clothes, she’s seen dead bodies, and we’re getting kind of serious.” Kim’s fingers went into his hair, tousling it. “You’re a nice kid, you know,” she said. “I wish people around here were nice to me like you. I thought I’d come here and the guys would be all around me, asking for my number and stuff. The only ones who want to go out with me are men. I mean, old men, like in their sixties. It happened at home all the time, but I was thinking this place would be different. You know, in the beach movies?” He knew. He loved watching Annette and Moondog race around like they didn’t even have the ocean as a boundary; they could run across it laughing if they wanted. Kim let go of his shoulders and started to wade back in the waves, and he felt the disappointment radiate all the way down to his feet that were buried in the wet sand all the way to the ankles. Behind her, her perfect shadow stretched out across the foamy water and touched his feet, wavering in its shape. “I come down here a lot,” he called above the wave that suddenly went up almost to his knees. “Maybe I can teach you to body surf.” As soon as he said it, he wanted to take the words back, but not because they were dorky. He knew what her answer would be. “I can’t,” she said. “I mean, I can come down here after work and cool my feet a little, but we can’t hang out or anything. They’ll think I’m a pervert or something.” Kim laughed a little, even though her face was a little thoughtful, and maybe, he could imagine it, a little sad. “It would look weird for us to hang out,” she finally said. “You have friends your own age.” He wanted to shout that he didn’t care, that he’d been thinking of her ever since she’d arrived in June, and that he had laid in bed so many nights (the whole summer so far!), wondering why she never seemed to brush her hair and what her mouth tasted like. But he didn’t. Instead, he lifted his buried feet Page | 62
and made the particles flick up into the air. Another wave came along and reburied them. “I gotta get home for dinner,” Kim said, turning away from the ocean. “Come on, you can walk me back up there. Girls like it when you walk them places, and carry things for them. I may not look like one of those girls, but I like those things, too. And you’re going to need to know what girls like real soon.” Kim reached down and grabbed a bunch of seaweed and flung it at him, laughing as it hit him just at the crown of his head. He couldn’t help himself; he chortled as long as he could before he joined the new, older girl in uncontrollable laughter as he gathered up as many bits of the seaweed he could grip to fling it back, and Kim leaped to the side just as it reached her. “Nice try!” she yelled. “Come on, walk me back.” He hoped beyond hope that she would put her arm around him again when they collected their shoes and arrived at the street corner in the square. Jimmy looked around to see if anyone was watching, but no one was. It’s okay, he told himself. There will be plenty of times they can see us together. He hadn’t known at the moment that her next words would be the last ones she’d ever say to him, no matter how many times he would see her for the rest of the summer around town and in the drugstore. “See you around, kiddo,” Kim called, not looking back but in the distance, her shadow still on him but gradually leaving with dark fingers. Before it was completely gone, he closed his eyes and kissed it in his mind, the only thing he could think of to do.
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GUIDING CHRISTMAS SPIRIT By Kent L Johnson
I see him pull up in his Pontiac Bonneville, nineteen seventy three model, I think. Big as a tuna boat. It's faded blue, with big chrome bumpers that have rust pocks. The wheels don't have any hubcaps, just flat black rims. Windows are tinted dark, but I catch his face through the windshield and I remember seein' him before, bandanna hangin' 'round his nose, eyes kind 'a crazy. This isn't the first time I've seen him pull up to this corner, where a Laundromat sits, tucked into the block like a cave. He spends less than two minutes takin' a wad of cash from the Bulchoski Brothers and handin' off a new bag of dope. I hear the Brothers push pot, coke, and heroin. I've seen this supplier on more than one occasion. Always right around three-thirty in the afternoon, same corner. I don't like them near my neighborhood, but what can you do? As long as people use in your hood, they'll be a steady supply from somebody. If it weren't the Bulchoski's it would be someone else. I wait for the streetlight to turn and walk across the street. I'm on my way home from work. City workers placed Christmas decorations across the city, just a week ago. Streetlight to streetlight have garlands and some lights strung between them. The little plastic lights glow on the dirt of the city, making it somewhat festive; enough to stop thinkin' about the crime happenin' a caddy-corner away. I open the door to my apartment building and step inside. “Raymond, how are you today?” I ask my neighbor. “You just gettin' in from work?" he asks me. His round face peers at me with soft brown eyes. His Afro a little knotty, like maybe he's been layin' down or somethin'. "Yeah." "I'm laid off again. We ain't gonna have a very lively Christmas this year. Unemployment just barely covers rent," he tells me. Page | 64
