T∫B∫R TIDAL BASIN REVIEW Spring 2010
T∫B∫R TIDAL BASIN REVIEW Spring 2010
Tidal Basin Press Founded 2010 Washington, DC
Editors Tori Arthur - Fiction & Non-Fiction Editor Truth Thomas - Poetry Editor Melanie Henderson - Managing Editor Randall Horton - Editor-in-Chief TBR Editorial Review Team Patricia Biela Marlene Hawthrone-Thomas Fred Joiner Chinedu Osuchukwu
Tidal Basin Press, LLC Tidal Basin Review Founded 2010, Washington, DC
www.tidalbasinpress.org A Publication of Tidal Basin Press, LLC
Cover Art by Krista Franklin, Don't Drink the Water (for the victims of Hurricane Katrina) Layout Design, Melanie Henderson
For broad distribution. Electronic version not for sale. To purchase print version, email email@example.com or visit www.tidalbasinpress.org. ÂŠ All Rights Reserved, Tidal Basin Press, LLC, Washington, DC.
Ai (1947 - 2010) Dennis Brutus (1924 - 2009) Lucille Clifton (1936 - 2010) Howard Zinn (1922 - 2010) Thank you for bravery spirit inspiration guidance peace battle love familyhood, Forever in our words.
Visitation, Essex County Hospital The Women Clean
The Slaves I Was Standing On the Corner, When I Heard My Bulldog Bark
Killed Memory Together Instructions from the Postcard Maker 3. Breakfast Tray
The Grounds the Birds and the Sky
An Erect Giant
A Lost Lesson in Evolution on the 3:16p from Chicago to Blue Island; Or Adaptation
Image Makers (for Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis), Artist Statement
Don't Drink the Water (for the victims of Hurricane Katrina) 38
T.M. De Vos
The Flea Circus
Street at Saverne, 1858 The Mustard Merchant, 1858
A Short One â€“ Postcard From
Vissi dâ€˜ Arte Why Poems Happen While Driving Home
from: Meditations on the Stations of Mansur al-Hallaj, 36. non-acceptance (rafd)
Sins of My Fathers
When Sundays are Unseasoned
Min Jung Oh
From the Badlands
The Grace of Your Departing Feet Baking a Cake on Her Father‘s Birthday
Grooving in the Gobi
Many Walls A Small Portion
The Writing Lesson
―nothing quite like it‖
Ottava Rima Marginale
Story of Red
To the Poet, In Case I Cannot Meet Him Trees
In the bosque
Ode to Mercedes Sosa
double and dutch
Derrick Weston Brown
The Hmm Hmmm: A Fatback McGristle Story The Uh-Huh: Viola Spearmint‘s Story
Country Song Fresh Snow
January: Taking Stock
On Looking at the Collections of Henry Wellcome
Ribbons & Bells, Oh My!
Lines for Jane Kenyon Foreclosure
Father‘s Garage For My Sister after Her Surgery
When I Think of You, Love First Suit Star
Dead Man Teaching
To Sasha on Becoming First Daughter
June Prayer Amadito
―To Be Young, Gifted and Black‖
VISITATION, ESSEX COUNTY HOSPITAL
Inside the hospital elevator, a cavernous silence. Speech seems restricted here, alien. As the doors open, sunlight gathers. I walk towards her, the words to come: capricious caustic, her utterances the verdant thorns of bramble. A mother famished almost to the point of extinction. She carries on endlessly about nothing. Or about something eerily inaccessible to me. Her tongue a template, a twig, a singular thing. Phallus, the shallot, that awful taste in the mouth. For she, once a girl with a hometown and teeth
bits of men
canâ€˜t keep from vomiting whole paragraphs now, their stench.
In a secluded hospital wing, I glimpse the weaning the abstraction of wanting.
I need shoes and underwear, she orders. I need pen and paper. Bring them to me.
I submit. Daughter, and dutiful
to language, a folded landscape crowded with omissions, her perfected English. Madness reduces us to this.
ALVAREZ âˆŤ 8
THE WOMEN CLEAN
The women clean together as though they have been taught that filth should not be tolerated. They curse those who left their food to rot, left dirty dishes in the sink, forgot to wipe down the counter. They clean with bleach and fingernails as if digging for truths beneath the earth. Caribbean women cleaning as though their life depended on it, as if to get back to the beginnings of a story. I neglected to tell you that my hands move like this, like the hands of a woman whose body gets restless and mind gets moody, like organs that ferment when they stay in one place for too long. I neglected to tell you that in order to quell the craving you should sponge me down, bathe me before putting me to bed, kiss the hands that have been in the dirt and grime. Like lines on a piece of paper, insert yourself there, insert breath into that place. So as to let the light, the moans seep through, those stories now in the distance beneath and across the ocean where it still trembles from the echo of boats and planes that came to take them away. This is how it happened. This is why we hoard cleanliness, order, and how my hands turn soap and water into soliloquy.
ALVAREZ âˆŤ 9
Douglas Kearney wee we whee all de way home!
KEARNEY ∫ 10
doomed to repeat it as villanelles. we write history and in it we go. measure the shoeless feet by degrees we‘ll get into them. we‘ll track mud then confound hounds through conspiring creeks. trod rocky roads bitterlessly and illumine the gloom with bright letterhead. reflections of the way we used what we used to be.
KEARNEY ∫ 11
deer suh/ dear suh/ dere suh/
deeress/mastuh/ dearest/masta/ derest/massa/
too suh/wif lub/ too suh/wit luv/ too suh/wid lurv/
i hadsd not learnt too rite dees skcribulls ainte nuttin too mee i sware i own lee wannid yoo too no whare i wuz at
sinseer/lee yose sinsear/lee yose sinsere/lee yose
yose fo/troo yose fah/troo yose fuh/troo
yose troo/lee KEARNEY âˆŤ 12
to stroll an ell in the shoeless‘s shoes is a trick of skin. i dug deep for sweet roots and jemimade a pie. slice it: the black birds all smoke out, start into singin. do we stow our shoes below feather beds and blue our way into? my my this pie, ain‘t this the way we died?