"You need help gettin' a tree? Maybe I can help you out. I haven't got any kids, but I know your two and I'd hate to see them miss Christmas." "They won't miss Christmas. We'll all be going to the Church. I guess it's time to teach them that Church is what Christmas is about." "Well, whatever Raymond. I'm willin' to give you a tree and stuff. You don't need to repay me. You church goer's all say that stuff, but Christmas is about more than Church. Can't tell me otherwise." Raymond was quiet for a moment, looking at the floor. I glance toward him and notice the scratches in the dark wood baseboards of the old building. A groanin' sound creeps from one of the walls in the foyer as the steam moves through heating pipes hidden within. "I just hate feelin' obligated. You know?" Raymond glances my way, then averts his eyes. "Yeah, I know. But do I look like one who's gonna a hold it over ya?" "Well..." "Hell, as bright as I am, I might just be called upon to take up a Congressional District at any time. Think I got to worry about a twenty buck Christmas tree?" "I'll take you up on it. Thanks. It means a lot to the kids." "Christmas is for kids. It's not for adults to be drinkin' spiked eggnog and actin' a'fool. We can do that anytime. It's about the Church for some, but more than that, it's always been for kids. I'll head out tonight and see what kind a deal the lot's got on trees. If I knock on your door late, I got a tree, if not, tomorrow for sure." I leave Raymond in the foyer and climb the stairs to my floor. I step into the shower and wash a days worth of dirt off. I relax and let hot water wash over me and think about supper: DeAngelo's Hoagie Shop sounds good; a nice five block walk for some of the best tastin' salami, pastrami, cheese, vegetables and
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that special spiced oil 'n' vinegar on fresh bread that could be found in the city. My mouth is waterin' just thinkin' about it. I'm out the door and walkin' the five blocks to a meal. I pass a Christmas tree lot and check out the trees. They got some nice ones. One I'd like to get for the kids is sixty bucks. A bit pricey for this workin' stiff. I hit DeAngelo's and order my favorite sandwich 'to go,' and sip on a bottle of beer while they make my grub. I'm thinkin' 'bout Raymond's kids, Deja and Mark. Mark's got a gap tooth smile that's as cute as any ten year old I ever seen. His sister, Deja, well, she's gonna a be a knock out when she gets into her teens. I see a lot of broken hearts in her future. I was thinkin' maybe gettin' Mark a toy fire truck and Deja a doll. I don't know. All I know is Christmas is upon us and I guess I better get my ass in gear if I'm gonna get 'em anything. I swallow the last of my beer, grab the bag with my sandwich, and I'm out the door, headin' for home. It's dark out but the Christmas lights look nice. Some folk put strands on their apartment windows, blinkin' into the cold spaces between buildings. It's chilly out, and the sounds of the city are just cars and sirens, no people yelling from inside apartment's at each other. The streets are pretty deserted. I come around a corner, past a liquor store and I spot the old Bonneville. It's idling, no one in the car. I look into the store through the window and see the drug dealer buyin' a bottle of liquor. I glance at the car again, it rumbles against the curb, empty. I can't believe what goes through my mind, but at that moment, I think I'm Santa Clause and the Bonneville is gonna be my sleigh. I hop in the car, put it in gear, and step on the gas. I'm gone, and that chump is gonna be walkin'. I got a crazy idea and I know I'm in deep shit if I get caught, but whatever, it's the holidays. Maybe I got an angel looking out for me. I'm sure someone else put this notion in my head. Gotta be an angel? Some spirit? I don't know. I drive to where I work, flash my ID at the gate guard, and park the faded blue monstrosity in the lot. I make sure I take my sandwich and the keys and walk home.
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I'm home and I eat, then make a grocery sack filled with newsprint folded in different configurations. I roll the bag on itself, then tape it shut. I put it in my backpack along with a couple bandanas. Next morning, I go to work. I check the parkin' lot on the way in and the Bonneville is right where I parked it. The city is big and the car is in a guarded, private lot. It'll be there when I get out of work, I'm sure. I make my way out to the parkin' lot after work and slip into the car. I pull the paper bag out of my backpack and one of the bandannas. I tie the bandanna over my face like a cowboy robber in an old western. The bandanna is black with white paisley markings. The car starts and I pull out of the parkin' lot and head towards my apartment. I get to the corner where the Bulchoski Brothers peddle their goods, it's about three-thirty. I pull over to the curb. The passenger window slides down 'cause my finger's pressin' the button on the door. I look at one of the Brothers and hold up the taped bag. He tosses a small box into the passenger seat and I hand him the bag. I hit the gas and I'm off. I drive out of the Brother's sight until I see an empty spot next to a curb that'll fit the old car. It's metered parking, but I don't care. I won't be driving it again. I leave the keys in the ignition and take the box off the seat and stuff it into my backpack. I'm out of the car and walkin' fast. I see a coffee shop and pop inside, pullin' the bandanna off my face and sit in a booth. The waitress brings me a hot cup of coffee and I take a look in the box. It's filled with cash. I take a small bundle out and do a quick count while my coffee cools. First bundle is just shy of seven hundred and fifty dollars. Must be three grand in the box. It's time to go shoppin'. I leave and go to a Christmas tree lot and pick out a nice big tree. It's seventy-five bucks, but it looks great. I negotiate to have it delivered to Raymond's apartment and hand the man another twenty-five for delivery. I walk to a toy store on the main boulevard and stop along the way to stuff some cash into the buckets being manned by Santa. Puffs of steam leave the Santa's mouths, the color of their Page | 67