KEARNEY ∫ 13
when we iron the shackles when we wear those hung lips when we know and thus doomless when we come to the place for which when we honor our mothers‘ mothers‘ mothers‘ mothers‘ and fathers‘ fathers‘ fathers‘ fathers‘ when ―we‖ becomes the genuine article when we look around the room we cleaned when we ask whose house we in
KEARNEY ∫ 14
I WAS STANDING
ON THE CORNER, WHEN I HEARD MY BULLDOG BARK‖1
the corner a lurk late. the corner a cold blooded autumn. a stone tree bent with black fruit. ―…was standing
on the corner…‖
throw a bulldog a bone. throw a bone to shut it. shake what you shaved. shake em up, roll em. who you cheating? who you think you cheating? ―…can‘t let you go with that‖ ―…can‘t let you go with that‖ ―…go…‖ meet the nigger who making me dead: say Lyons: take his teeth in your mouth; the damn bully y‘all become…: say Lyons: wear his smokehouse lips like a desperado‘s rag: say Lyons: cats try to find me anywhere but mirrors: say Lyons: don‘t mind me. I don‘t mind: say Lyons. ――…the corner…can‘t let you go…‖ to Lyons, the gunsmoke a seething carnation.
KEARNEY ∫ 15 1 1
All quoted lines come from ―Stagger Lee‖ as performed by Lloyd Price. The song is a pop update of a folksong in which the bad man, Stagolee, shoots Billy Lyons over a gambling dispute.
Lyons died of lack of rhythm could be cause of death. the slug led, spun him, dipped. say Lyons: do you love me now that I can dance: say Lyons. ―I was standing
on the corner…‖
the corner a mirror disguised as a bullseye disguised as a mirror. shake em up, shake em down. ―…standing
on the corner‖ say Lyons:
―…let…go…‖ Lyons a place to keep bullets warm. a ladder up a tree. some low hung fruit. reach out: say Lyons: I‘ll be there: say Lyons: whenever you need me: say Lyons. ―…on the corner when I heard…‖ the corner a song played by falling fruit. shake em down. the corner a jam. let em roll. when the bully kill the lion the bully skin him for to wear him.
KEARNEY ∫ 16
―I…that‖ say Lyons: meet the nigger who killed Lyons while wearing a bully skin on his Lyons skin. who you cheating? why you lying? look in the mirror. who you cheating? say Lyons: Lyons a heavy sleeper. a pistol‘s bitch. throw a bulldog a bone, dog on cat in bulldog take the bone in your mouth— ―…can‘t let you go with that Lyons an open window ajar, ajar. say bully: shut it.
KEARNEY ∫ 17
KILLED MEMORY TOGETHER (after Maurice Kilwein Guevara)
I had a dream where we sat by the stagnant pond and you cried a mother. I remember I was called a girl, the night become mosquito and I had a various mother who could not be recalled. My fathers grew tall through the night. One heaved crates of oranges down the shards of water. One shoveled snow, ran past the down long sand, away the ghosts we pulled up from the cracking sand. One had no hands, having traded them to the boat. One â€“ I put on his shirt and became lanky, head bumping against the others. We killed them together, their smug mouths against the creek bed. Eyes on the soaring green trees. I remember you afterwards, a long rope the size of my waist, swing past the fire and into the lake.
CHEN âˆŤ 18
INSTRUCTIONS FROM THE POSTCARD MAKER
the man with fancy smooth pants the smooth wood box and the silver nitrate bath how we ground glass is hidden from view how we negative our faces steep in salt before they surface how we copper and plate and expose for hours the sun fries the orange from our cheeks I hid behind my hat brim he showed me flashing my eyes searching for his chest wrapped up in black velvet my hands edge the box rising from rot lifting the tinges the changeling soil all the while I stiff my breath in my shoulders my eyes peel straight the orange lifts a head the ground and calls our sour names later when we look our blurry faces full of weevils
CHEN âˆŤ 19
3. BREAKFAST TRAY
I saw the bell climbing up the stair. The lady liquid soothed by ice. Rippleless, hardened in the ice box. Deprived of breath under brick. Now the mouth talk of the weather only â€“ hot slaving sun. A killing summer. Dead boys. A false fire in your turquoise bed of coals. Shipped quality from Sears Roebuck. A catalogue for every question. You call me, your finger mild. The oats chilly with complaint. The tray trudges down to the white oak floor, expensive for visitors. You do not use on occasion. I will erase my footsteps later. After the stoking of the fire to match the sun beating on gravel just outside the door.
CHEN âˆŤ 20
18‖ x 24‖, Mixed medium on watercolor paper, 2009 FRANKLIN ∫ 21
THE GROUNDS AND THE BIRDS AND THE SKY
I. In the evening (still so full of sun) the ungirded wind swept the grasses back and stirred the tall trees and swayed them back so that they rustled darkly against the eves. And the evening (still so full of light) shot sometimes a bolt of brilliance over my shoulder, or blinded me temporarily, or turned my face into a perfect unblemished thing poised to ravish all with deep imaginings. Evening infiltrated the screened-in porch and solidified my wire chair. II. In the morning, the sky opened upwards like a foreign cathedral. It was a hallowed scene in a hollowed world. Or so the books said. Or so the sparrow said. Or so the sparrow meant, stuck like that in the thorns. You can not see the blood filling the bird shape exactly. You can not hear the bird smoldering its infant song.
GOOD âˆŤ 22
AN ERECT GIANT
When I told my mom that she would be a grandma, I had to duck to miss the flying skillet. Later, as the two of us soaped the hot grease from the kitchen walls, she told me, in a measured voice, ―Get out.‖ I lived on the streets for exactly two weeks, backpacking from one friend‘s mother‘s basement to the next, until I limped back to my mom, exhausted. Lucinda thought we could get together and rent our own place, but I got sick with the idea of staying with her 24 hours in a day. She hated me for a full week, but got over it. And my mom? While she was away at work one night, I twisted a hanger into my bedroom window‘s opening and made my way back into the house, back into the comfort of my bed. It hadn‘t changed except for the fact that my bed had been made. The next morning at breakfast, my mom glanced up from her newspaper and said, ―You need to shovel the walkway.‖ Later that same year he came for us. I was nineteen. We were to meet at my grandma‘s house where she would make a Nigerian meal for us. Our fingers would be sticky from the gummy foo foo balls, sleek from the Akra soup, and our breath would smell like stockfish. I wanted no part in the business, but I was going anyway. All morning, we prepared for his arrival as if my father had been on a long journey. My mom prepared in her way, taking things down from walls, breaking things, burning things in the bathtub. I prepared in my way. I put on tan pants, sneakers, and turned up the collar of my shirt. Lucinda showed up late, her face doughy, her stomach a hard round gut. She was a haze in the smoke-filled hallway. Our fire alarm was going crazy. We stood in the doorway, together, watching my mom, stout with stringy damp hair clipped away from her face, huffing and puffing her way up and down the halls carrying objects that I didn‘t even know we owned, a guitar, a keepsake box, boots. ―What‘s she doing?‖ Lucinda asked. ―Burning,‖ I said. ―Oh,‖ Lucinda said, ―maybe we shouldn‘t go today.‖ ―Maybe you shouldn‘t go.‖ I hadn‘t even invited her but she had showed up anyway. IROMUANYA ∫ 23
―Don‘t you think you should talk to her or something?‖ ―As long as she stays out of my room.‖ Lucinda pressed her hands to the sides of her stomach, measuring out its size. ―You don‘t have to come,‖ I said, a little more gently than I intended. ―My grandma, she‘ll just make some stinky Nigerian food. Then she‘ll go on and on about all the repairs the house needs and how she aches all over. And then,‖ my voice lifted for a second. ―Then just as I‘m about to leave, she‘ll lean in, and whisper, ‗Obinna‘ into my ear and put a wad of cash in my pocket. She‘s been doing this since I was old enough to go to her house.‖ I gave myself a satisfactory grin. ―That‘s it? You‘re only going for the money?‖ I shrugged. My mom finally noticed us when we turned to leave. ―You leave,‖ she said, ―don‘t you think about coming back again.‖ ―Right,‖ I said. She took another step toward us, the guitar in one hand, the keepsake box in the other. She made a motion as if she was getting ready to hurl the objects our way. Lucinda sank into one of my mom‘s couches. It was an ugly couch, too wideset and weak in the middle where the springs were loose. Lucinda looked like she was drowning in the couch. I stood my ground waiting for whatever would come flying my way. But nothing did. She seemed to have the idea, so I started for the door again. ―Go tomorrow,‖ my mom said. With my back to her, I said, ―I have to go today.‖ ―I‘ll pay you.‖ It wasn‘t the limp sound of her voice that turned me around. It was her words. She moved swiftly through the living room turning the cushions up and down, shifting the table and chairs until she found her bag. ―How much does she give you?‖
IROMUANYA ∫ 24
―You know?‖ My mom made no secret of the fact that she went through my things. It was just understood that she wouldn‘t comment on whatever she found. I have no doubt that she knew about Lucinda and the baby before I actually came clean. But she had broken our rule. ―Don‘t go through my things anymore,‖ I said. ―Don‘t touch my things.‖ ―How much?‖ She dumped her wallet out onto the living room table. Bills and coins scattered everywhere. ―$100? $200?‖ I took a step toward her, but I stopped myself. ―I‘ll write you a check.‖ She started to fill one out and my eyes widened as I watched the zeros extend across the paper. ―I‘d really cash that.‖ ―If you go, I can‘t have you in my house.‖ My mom finished the check, signed it with a flourish, and pushed it forward on the table. I could hear the full volume in her set lips. She knew she had me. I started to make my way toward the table. ―Jay,‖ Lucinda‘s voice had softened. I turned to her angrily. ―I‘m a bad guy if I take the money, right?‖ ―Jay,‖ Lucinda righted herself and slid the check from my reach. ―Tomorrow?‖ I wanted to say something. I wanted to explain to her and to my mom that I expected nothing. I expected nothing from my father‘s homecoming. My grandma would give me the money and then I could go home. Instead, I leaned in, swiped the check from the table, and spun out the door. The air was cold with a sausage smell, the sky a flat cloudless blue. Trees naked of branches reached toward the empty streets. I cut through the neighbors‘ lawns, sinking my feet into icy snow. I pulled the hood of my coat over my head. The stinging wind whipped my coat off and only then did I hear the footsteps.
IROMUANYA ∫ 25
I didn‘t have to turn around to know who they belonged to. I was half a block away from the bus stop that would take me to my grandma‘s house. I kept walking until I got to the stop and sank into the hard wooden bench. My pants were cuffed in soggy wet rings where the snow and mud met my ankles. ―That was,‖ Lucinda started, ―that was ugly.‖ ―I know.‖ I clapped my hands together and blew my breath in them. ―I don‘t know why she‘s tripping. Why‘s she making a big deal about this?‖ ―I didn‘t mean her.‖ I forced my hands in my pockets, clamped my shoulders, clenched my jaw. I didn‘t want to hit her. ―It‘s not your family. Stay out of it.‖ The street was still, so still that I could hear her breathing next to me. ―What does Obinna mean?‖ Lucinda asked. I pulled my hands from my pockets. I looked at her, noticing, really noticing her for the first time that day. Lucinda smoothed out the creases rollers had left in her hair. She had painted on mascara and lip-liner. She hadn‘t done this much since the day we met in a damp overheated Halloween party in somebody‘s old barn in the middle of nowhere. ―Something to do with money. I don‘t know.‖ ―You don‘t know.‖ ―I don‘t--‖ ―You don‘t know and she‘s been calling you this since…‖ Her voice trailed into silence. The bus pulled up in a cloud of exhaust. I stepped up and slipped a dollar into the dispenser. But it wouldn‘t go through. It was my mother‘s check. I crumpled it into a ball, dropped it into the trash, and fed the machine a dollar. When I looked back, Lucinda was still sitting on the bench. She waved to the driver and the doors closed between us. I looked down at her, watching her shrink as the bus pulled away like the day we met.
IROMUANYA ∫ 26
When Lucinda and I met on that Halloween in that barn concentrated with shivering couples bunched close together, I thought she was too skinny for her cat costume, skinny in all the wrong places, with a flap of stomach that pouted at you just above her waist. And she looked cold. But I wouldn‘t even offer my coat to my mother. It was that cold. She made some comment about the scene and I half-answered. So we stood there until one of us wandered away. It wasn‘t until later that night when I was getting into somebody‘s car for the forty-minute ride back into Lincoln that I saw her again. She was turned upside down in the backseat with her face between her knees. Her head was webbed between her black-gloved fingers, held between her knees. The car started and she let out a groan. She said she would puke if the car moved. And the driver, whoever he was, got angry at her for holding him up, so he stopped the car, got out, and dumped her onto the grass, then restarted the car and drove away. We were ten minutes down the road before I looked back. It was so flat, and the sky so chalky in spite of the dark, that I could still see her curled over her knees with her face between her webbed fingertips. I was annoyed with her. What was she doing all this for? A girl. ―Let me out,‖ I said. All the way to her, I cursed myself, kicking the dead stalks of grass and turning dirt over with my shoes until I got to her. ―That costume‘s too big for you,‖ I said. By then, she had pulled back her head, swept back the bits of hair that had made it into her face. It was a long walk home along the highway. We didn‘t say much. I continued to stare out the window of the bus, expecting it to stop, or me to stop the bus, or for something to happen. And then I couldn‘t see her anymore.