fake beards, as cold outside air hits exhaled breath. I find a few special toys for Mark and Deja and have them wrapped. I spend almost half the money on toys and work a deal to have them delivered to my house. Raymond don't know it, but he's gonna be Santa at his church. Poor boys and girls gonna be happy 'cause Santa remembers them this year. I drop by a grocery store around the corner from the apartments and buy all the fixin's for a great Christmas meal. I'm carryin' a couple bags of groceries to the apartment when I look across the street and see the Bulchoski Brothers peeking' inside a newer Cadillac. Their fingers are pointin' in all different directions. The guy in the Cadillac looks like the owner of the Bonneville. He upgraded I guess. All of them should be thankful that they provided toys for poor kids and they're also gonna provide Christmas dinner for the homeless at the Shelter down the street. I have a hard time knocking on Raymond's door holding two bags of groceries, but it works. He opens the door and I nod to the bags. "Christmas dinner for you and yorn," I tell him. "Raymond peeks into the bags and sees a big roast. You comin' over for dinner?" "No. I help feed the less fortunate on Christmas Eve and Christmas day down at the Shelter. Been volunteering five years runnin'. This is all for you." "I don't know how I can..." "Don't worry about it Ray. Things just worked out this year, that's all.â€? I set the groceries down on the counter and spy Mark peekin' around a corner at me. "You also got a tree bein' delivered this afternoon." I see Mark's face light up, he smiles and that gap between his two front teeth look like you could drive the Bonneville through it. "Thank you...I don't..." "You also gonna be Santa this year at your church. If you wanna be." "What you mean?" "Drop by my place tomorrow and I'll show you. Until then..." I turn and walk out of the apartment. Page | 68
I'm in my apartment and I take the money box out and stash it until I can ask the Shelter what kind of stuff they need for Christmas dinner. I get in the shower and wash off the day's layer. I'm gettin' dressed when a knock is at my door. I open and a young man stands out front with a hand truck and bags of toys. He wheels the toys into my little place and I sign for them. I open the bags and start to arrange the toys by age and sex. I put Mark and Deja's toys in a special spot, then I spot the toy I bought special, a blue 1973 Bonneville in 1/32 scale. Even crooks and druggies deserve a special treat. I write a note using my left hand, so on the off chance someone's lookin, no one will recognize my handwriting. For some reason, my left-handed writing looks good, but feminine, like a chick's. Thank you local drug pushers. Your generous contribution helped out many disadvantaged individuals in your community. Please continue to donate. There may be hope for you yet. God. A bit presumptuous signin' God as the name, but I didn't catch the name of the angel or spirit that looked after me and set things up. I'm out early, toy Bonneville under my jacket. I pass by the Bulchoski Brother's corner. It's quiet with no one in sight during the early hours of Christmas morning daylight. I place the toy car with the note taped to the rooftop onto the window ledge of the Laundromat, then walk off. I'm thinking of a gap-toothed smile from a little boy sitting next to his sister, opening gifts in the scent of an evergreen, on Christmas morning.
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A NEWPORT FOR DAD By Jamez Chang
Three things about Randall M. Pak: Dad never admitted to fear; he was a glutton for fried Spam; and he relished in a selfimposed insomnia where fences were daggers for his hurdling sheep. The man barely slept. “Yahh, give me a cigarette, Joel,” my dad said, leaning back on the waiting-room chair. 17 hours in a hospital, waiting. My Newports looked like bullets in a chamber. Dad slid the cigarette from my fingers. “You know, most stores sell these things for $4.99 a pack,” he said, “But I give them away for half off—if the customer buys the first round.” Rounds. My son Marco shot over cigarettes. “Animals…shoot him over a carton, $40,” dad said. Then he plugged the cigarette above his ear. I looked straight at him. “How do you let your own grandson get involved with—” “Yahh, you think this is my fault, that Marco came working for me?”Dad cursed in Korean. “No time for your own son, Joel. Directing movies but never your son!” And for a split-skull second, I imagined Steve Buscemi pointing a warm pistol at my father’s temple, all seven bullets, all wood-chipper city. I lit a Newport for Daddy instead.
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THE VACUITY By G.D. McFetridge
The Vacuity—that indescribable place where my old friend Desmond Dene spent all of his short life—was conceived in dust and solar wind and post big-bang disorder, in the clash of aliens and sputtering gasps of lost prospects. Part of it was simply embellishment; part of it remained from whatever primeval matter had taken shape somewhere ten billion light years away. There were, in the fringes of the Vacuity, the fossilized shapes of obsolete creatures, frozen in time in the layered panoramas of ancient oceans and riverbeds. Those early things—the originators and precursors and simplistic particle beings—still told their peculiar histories, in molecular records, atomic structures; genome maps unveiled beneath electron microscopes, computer screens glowing like oversized nightlights. Bleached bones strewn around deserts, and piles of crushed teeth. Lakes tainted by dead fish, chemicals and oozing muck, old motor oil and rusted refrigerators and Styrofoam cups and plastic. And there were decayed remnants of all symbolic things imaginable: rubies and mud, bronze coffins and silver crosses. Derailed trains attached to one another by huge couplers, like steel hands: marvelous and dishonored worms. The blueprint lexis of minor gods—the planning committee of the universe?— made the Vacuity what it is. It was difficult back then to envision the future, future transforming in its becomingness, without something substantial to keep it in place. The physics, the gravity, the Newtonian dreams. The universal language of numbers the mathematicians fluently spoke, knee-deep in logic, drawn from spatial matrixes, neural nets sparkling with bioelectricity—in space-time, in fourth dimensional fantasies, or wherever it was those conversations first took place—dopamine and serotonin flooding synaptic gaps. The mathematician and his visions weren’t all that distant from Desmond Dene and his home in the Vacuity, where parking tickets and parking meters accompanied broken marriages and Page | 71
abused children; and alcoholic billionaires who smiled from ear to ear, drinking blood from hundred dollar champagne glasses. The inside deals were being made somewhere else. But was any of it real—Desmond needed to know—like the boring shit the teachers scribbled on the blackboard, the brand of wisdom handed out by horny evangelists and lying politicians? Or was everything a carefully perpetrated trick, a facsimile, with artificial sunlight and techno-weather and neon rainbows? The minor gods, as keen their wit in certain matters, were never remorseful, never assuaged in their thirst for powdered bones and blood sport, quenching themselves on planetary decay. They would never reveal the secret. The masses had come this far and they were shelling out plenty for medication to alleviate the tonnage, the weight, anything to make it lighter than air. The overpowering baseness, the bizarre melancholy that hovered in the air like holy smoke, like odors and the discordant melodies of glockenspiels. So if nothing were real, Desmond had decided, then it was probably thrown together by minor gods who’d spent their money at the cosmic dime store but who knew too well the cryptograms of carnage and sadism, who understood the cruel power of chainsaws and blowtorches, of mutating viruses and nuclear fission. The procurement and movement of people to death camps, the fate that tyrannized all the visitors to the Vacuity, could only be unraveled in the theater of the ridiculous, of oblique magnificence, of self-mutilation and obsession, of urine and pus; so they wanted something more, something diamond-like amidst the sewer pipes and graveyards. They needed unvarying routines, the reduction of insecurities (disease and decompositions), and promises of eternity—yet the grand balance sheet had lied. Shimmering waterfalls of silver and gold, distractions of inane conversations, willing genitalia, pearls and red roses; these were the things that sold quickly, that enshrined the earthly sorrow. The slave hanging by his wrists, horsewhipped by his master, a man wearing no expression other than hatred with his own death swimming in the pupils of his eyes; the woman with a lying smile Page | 72
vomiting her meals into toilets, the shopkeeper counting his money, watching, mumbling to himself; the other man counting his blessings in the church spire with daggers in his belt—seemed it would be like this forever, but could it really be? Transformations were earmarked by the vague beveled edges of mankind’s feeble imagination, by the tedium of civilized constructions some claimed a failure above all else. I mean, eventually Desmond knew all these impostures, he read about a slave named Jasper Tate whose master freed him in 1850 when California became a state, and that Jasper herded sheep for twenty years and lived on homesteaded land in the mountains of San Diego County, just as Desmond knew about General Custer and Freud and Einstein. Desmond knew Deadheads and drug dealers, lonely animal rights activists and obese schoolteachers for whom a large bag of potato chips was as alluring as a syringe full of heroine. Every day the Vacuity opened its doors to another stampeding herd; every day they passed in and out, liquidated assets, emotionally bankrupt and morally exhausted, waiting to run their course, and still they came. Some would wait for darkness, some for strange enthusiasms, others for the comfort of unlikely dreams. Some would sodomize their trainees. The Vacuity was like a last-chance mental ward, a breeders’ sanctuary, a whirlpool of genetic stuff churning and mixing; it was the nadir, below as far down as it gets, a screen door in a vacuum—or so said Desmond—and, when all was revealed, hell, who would have known better than he? He sent his mother to detox, his dog to heaven, and his father to the cemetery, got a prescription for temporary nirvana, but in the end found out there were immeasurable possibilities lurking in the doomed cauldron of this solar system. And eventually everyone realizes the theory of dark matter. People come and go, implicate each other’s insanities and quirks, give up secrets and squeal like pigs. They stand on the walls of watchtowers and wait anxiously. You know who they are but you never meet them; your moments of redemption and crucifixion Page | 73