IROMUANYA ∫ 27
* My grandma‘s house, square with clipped gray shingles, is the smallest in the bank of a rising hill. From the distance on most cloudless days, it looks like her house is sinking into quicksand. Even in the winter her house floods and watermarks rise on the brick foundation, dark like scabbed-over scars. My grandma‘s living room is rectangular with low ceilings that she doesn‘t notice until I stand up. She throws her head back and marvels about how at five-ten I am a giant as I stand in the doorway. She yanks me into her hug and then shoves me to one of her plush couches. Fake plastic trees and viney plants fill each corner of the room. For the longest time I thought that my grandma believed they were real. I grew up with her spraying the plants every day when my mom went to work and dropped me off. But Lucinda has pointed out to me that nobody could be that old or that dumb. I have heard all the stories about him. He was a ladies man. Thin, an erect giant with bellbottoms around his ankles, and platform shoes. He had an Afro like in the old movies. He had dropped in and out of school until he got a diploma and a degree. He was not particularly smart or dumb on either end and had no real talents: couldn‘t sing, dance, draw, paint, write, play football—like me. But he was so well-liked by everybody that every choir, dance partner, art show, or team would have him. My grandma has no collection of trophies and metals, but what she does have are framed certificates for participation, and pictures of him with arms stretched over his shoulders, grins on the faces of everyone. There is only one picture of him alone and I stare at it long and hard. It‘s always been here, on the center table, set apart from the others. In the picture he is a fragile boy with thin legs that buckle, so they put him in braces that pressed permanent black dents into his thighs, legs, ankles, feet. The braces were so painful that he lay awake for hours, his face drenched with tears, snot, and spit, screaming his brown face red. When his dad—my granddad—wasn‘t in the room, my grandma would slide ice cubes down the braces. At age three he had made a decision about which pain to bear: he chose the pain of the braces over the pain of my grandpa‘s hand knocking him off his feet for yanking the braces off.
IROMUANYA ∫ 28
My grandma is convinced that he had a harder time than everyone else learning to read because he spent the first six years of his life in so much pain that he couldn‘t concentrate on letters or anything. She is convinced that because of this, he was always at least six years behind everyone else, which means that every time he did something on time—like learning to ride a bike or pronounce a fancy word—he was actually six years ahead of everyone else. I‘m not convinced. My grandma has the Polaroid with my father and his thin buckling legs in a picture frame on the living room center table. This is the center table that my grandma tells me I whirred around fifty, sixty times an hour as a little boy. And she was so excited about the fact that I could run and my legs were so long and straight that she didn‘t bother to stop me unless of course I ―quacked my head‖ against the doorway frame—which I did one day. After that day, my mom never brought me to my grandma‘s again. When I was in middle school, I showed up on her doorstep one day. I owed somebody money and my mom wouldn‘t give me any. I told my grandma that I was hungry and my mom wasn‘t feeding me. I told her the black kids hated me because my mom was white, the white kids called me ―brillo head.‖ I told her that my teacher made me sit in the back row and ignored me because it was too hard to say my African last name. My grandma shook her head and pulled me into her arms. I could smell the muted scent of beans and her hands, which were white with flour or dough or something, left prints in my t-shirt. She disappeared into the kitchen and returned with some moi moi. While she was gone, I found her purse on the table and took all of the money. She never said anything to me about it. But when I came back another day, her purse was not in the front room. She made me stand and listen to her as she described the endless process for making moi moi. She described the soaking and shelling of black-eyed peas, the way it had to be pounded and packed and smoothed out until she could form it in little misshapen rectangles. Her whole body shook as she banged and banged the mortar. And when I could take no more of her stories and started for the door, she pulled me close, whispered, ―Obinna‖ and gave me some money.
IROMUANYA ∫ 29
* I take my time nibbling around the edges of the moi moi until I‘ve made it to the center. My grandma doesn‘t sit back in her chair until she‘s watched me chew and swallow a combination of small bites that is equivalent to one full bite. My mother refused to come today. My grandpa could not be reached. And so it is just the two of us—me and my grandma. ―Obi, your wife is good?‖ she asks. She knows about Lucinda and the baby. And she knows that we‘re not married. We should be discussing my father‘s return. We should be talking about what he‘ll be doing with his time when he‘s back, but just like they didn‘t talk about my granddad‘s return, my grandma will talk about anything else. ―Why do you call me that? What does it mean?‖ I ask. She stares at the picture on the table for a long stony moment. ―You are his heart.‖ Then, gently, ―Boys are too hard.‖ She smiles with force. ―You will have a girl.‖
* My mom has no pictures of my father. I remember the day she burned them all away. She asked me to help her gather them. I thought it was a game and so I ran from room to room throughout the house, collecting pictures, pointing to pictures up too high. ―Found one,‖ I‘d say. ―‘Noffer one.‖ And my mom would pick me up and whirl me around with a huge smile spread across her face. She put them all in a plastic grocery bag and dumped them into the sink—photo albums and all. Then she struck a match and lit them. I stood back and watched as the flames ate each picture. I had never seen a flame so up close. And I wanted to touch it, but my mom wouldn‘t let me and so I bit her. It was beautiful until the alarm went off. And then I was clamping my hands over my ears and screaming my head off for the sound to stop. And my mom was screaming, too. And crying.
IROMUANYA ∫ 30
When I was older, I thought I remembered it as the day that they took him away. My mom and I were having a Tuna Helper dinner one day and I described the day to her. I described the bright orange flame and the tears in her eyes. ―You cried so much because you wanted them to take you with him.‖ ―Don‘t be a dumbass,‖ she said. So I tried again. ―It was the day they sentenced him. You cried because you couldn‘t stand the thought of being separated for all those years.‖ ―Don‘t feed me the Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks bullshit,‖ she said. And so I did not try again. Somehow I knew. It was the day she had made up her mind never to see my father again. It was also the day that she had decided that I wouldn‘t see him again. Yet here I am awaiting his return.