are the same—inescapable panhandlers waiting for a handful of change on Telegraph Avenue. Lepers hiding in dark forests, counting how many fingers they have left When Desmond Dene wasn’t worried about the day-to-day little things—which was something I always wondered about—he lived a succession of unimportant lives. Forty, medium height, wiry, blond hair gone on top, eyes distrustful, skin cancer sending out roots from spots on his ears and forehead. And life was cheap, embossed with a high turnover rate because of terror, illness, death, and the industries of war. A good time to have prescriptions for Vicodin and Valium and Viagra—the three Vs. In the realm of the Vacuity, everything is made of stardust but nothing lasts for long, nothing escapes the colossal black holes sucking up the flesh of galaxies. One black hole looks like all the others, and it doesn’t matter if you went to graduate school and partook in majestic discussions about men and gods and laws, and it doesn’t matter about your opinions concerning the ecology and the greenhouse effect, dialectics of literary spender framed in pragmatism on one side and metaphysics on the other. Practice your metaphysics while falling into a black hole. Count your money as you go In the beginning, Desmond watched the counterfeit expressions that moved across the faces of men and women, who wandered in by accident before their cognitive immune systems were activated. There was an odd way they’d linger by the gate, scratch an itch or pick a nose, with apprehension thinly disguised beneath the thin veneer of faith: revelations in the flowerpot by the windowsill, an old yellow cat curled in a pool of sunlight on the couch. And at first these foibles were entertaining, the falseness of their dignity amusing. Or at least their hypocrisy, amused him. That is, before shadows fell and he found himself slipping under. For it doesn’t take a lifetime in the hollowness of the Vacuity, before you’ll be slipping under, too. It goes something like this: Outside the shopping mall—the torrid sun bearing down on fat people, on kids and pimply wise-ass teenagers and graying men, Page | 74
bearing down on pre-cancerous skin and clogged arteries, baseballs caps, SUVs, and pavement, with mid-life crises blossoming in the heat—Desmond dreams about a bus terminal, and a bus to take him any place, anywhere but here. That afternoon he’d tried for a job with the forest service, but the website was impossible to navigate. Keeping all the good jobs for family members, Desmond said to himself. On a good day, no decision seemed wrong; on a bad day, there were no decisions. It was like having deadly pneumonia and a doctor who treats you with neon lights. Destiny has always been a bad harvest, a plague of hungry grasshoppers and cutworms. What became of Desmond after that night I first saw him in the Vacuity’s sourceless gloom? What happened to that bus ride to some other place? He detoxed himself from an overdose of nothingness, found a never land on the other side of the mirror, a quiet place where pills rained down like hail, where shooting dope was no longer reserved for inner city dwellers and two-legged tapeworms; and all this above the endless din of civilized living and industrial commotion. Reverberations and happenstance marked the path of his fall. The museums housed the fossils, the psycho wards the living dead and martyrs to the cause, and nude dancers down on Fifth Avenue sold leather underwear on the side. When Desmond stumbled out of his own little nightmare, he was pretty well jaundiced, like a man sporting too many leeches, a bad liver and a backpack full of malaria. He’d had more than enough. He told me he was finally going home. Wanted to see his mother one last time, but instead he decided on a more radical approach: A raven sky—perfect camouflage for black holes—and somewhere out there a gun barrel with a hole not much wider than a dilated pupil, dark as a raven’s eye. A ring of neo-fascists dance around a bonfire in Idaho’s panhandle, while somewhere on Mars fossils wait in the dusty red wind. There is an obliviousness needed to play the game that Desmond played, a paradoxical question of whether there’s freedom to be had. If I Page | 75
were the cause of myself, Desmond had once said, I’d be God, wouldn’t I? And why the fuck not? Not one of those minor gods who fouled things up in the beginning; and then that loud flash of light, powdery smoke and a shattered skull—the declaration that freedom’s just a twitch away.
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By Ryan Swofford, Ed. An older woman in a red vest and jogging pants strolls by me with Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment in her vein-riddled hand. I catch a drift of her perfume: vanilla latte with a hint of jasmine. Her hair is blond and scraggly at her shoulders. She probably washes it every day, because it looks—what’s the word? Strong? Healthy? Healthy, I guess you could say. It’s blond and scraggly, and it’s healthy hair. This older woman, I decide her name is Susanne. She’s a nurse at the hospital here in town. She drinks too much coffee and reads too many novels. She doesn’t read romance novels or crime novels—nothing easy-to-read. She has to pick the biggest, baddest book on that bookshelf, because it makes her feel smarter than she really is. She went to a community college. She has four cats, two dogs, and a mouse. The mouse just recently had a heart attack, and she tried to save it, thinking that her skills in nursing would prove to be an important asset to saving his little mouse-life. It worked, but he had seizures after. He had maybe six or seven of them. She decided not to take him to the vet, and now she has to go home with her novel and check on the poor little thing. Probably, though, the cat already ate it. Susanne has fibromyalgia. She doesn’t know who to talk to about it, because most her of relatives are either dead or don’t care about her. They don’t even know her name, truth be told. She has an uncle in Florida. He paints houses for a living—except, recently, it hasn’t been much of a living. She knows he’s a painter because of the Yellow Pages. She learned that it hasn’t been much of a living because of some of the censuses taken this year. The Internet has been a big factor in getting information on her relatives. She has a cousin, too. Her cousin is an engineer with Microsoft. He makes more money than anyone she knows. He’s Page | 77