IROMUANYA ∫ 31
A LOST LESSON IN EVOLUTION ON THE 3:16P FROM CHICAGO TO BLUE ISLAND; OR ADAPTATION
You see a girl on the Rock Island Express. She is brown, or not so brown, or very brown on the outside. You watch her as her eyes scan the pages of a tattered copy of The Bluest Eye; or you catch small screeching bits of Alannis Morisette wafting from her earbuds; or you stare as she nibbles the last bits of wet and wild‘s ravenous red from the tip of her index finger. You see her feet, and they remind you of something you learned in earth science, or was it biology. You remember reading somewhere that archaeologists had found remains of prehistoric whales with feet somewhere in the deserts of Africa. Rising waters and shifts in the earth‘s plates had made whale feet futile, and whales had stopped growing feet. You look down, and she has feet. You see mandarin orange toenails peeking out of open-toed sandals, or sensible loafers hiding bunions. So you look at her hands. They are empty, except for Morrison‘s first, or her Ipod overflowing with the bit too angry Alannis. Her fists only hold half-eaten fingernails. You can‘t stop watching her. Her bouncing and behaving hair moves when she moves, or it doesn‘t, or maybe the natural curls shift as a unit in the opposite direction of her body. It looks soft, and you want to touch it, but you don‘t. You know that you can‘t, so you cough loudly, or drop your Ten-ride, or anything to make her look at you. She looks at you, and you see that her eyes are empty. Her empty eyes are deep brown, the same brown as her skin; or a lighter brown and they reflect the light. Or they are gray, and you are transported to red clay roads, and open fields under a southern sky. You see a man with matching gray eyes whose skin is white, or very white from years of sheltered living under the incessant gray skies of his Motherland, or red from the punishing sun of the Americas. He follows a dirt path beaten down by the passing of many feet and enters a place where he is not wanted. It is a small lean-to, a worn shack with too many ways for the southern air to get in. You see a girl alone or not alone inside. You see children some brown, some not so brown and some very brown lying close to a dying fire. You see a man also lying on the floor very still, but not sleeping; and it is too dark to see his skin, but somehow it blends within the darkness around him. And the girl is next to him but not. And the white man has his pants down around his ankles, and he is on his knees. He is fucking the girl, and her eyes are closed, or covered, or wide open. And the eyewitnesses are unforgiving and forgetful. And the dark man is silent, and the children are sleeping and silent or not. And the crying is soft or loud or not; and you hear it, but you aren‘t sure where it‘s coming from. Somehow you know all of them are crying; even the white, very white or red white man. And when he has cum, he goes back the way he came. You see the man go back to the whitewashed box or modest cabin and a white or very white or red white girl that sleeps next to him and what he has just done. Her eyes are full. Too full of the brown,
LAVALAIS ∫ 32
very brown, or not so brown children that play with her own white, very white or, red white children. She is full of anger, or sadness, or jealousy, or empathy. But mostly she is full. All of them watch the brown girl‘s children leave. They are sold or traded or gifted away and nothing changes on the outside. Her children are gone, but the brown, very brown, or not so brown girl remains — her womb a vestige. You see the girl sitting across from you on the Rock Island Express and her arms are empty. You remember reading something about a quiet epidemic of wombs collecting benign painful growths of nothing. You hear the driver call out a name of an honored and dead white, very white, or red white man, and she stands. You wonder if she knows what you now know, that her womb has been swallowed up by benign tumors because her uterus had been rendered useless. Then she looks at you and smiles. Her eyes are clear and full and un-empty. You must have been mistaken. You look at the muddy red worn carpet lining the train‘s center aisle. Your eyes are weighed down by her fullness, and you wonder if you can trust any memory from a source you have forgotten, but you also wonder if whales ever miss their feet.
LAVALAIS ∫ 33
Image Makers (For Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis)
4 ½‖ x 6‖, Collage on notebook, 2007
FRANKLIN ∫ 34
ARTIST STATEMENT In recent years, my work has come to straddle the literary and visual worlds. As a writer, painter, and mixed medium visual artist, my goal is to create complex, interrogative images that reflect the vernacular experiences, dream worlds, and psychic landscapes of the black community in the United States and larger African diaspora. My art tends to have a strong focus on subtext. I often utilize distinct, sometimes recognizable and familiar images of people of color, related iconography, and the juxtaposition of text in my work as I attempt to engage the viewer while at the same time deconstructing the ways in which our gaze reifies and distorts notions of culture and gender, race and class, power and privilege. I am deeply inspired by popular culture and public history, as well as by the frenetic glamour of music videos and magazines. Using a variety of mixed media — acrylic, watercolor, handmade paper and found objects: old letters, vintage magazine advertisements, playing cards, old photographs, and receipts — I work to create ―postmodern‖ American totems wherein the complexities of our present and our past(s) are evoked through purposeful layering. Though I have been a visual artist for over fifteen years, my professional accomplishments have intensified in the past four. I support myself primarily as a teaching and working artist. I have exhibited in group shows in New York and Minneapolis, solo exhibitions in Chicago where I live and work, and publications in literary and lifestyle magazines in the United States and Paris. My artwork has donned the covers of books by major publishing houses, prize-winning manuscripts and music CDs, and has become highly sought after by fellow artists, writers and academics. FRANKLIN ∫ 35
One key achievement to date was the receipt of a Chicago Artist Assistance Program Grant in 2007 for my Artist Book inspired by the novels of Octavia E. Butler titled SEED (The Book of Eve). A year after receiving that grant, projections from SEEDâ€Ś were shown during the keynote address at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit, and in 2009 were featured as a part of The Octavia Butler Project at the Brecht Forum in New York during an event honoring her legacy. One of my immediate artistic goals is to continue to develop exhibits and installations around the collages featured in the Artist Book.
FRANKLIN âˆŤ 36
* Don't Drink the Water (for the victims of Hurricane Katrina)
15‖ x 20‖, Mixed medium on watercolor paper, 2007 *The title of the piece is taken from a poem in Patricia Smith's book, Blood Dazzler. FRANKLIN ∫ 37
Willie Perdomo There‘s something in the air, sounds like Miss Mary is trying to sum it all up, getting all into the hum of Stormy Monday and today was just as bad. Switch to the booth, short-circuited tombstone solos, cosmopolitan smirks. You know the world is changing when you‘re on your first coffee break and a complete stranger asks you to tell him something uplifting. Recorda es vivir. Candle light poets, bass singers, who is that copping pleas talking about they haven‘t played that tune in awhile? Se ahoga en un vaso de agua. The day is thunder struck and heavy-footed; branches are dumb and forget far, the apples have stopped falling. Difference between poets & jazz musicians is that you can‘t say, ―Hey, do you know ‗Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night‘‖? Standards stare after the last call, skylines consumed by torture and a one, and a two, and a three…
PERDOMO ∫ 38
THE FLEA CIRCUS
T.M. De Vos
He bought me a skirt for my birthday—a geometric, flared thing in black tulle. I looked at it curiously when he handed it to me, wanting to be alone with it, see what my body made of it. I could always hand it back and say it didn‘t look good on me. It‘s me, not it; I‘m fat. In the bathroom, I pulled it down over my legs, expecting my thighs to bay out wide and white underneath. I even turned my back to the vanity and opened my compact mirror on it. There were the backs of my legs: spare and straight as pipes, their outline gridlike and fuzzy, as if behind a screen. I clicked shut the compact and lifted up the hem. Outside the triangle of underwear, my skin was faintly pink where I had plucked out the hair that overlapped. My skin felt clean, as if something difficult had been lifted from it. I was careful with myself, pressed wax beads from my nose after showering, scanning with my fingertips for the hard bump of a clogged pore. I held small bunches of my hair in the light and snipped off the broken ends one by one, tweezed dark hairs from around my nipples and the creases of my hips. Sometimes I‘d find a hair that had grown inward, like a stitch waiting to be torn out. I would begin, panicked by something growing on me, and work at it under the light, smelling the pleasant, wet-laundry scent of my body. He would open the door wide and let the cold air in. And then he would start to tell me things, things I reminded him of, accusations.
You pull your hair out. Yes, you do. You do this weird examination of your breast, and you pull out the hairs. He must have been watching through the crack in the doorframe. I started hanging my towel over it.
You shit yourself when you die, but I knew this already, that you‘d lose as much weight as possible in case you could still flee.
I could get you searched at work. I could call the cops and say you have drugs on you. The drug problem here is so bad they‘ll investigate any tip you give ‗um. And you act all weird, anyway, when people ask you questions.
DE VOS ∫ 39
He left me alone, after he finished. This time, it was getting dark, but I didn‘t turn on the lights. I liked the vacuum after he‘d gone; it reminded me of living alone, how I had enjoyed fatuous, feminine things like bubble baths and fruit-scented candles. All my things—the lamp, the shelves, the smooth, sightless stone fish on the table—were neutral to me now, their powers exhaled. I pulled out his journal again, a black, scribbled-in notebook with pasted-in photos. I did this when he was out, visiting his mother and eating the food from her freezer. On good days, I called him there and asked him to bring me something. I flipped through the lurid, misspelled entries. I‘m not going to Pretend like mom and Gina, I
don‘t Want to go see aunt Mickie in the Hospital, I don‘t Care If she‘s dieing, I hope the Tube of shit does kick soon. Two years ago, before we were together: I‘m in love with my Best friend, but I think I will have to watch her Mary some other guy, and I will wish it was me. I looked at the date. I had been living in the dorms then, still going to parties, out for lunch sometimes. Soon I would stop taking calls from friends and eat at the dining hall near the Union to avoid them. Something would happen with everyone—something small—and I would believe were using me, that they‘d never cared. It was like that in college: you liked some people for their parties, some because they had weed or beer or cable, some girls because they were easy. I was always home, picking up the phone, and it was always him. He helped me sever from my friends: Sandra was a snob who sneered at me behind my back, Adam only paid attention to me so he could get into my pants. I told her I understand how it is for Women because I live with my Mom and two Sisters. Maybe he did. He had spoken well, for him; he had fooled me. The summer. She is sad a lot too, I think maybe well get together Soon. He‘d been living his mother‘s garage, taking a few photography classes at the university. ―Looking at things in a weird way‖ or ―defacing religious icons‖ were the phrases he liked to describe his work. It occurred to me that it had been done, but it was nice to have a project with him, to think of us as artists. It gave me a place to put all the things I noticed and thought about: the fat man in shorts that showed the outline of his penis, glued to his abdomen like a soft slug. The fact that everyone in my lecture hall had genitals that were resting under them, slack on the seats, as they took notes. DE VOS ∫ 40
Mostly, though, I liked the way I must have looked to him: trim and neat-bodied, with tight, evacuated pores. He had the stocky, truncated frame of an Italian peasant: his eyes were hooded, and his skin was coarse, giving him a hard-lived look. I hadn‘t liked pretty boys—I noticed the ones with scars or weak chins, and felt their anger at being picked over. They were quiet and mouth-breathing, like men just out of prison. I liked to stand near them, imagining their spurned penises stirring beneath their wrong-fitting jeans. After I‘d moved back with him, I‘d panicked, requesting grad-school applications from my old school, planning Christmas visits, months early. I scanned his cryptic pidgin: she keeps
Bitching about how she is lonly and misses her Freinds. I told her if she wants to go back don‘t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out. I remembered that, it was something he liked to say. Yesterday: She was hungry and kept on bothering me to take her to the store. If you want to
leave then don‘t expect me to Drive your ass all over Town. I wish the house would Burn down with her In it. Hell I will start the fire my Self. But I still wish things could be Good again. Good: a euphemism for me lying under him like a bedpan, letting him waste himself in me.
The doorknob rattled. I was in the middle of the floor, far from anywhere I could hide the notebook. I stuffed it into the waistband of my pajamas and pulled my top over the ragged pages. I would have to distract him somehow, invent a reason to get him into the other room so I could replace it. I listened for a few moments. Nothing. I stuffed the notebook back into its nook in the drawer. My hands shook. I cupped them over things that were solid and smooth, forcing their coolness on myself. The faucet. A glass. The telephone. The dial tone washed over me like a calm sea. I dialed close to my face, letting the harsh beeps bristle inside my ear. A voice. I asked for him. Come home, I said, there was a man in the hallway rattling the door, trying to get in. His answer, indignant and ready. Protective. I had turned someone in; I was cooperating. While he was out again for class, then dinner at his mother‘s, I found my underwear in a heap, stuffed into the cupboard under his box spring. It was balled up, pasty. I took it down to the laundry room and poured detergent over it, like antiseptic on a wound. My lease was nearly up. I would be leaving soon. There was a security deposit on an apartment I would share with strangers, my name already on the electric bill.
DE VOS ∫ 41
It would be funny if I just showed up, he had said. You have to come home sometime. You have to visit your parents. Or at least I get a hold of their phone bill, call all the numbers on it. I could see it, too, his tricolored Datsun hunkered in the street like scrap metal, unnoticed. His finding me seemed almost organic, as if my absence from him was temporary, a volatile condition assembled in a laboratory. I put on a striped bra and a pair of bottoms that didn‘t match. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, looking like two halves of a matching game. A child would have scrolled past me for the right torso. I sifted the hairs on my abdomen with my fingers, but I didn‘t pull them. I was growing them long, hoping the dark cilia would put him off me. There was a message from him, after I had gone. He kept calling at night to make sure I was alone. I wasn‘t, always, but I took the phone into the closet anyway and spoke quietly. He would tell me things, things of mine he had found. Your roller skates. Those soaps. All your
dishes. A file on the computer. Why did you put it under password?
After I changed the number, he began to email. Guess what I found. Your class ring. I had asked about it, weeks ago. I hope youre doing good with your new fuck-Mates. I didn‘t reply. I need to talk to you. I know I said and did some bastard things but Im not Fucking
The next day: I found these while I was going thru some old boxes. If I get a good deal, Maybe Ill cut you in on it. Then again, maybe Not. He had addressed it to me, his few friends, the woman listed above me on the company website. My supervisor. He had attached file after file, named after me, numbered. The first opened on a black screen and dissolved into me at the bathroom sink, hands to my face, squeezing. I was wearing underwear, mismatched. Blood appeared on my cheek, and I dabbed at it with a cotton ball I pressed to the rim of an upended bottle. I held the cotton in place, pulled it off, squinted at it, and dabbed again. I tossed it into the trash, faced sideways, and unfastened my bra. It fell to the floor, out of the picture. I pulled off my underwear, and my sex appeared, its hair like a neat mitten. From the angle, I could see where the camera would have been—somewhere on the shower curtain, maybe the eye of one of the printed orange goldfish. That would have been clever; I gave him that.