got a house in the hills in Hollywood, maybe next to the H. She checked him out on Google Maps. Susanne, with her scraggly, healthy blond hair, she hates watching romantic comedies. They remind her of her exboyfriends. They’ve all forgotten about her by now, probably. She bets they’ve all got important jobs. They’re probably all busy with their families—wives, kids, whatever. What’s weird is, when she was in high school, that was all that mattered. It was all about who’s dating who, who’s kissing who, who’s shagging who—all that sexual stuff that she thought she’d get over. She hasn’t gotten over it. Now, she really, really needs something like that. Anything like that would be acceptable. She would appreciate the hell out of it. Actually, she would pay for it. Truth be told. To sum it all up, let’s just say that Susanne is a lonely, hurting woman with nothing to go back to. All her high school sweethearts have moved on. All her relatives are busy with their lives, so high up on the family tree that they’ve forgotten what’s on the ground below them. Even her co-workers don’t want anything to do with her, because if they did, they’d be interrogated about it. “So,” they’d all ask. “Is she crazy or not? And if she’s not, don’t you think she should get checked out or something? Aren’t you, like, a ‘mandatory reporter,’ or whatever?” She pays at the register with cash. Nobody can track her down and kill her if she pays with cash, then shreds the receipt. She assumes that since nobody seems interested in her, someone probably has a hit out for her. She won’t be missed if someone murders her, so she’s the perfect target. Just as I suspected, she takes the receipt from the cashier, smiles (feigns appreciation), and crumples the little piece of paper in her fist. She then spins on her heels and heads out into the night, Crime and Punishment in one hand, the crumpled receipt in the other. I cannot see her anymore, as my head cannot turn 360 degrees to watch her leave. She probably threw
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the receipt in the trash, or, more likely, down the gutter. It would make sense, her being the Paranoia Princess that she is. I pull my sleeve up and glance down at my watch. It’s nearly midnight, and the bookstore is about to close. The sign above me says, in big, bold black letters: WE CLOSE AT MIDNIGHT. It’s good to know that local businesses can advertise their closing times effectively. Otherwise, nobody would go home. I stand up. My spine cracks as I stretch, tired from sitting here and watching people all night. I usually watch people during the day, but today was different. Today, I took the bus downtown. I got on and off at various stops; I never knew where I was, but the excitement of a new location was enough to keep me going. I found a new art gallery that I quite enjoyed. There were paintings of all kinds of people. It was harder to think up stories for people who don’t move, or talk, or do anything other than stare dully from the frame of a portrait, but I managed to think up a few. Marilyn S., for example, was an avid pot-smoker with a penchant for taxidermy. She died during the Vietnam War—not because she was in it, but because she was protesting. She was beaten to death by a crowd-control officer, and her family sued and won over $10,000,000 from the state. Then there was Roy B. Willitts. Roy B. was a fascinating young man. He built cruise ships, towers, castles, sky-scrapers, automobiles, and, it is rumored, the first computer. He was an extraordinary architect and engineer. From the time he was a little boy to the ripe old age of 96, Roy B. never gave up on himself, and always did his best work, regardless of any obstacles in his path. Harry G. made a fortune at selling vacuums. Benny J. was a pilot. Jerry K. was a journalist. Everyone had a story, and I wanted to discover each and every one of them. Staring at those portraits—unmoving, unspeaking, and dry—I thought of the possibilities. What if he invented the gas mask? What if she was a famous dancer? What if they had the perfect life, or at least knew the secret to it? Page | 79
These stories—these unmoving, unspeaking stories—scratched at my soul, and I could not do anything but stare and imagine. The art gallery caught on fire, though, and everyone inside had to evacuate. I remember standing there with itchy red eyes, breathing in the black smoke and wood smell, watching the flames ride the tall panels and columns, dancing on the roof. I blinked and realized that all of these stories were being burned to the ground. I wanted to stop it from happening, but obviously, there was nothing that could be done. I got back on the bus and decided to go to a coffee shop. I bought a milkshake with a twenty dollar bill. I didn’t receive any change but I didn’t care. I sat on a bench and drank my milkshake. I knew I was late for my people watching time. My schedule had been thrown off, and I could feel it in my belly. My gut felt like someone had socked me, hard. I thought about Marilyn S. and Roy B. and Harry G. I thought about everything they’d achieved, and how, in a split instant, everything had been stripped away from them, burnt to the ground within the blink of an eye. I sat there on the bench with my milkshake and I wondered why everything has to end like that. If you’ve ever read the Bible, you know what I mean. If the people on earth make something incredible, God just has to destroy it. He has to take all of his God-powers, and he has to turn all of it into dust or ash or salt. He can’t just say, “Good job, Humans! Way to go! Have fun with what you’ve made, since it makes you happy and all.” No. He won’t allow even the slightest, most pathetic sense of accomplishment. Everything has to be ruined. I remember growing up. I had my mom, but she was sick. I had my dad, but he was drunk. I had my brother, but he was always running away, so there wasn’t much of a point in trying to forge any sort of relationship with him. We used to go camping, and whenever we’d go for family hikes, my brother would be somewhere in the woods, off someplace that nobody’d ever find him. He liked to be places that nobody would ever look. It made him feel invincible, I think. I could make up all kinds of shit about Page | 80