DE VOS ∫ 42
I clicked file after file, seeing myself dropping a towel. Tweezing at my breast. Reading in a cold bathtub, the day the air conditioner had broken. It sounds too simple, but he looked like the kind of person who does these things. His eyes were sunken and waiting to belong to an old man; his hair was black and greasy; and he was fat, so fat that deep grooves had grown into his belly like letters carved into a tree trunk. He wore cheap shirts and pants that were too small, so that when he bent over, his underwear made a tight, straining Y on his back. He ate blocks of cheddar cheese, his mother‘s cooking—only his mother‘s—and food that I charged on my card at the Chinese restaurant. He ordered the fried dishes and did not eat the wilting, cursory vegetables that came on the side. He did not work. I was a clerk at the mall bookstore then, working so late I didn‘t have time to deposit my checks. I sent him to the bank, and the balance on the slip he brought back was never right. He couldn‘t have his own account; his credit was that bad. He started his car, the Datsun, by leaning under the hood and pulling on something, but he wouldn‘t drive me to work. I walked the whole four miles in the heat, alongside the highway. When I got to work I could drink a whole glass of water, no stopping. Would it be wrong of me to say that sometimes girls see what someone has to offer, and they walk toward it? That we like, at first, how we look to someone like him? At my desk, I sifted my food in its bowl and clicked around online, looking for something to read, check on. I licked a dab of sauce from my thumb, brown and artificially pungent as cat food. The news all required a scholar‘s effort. A new message popped up. My boss, euphemistic and pearlized: a reply to the message, the attachments a garble: my name over and over, followed by ordinal numbers. Let‘s meet. Her initials. I swabbed the edge of the bowl with the last meat cube and chewed gingerly. It was funny, really. Or at least it was the kind of thing people joke about, which is not the same thing: someone is caught naked, becomes ridiculous. He was replaying the videos, miles away, the states between us stacked large and square as bird cages, while I sat, straight-backed, in my desk chair, sheaves of data next to me. The records were soothing. I kept myself awake by looking for patterns: teenage sisters two years apart, both pregnant; five impotent men in the same zip code.
DE VOS ∫ 43
I dressed in the morning, feeling my suit pants stretch and settle on my legs. Every day, I sat in traffic and at my desk, ten-keying and flipping the long pages of the forms. Sometimes I was filling my mug or closed in the elevator. It would be hard to locate me, at any one moment. But he had me. He had pickled me in the moments when I was most myself: what I did when I panicked, when my body was out of control. Miniature and obedient, I would keep performing in the small boxes he clicked, unselfconscious, oblivious to the giant lifting the roof, looking in.
DE VOS âˆŤ 44
STREET AT SAVERNE, 1858 (after James McNeil Whistler)
Village walls ivory in the moon‘s full tide, streets and doors hammocked in intermeshes of darkness; a lone man, enshrouded, strolls home late, his step cracks across the public silence. Moonflood alludes to the songs of interiors of which the sun pencils just daily outlines. These night-milk walls cup vestibules of dream. Whispers are passed over the day‘s earned bread. I watch standing in the street‘s well. A lone lamp licks smoky gold on a few shuttered windows. Tomorrow—off through scenery to the next quaint village. I have tasted my own heart, eaten of our roots.
MOSSON ∫ 45
THE MUSTARD MERCHANT, 1858 (after James McNeil Whistler)
A servant girl leans in the mustard merchant‘s open door; her apron drapes over her chest like a butterfly. Does she gaze into the dream-accommodating sky? No, she droops in the door with well-ordered boredom. The old woman at the table assembles the request, her body and face shuttered within her work dress, gloves, and bonnet. Her strong hands and forearms tick through each step in the yellow-to-gold bloom of the world towards noon. Light lifts the cracks and crevices of the stone storefront toward clear, clearer, and blindingly clear. . . . A dog barks. The old woman affixes the last jar‘s lid. Soon, they shall split from their conjoined silence.
MOSSON ∫ 46
A SHORT ONE – POSTCARD FROM
And this is night. Rolled up. What can be seen - outlined. Shaded outliers. A shape to call all other shapes. Into.
What the looseness catches up. Violet and primary. Shuffled envelopments. As the being thing that moves us. Discerns phosphorescence.
JONES ∫ 47
VISSI Dâ€˜ ARTE
Michela Costello What I remember is my dad:
Watch as she begins her song on the ground, he said, amazed by the strength she had, to sing from the floor. So the soprano cried, I have lived for art, I have
lived for love. Her longing swelled to the roof, shattering each moment with tears, like poems, little falling notes of doubt. And what I knew was this: we live for those things that call us back to the floor, the ones that fill us frequently but make us fall again. And holding an ear to the ground helps us to remember how the center sounds and why we manage to stand again.
COSTELLO âˆŤ 48
WHY POEMS HAPPEN WHILE DRIVING HOME
Because it was dark and late and inside the quiet ambulance he lay alone. No one was there to sit by his side or study his eyes like embers. Because I could not shake the thought of a loneliness that is worse than fear. No one to wipe a wisp of gray that fell in front of the oxygen mask. Because it struck me, by the signalâ€˜s red light, that beneath it, his own was fading. I think he told me to breathe for him, to remember what need really means. Because love is anyone standing over you, a branch bowing in the night, holding your hand as you are shuttled from here to there.