my brother, but I honestly don’t think it’s worth relaying to you. I hate his guts. My mom died of AIDS. My dad died of a liver infection. My brother ran away. I think he’s in Palm Springs right now. He’s dealing coke, that’s for sure. I looked him up via White Pages. I found prison records on Ancestry.com. Don’t go to prison for dealing coke. You’ll be all over the Internet in a jiffy. You can bet your tootsie ass on it. God hates everyone. That pastor who made that websites, Godhatesfags.com—I think he should make a website called Godhateseveryoneingeneralnomatterwhoyouare.com. God really does hate everyone, and all of their accomplishments. All of your puny little accomplishments—playing the role of Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, writing a best-selling novel, getting through college for free because of your 4.0 GPA and sky-high SAT score, having grandchildren—none of that shit matters. Only God matters, the selfish bastard. Now, don’t think I hate Christians or anything like that. I’m better than that. I wouldn’t stoop to that level just to seem intellectual or anything. Some people do that. What I mean is, it’s hard to understand—really, just to understand, not follow or believe or anything at that level—how people can just nod and say “okay” to something like that. Sure, God loves everyone and is kind to them. That all makes sense. But do kind people knock down your Tower of Babel? Do kind people create deadly tidal waves because of a few bad eggs? All of these stories of God doing really terrible shit: why is it that nobody thinks twice about it? It’s a lot like justifying your abusive boyfriend or girlfriend hitting you. “They were just mad at me for something I did. It was my fault. He won’t do it again. He promised. He made a rainbow.” All in all, God’s a pretty big asshole. I turn on my heels and start to leave—when, out of the corner of my eye, I spot the clerk sifting through a stack of books Page | 81
that people brought to the counter but decided they didn’t want. They all said, “On second thought…” Probably, the books looked good on the way to the counter, but once they got there, the stories suddenly felt unappealing. They realized that it was a hardcover. The pages, they noticed, were too heavy. The author only wrote one good book, but that was in his hey-day. He’s not so hot anymore. Now he’s in his eh-day. Old news. So, never mind. Something pulls me to the front of the counter. I do not realize I am walking to meet the clerk until we are face-to-face, breathing in each others’ breaths, feeling each others’ warmth and awkwardness. He looks maybe 25, around the same age as me. He’s wearing a cardigan sweater and Ralph Lauren cologne. He looks up with brown eyes, hidden beneath owlish eyebrows. He doesn’t say anything at first—he just stares. I wonder if he’s gay—maybe he’s attracted to me. I wouldn’t be offended, but I wouldn’t want him to get weird with me. So I take a step back and purse my lips. He raises his eyebrows. “Hi,” he says. “Can I help you with something?” I look at the stack of books on the desk and see War and Peace, A Farewell to Arms, Fight Club, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Water for Elephants. I ask, “What are all those books for?” His hands fumble through a few romance novels with sexy covers. He looks up, perhaps in an attempt to avert my eyes from the smut. “They’re, uh—I’m re-shelving them.” I nod. “Oh. Okay. Well, you don’t have to do that. I’ll take them.” The clerk pauses now. He looks up. “Oh, you want them?” “Yeah. I think they’ll go good with my collection.” I don’t have any books. Not really. If you don’t count dictionaries and cookbooks to be actual books, then I don’t have any at all. My shelves are barren. I need books.
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I imagine the clerk is an actor in his spare time. Probably, he dances on Broadway and sings soprano at the local choir. He’s probably a poet, too, reading at coffee joints. His boyfriend just dumped him, so he needed to get an extra job. He likes books, so he thought he’d be good at being a clerk at a bookshop. He likes the natural course of things. If things are out of order, he just flips. His whole world gets turned upside down. He throws a hissy fit. He has to look for order in something—it doesn’t matter what it is. It could get so bad that he picks up a calculator. He types “1, 2, 3, 4, 5…” just so there’s some order. Just so he knows he’s in control of something. “Well,” he says. “That’d be great. I haven’t sold a single book today, so I think you just saved me my job.” He smiles and winks. “Thanks a ton.” The intercom lady comes on and says the store is now closing. Please make your purchases and leave in an orderly fashion. The clerk looks at me with disgust. “Euphemisms. Pft.” Under his breath, he says, “I hate that bitch.” Curious, yet trying to keep my distance, I ask him why. “She stole my boyfriend right from underneath me. I found them in bed coming home from work one night. She asked me to stay late and clean up.” He gathers all of the books into a single pile, stacked high, and asks me, “Paper or plastic, hon?” A tear drops onto a copy of On the Road.
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INTRODUCING: SERGE GAY JR. By Ryan Swofford, Ed.
I first saw Serge’s art in the wonderful publication edited by my good friend Bud Smith. I was pleased to find some contact information, or at least a link to his website where I reached him with ease. It was a pleasure working with him, and he was very cooperative (he actually let me pick my favorite pieces on his website—sergegayjr.com—to include in this issue). I suppose it would only be appropriate to talk a little bit about Serge’s art. Serge creates. In the interview I conducted with him (on page 92), he said: “If you’re waking up feeling the need to create something before you even think to speak, that’s when you know you have it in you.” I would say that was my favorite line of the entire interview, and that is truly depicts him as an artist. Serge’s work is surreal, yet not so surreal to the point of disrecognition. It is elegant and sexy; at times, it is also very rugged and realistic, such as “Katrina’s Children” (pictured on page 88). He is very in-tune with what he is working with, and he does not seem to flinch in the face of desparity. Looking at the interview again, Serge talked about how he noticed two themes in his work. He noticed that his work drew mostly from his own life stories, and also from popular culture. It is clear to the eye that Serge does not shy away from, again, realistic concepts, but at the same time, he is very playful and creative with his work (for example, he often includes images that may provide more of a symbolic weight to a piece than anything else, such as the TV Heads in “Amour” (next page). All in all, Serge is a wonderful artist, and I am very pleased to have him in my magazine. I hope to work with him further, and I hope to see his career advance to places he never imagined. Enjoy!
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Banks of America
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Little Angel Eyes
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AN INTERVIEW WITH SERGE GAY JR. By Ryan Swofford
1. What are some recurring themes you have noticed in your work? I think I have two recurring themes in my work—one being my story telling on life situations and events and the other has a fun pop culture art feel. The private storytelling parts of me are the ideas and deep emotions in my life that I could only express threw my art. From my upbringing, politics, equality and rights, or comparison and differences in a person’s life style (if not my own). Also showing black people in a positive light. Showcasing beauty and powerful. I don’t see it being portrayed as much in the art community so I want to embrace that more. And when it comes to the pop art work, it tends to more light and fun. Usually things that I love from music and movies, to objects and people. Love opposite. 2. What do you want viewers to gain from your work? I would love to gain some admiration and approval of the viewers. Ha! Well, I would love people to gain all kinds of emotions from my work like joy, to awareness, to educate, or just the beauty aspect. Want to make the viewers to feel leaving touched or inspired in some way, whatever the subject matter maybe when someone sees a piece. I love to leave folks in a positive note. I’m not here to offend anyone; I’m not that type of artist to leave a bitter or resentful feeling on you. If someone do look at one of my pieces and feel offended then you’re looking at it wrong, and therefore you need to get out of your shell. Then again its art, you don’t know what to predict and that’s okay. 3. Are you a believer that paintings can tell stories just as well as literature itself? Oh yeah, big believer. I’ve done many pieces that have long stories behind them; like I said before I’m a huge storyteller. Most of the time I prefer when the viewer gets the story behind Page | 92
the art and then there’s times when I love when the viewer to make up their own stories and I leave it up to interpretation. 4. Where does your inspiration come from, and how do you implement it in your work? Ideas come from my everyday life. Friends, family, most of the time the deep subject matter that are happening all around. And then I get inspirations from pop culture. I love the news and music video. Don’t know how they mash together but they do to me. The attraction to opposite again 5. Talk a little bit about yourself. What is something you want your fans to know about you? I’m legit! 6. Simply put, what do you think politicians are doing correctly? What are they doing incorrectly? And, what can be done by artists to improve political structure and policies? That’s a whole another interview on its own trying to break all the wrongs in the world when it comes to politicians and their negative and positive sides. I try to stay away from speaking on politics and let my art do the talking. But as artist the best way to improve our political structure and policies, is to spread awareness and to educate. With all the lack of intelligence, there are a lot of ignorant folks and throwing major facts in their faces, on the hope of getting people to have a wake-up-call is all we could do as artist sometimes. We are a major key factor to the puzzle in making a different in politics than most people think. And politicians fear that sense of freethinking without structure mentality. 7. Does art belong in politics? Why or why not? Yes, and it’s been around for ages. It’s an artist way of speaking and having our own voices heard threw visuals. It’s the best way to commutate to the government or whomever you’re trying to Page | 93
send your message to and the people’s message out to the public. No differences from any other artist like musician, actors, and dancers. Not every artist put or should use politics in their work, it’s all up to the artist. And I think art is not to be rightly classified or assigned into a specified category. Art belong in whatever it wants to be. 8. Lastly, what is some advice you'd like to give to our reads who are perhaps artists themselves? Art is something that helps you breathe on a daily basic. If you’re waking up feeling the need to create something before you even think to speak, that’s when you know you have it in you. Because there are times when I didn’t have the tools around me to create I felt like I was suffocating because I wanted to create at the moment. As a child, English was not my first language after moving from Haiti to the States at the age of three. Therefore art became my new way of to communicate. That’s how I meet friends and express my feelings to get by in life in this new foreign land.... "America.” So you need to really, really love what you’re doing and it takes patience, passion, and happiness to create. If not, you won’t find happiness in it. And that’s the one thing everyone strives for.
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ENDING WORDS OF KINDNESS By Ryan Swofford, Ed.
Dear Weekenders: I’m writing this as the song “You are so Beautiful” is playing in the background. It’s just starting out, but I’m thinking of all of you—the ones who found this online magazine, read the entire thing (or most of it), and complimented everyone who did a wonderful job in it. Serge Gay Jr. is one of those rare gems that simply creates. He does not overthink it. He is an artist. Ian Holmes is a masterful young poet. He is loose and wild. Howie Good is another one of my favorites. His prose poetry excites the hell out of me. James Lawless and I talk on a regular basis. He lives in some place I know nothing about, and he’s a wonderful man. Jamez Chang is a rapper and a writer—he’s incredible at both. John Dorsey just started talking to me. I’m glad to have a chapbook coming out from the same publisher as him (called Sunshine Liar, from Crisis Chronicles, 2013). There are so many others. Andrew Stone. I love that guy. I know, or want to know, all of you, so very personally. Please, send me an email, or send me a letter. I might not give you my physical address, but I just might…maybe. Don’t bomb my house. I trust a lot of people, but whatever. I love a lot of people. Does nobody else realize that this is what art is about? This is art. You all, you are all art. You made you. Love, Ryan Page | 95
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Issue 5 of The Weekenders Magazine, featuring Serge Gay Jr., and including John Dorsey, Simon Molloy, Ian Holmes. Plus: an epic poem called...