COSTELLO âˆŤ 49
36. NON-ACCEPTANCE (RAFD)
(from MEDITATIONS ON THE STATIONS OF MANSUR AL-HALLAJ) Pierre Joris I. It is a rough day of no acceptance, the mica lost it glitter the bowl doesn‘t accept the piston makes it sing. Too bad Tibet frought with ends that do not meet. The desert will not accept the imp(eau)-sition, will not let you sit on it. You have to move accept it or not. II. ―the turndown was polite but very firm.‖ ―his proposals were met with rejection.‖ & yet non-acceptance can be found: click here to start your free trial! Failure to honor a negotiable instrument (such as a bill of exchange) when… Failure of drawee to accept a duly presented and valid… bill of exchange JORIS ∫ 50
(such as a sight draft). The drawer then has the legal right to start a court action, called protest. & why is Russellville so unaccepting of people from other states. I‘m from Illinois and people are fine until they say ―you‘re not from here…‖ III. The user‘s non-acceptance paradigm: INFOSEC‘s dirty little secret. Words that rhyme with non-acceptance: distance teutons I don‘t accept that last word, but where am I at when it comes to acceptance of non-acceptance? It‘s not always easy to stand in the midst of a group of people we have known and are attached to and be different. Defensiveness is not usually manifested as defensiveness, etc. An authority position belief system . anger and sarcasm . resentment . resentment . I do not accept non-acceptance . I do accept acceptance . his non-acceptance speech was a winner . the paper said . IV. Turning to the eight limbs of yoga, we find that the first one, Yama names abstention. It (Yama) JORIS ∫ 51
has five abstentions and Aparigraha is the last of all. Aparigraha is not to accept donatians, alms, bribes or kick-backs. Criminals forcibly collect donations. Terrorists raise political or religious issues and collect money. But this free profile of non-acceptance can be kept up to date and gradually improved only with your support, especially in the form of donations. V. (any amount… alternative meanings/domains in parenthesis. mancata acceptazione or nonacceptance was more common among patients with a low level of education or who reported non-specific symptoms… Verweigerung, Nichtannahme, Absage kufr: the non-acceptance of Islam i.e. disbelief. Rafd: Rope A Fat Dinger — rafding is the art of throwing a fat chew in. And paddles are cans. It is a way of talking about dipping in front of the people who frown upon chewing. Like a lot of girls. Brady: dude let's go rafding. Jerry: ―I wish I could but
JORIS ∫ 52
I don‘t have any paddles‖ Brady: ―dude don‘t worry I just got a new one‖ Rafd: Refused.Are.Fucking.Dead. No action torrents found for riff-rafd. VI. Compare Abd al-Jabbar‘s chronology of heretical innovations: Kharijism come first, then irja, then free will, then rafd, the repudiation of the legitimacy of the the Caliphat of the first three Caliphs: Abu Bakr, ‗Umar and Uthman. Though rafd seems to have emerged in the 680ies there is today an al-rafd charitable society delivers giftpackages to orphans and other needy children in Baghdad.
JORIS ∫ 53
SINS OF MY FATHERS (with Echoes of Agha Shahid Ali & Rumi)
Antoinette Brim I.
If you leave who will prove that my cry existed? Tell me, what was I like before I existed: as embryonic seed of ancestral stardust streaming through you/from you until I existed since a cry escaped through bitten lips, guttural exhalationâ€˜s prophetic tout: I existed. If you leave who will prove that my cry existed? Tell me why you fled when you found I existed in cracked concrete sidewalks wearing dandelion caps a minor key: discordant, but still I existed. As brimstone yellow stirs your heart to hurricane, erasure is bitter chaos. Say I existed! II. So near to heaven, absence booms blue thunder in your faint tailwind. You fly so fast, so far from me. No worry for one so small. The crowded skies [deceptively bathed in infinite blue] waft without concern. Is His eye on the starling? Why worry for one so small? Metaled imagination reaches low orbit, far from whistling notes and chatter. My buoyant petite wings still search the sky for you. A flock of starlings, can fell a plane, in a flourish of bruised purple bodies and golden beaks; flight becomes briary for ones so small. Slender neck craned, mouth open wide, I've swallowed my small portion. No grasshopper luck. No rose hip gazing ball. I am Ishmael tonight. You've landed on silken deniability. Townspeople cheer. I, on mended wing fly, fast and far. No worries from one so small.
BRIM âˆŤ 54
III. I wait in the orchard of pomegranate flowers and light. Here, clouds do not matter. There is pomegranate wine and pardon. But, if you do not come, these do not matter. Sparrows and starlings. Robins and crows. Will all sing soulful laments in our honor, while lilies spring from libation poured in honor. You do not come, this, too, will not matter. This soup is thickened with my marrow and then thinned with my tears. Sorrow-seasoned, I simmer all this in heavy, deep pots. If you do not come, this, too, will not matter.
BRIM âˆŤ 55
WHEN SUNDAYS ARE UNSEASONED (after Robert Hayden)
It would be too easy on this Sunday to lose count of those years like rolling coins and watching the dirt smear across presidential faces, never reaching a dollar or completion watching blue moons rise and fall, making salat steam rising from pot holes succumbing to long silences like when my daughter asks is her grandfather dead instead I choose to hear your laughter the way your entire body swells like a balloon inside an echo of grits swooshing around; a wind building into a mini cyclone promising autumn and I choose to remember the smell of your second hand purple haze & elated riffs on 90‘s hip hop like we were betting on horses. How you loved some Biggie and I choose to remember that room you rented in the basement & the way Mary J lived inside your speakers and would sing for me each time I‘d visit
if u look at my life you see what I see la- la- la
ALI ∫ 56
and I choose to remember my two hundred cousins I almost gave up remembering names for— Kojak, Obeegee, Roseanne, Sonya, Lil‘ Steph, Daniel and how could I not remember those birthday cards you sent those battered black heritage stamps with bars across their faces and that paper cut you must have gotten from licking all those envelopes and how your tongue must have bled in our distance of unspeaking & speaking on days like these
ALI ∫ 57
FROM THE BADLANDS
Min Jung Oh
the terrible blade of jehovah carves the rising clay cuts deep the pool where water is still here the holiness surrounds stabs me from tips of clay peaks their sides textured by mind's wind the low hammering sky grumbles clouds the earth is pressed down beaten beaten sharp and clear the claws of water and wind jehovah's fingernails scrape clay into my soul squeeze tears with a slow endless grip whitened fingertips bulging joints arthritic swollen spread your hands sweep into the sky's hills i am snatched up and beaten wedge-shaped chunks ripped from my hips tears between the cracks run in rivulets caught on sticky clay sharpened to icy points here is the holy temple here is your death your carving
OH âˆŤ 58
THE GRACE OF YOUR DEPARTING FEET (after ―Black Marigolds‖ by E. Powys Mathers)
Your fingers, coral branches in the black sea of your hair. Your swaying body calls me to love and sleep. The grace of your departing feet. (Even now, I think your feet seek mine.) Take the wrists of dawn and bind them tight. Seek me. At the spirit‘s starving time, your wild mouth keeps my soul. Your body swaying in the black sea of your hair. Your fingers coral branches bind the tide. You open your mouth to invite me in. Walls and windows trickle out. I see my soul go slipping aside.
RIKKERS ∫ 59
BAKING A CAKE ON HER FATHERâ€˜S BIRTHDAY
Winter sunset drapes the sky, white pear and basil drift through screen-holes. Behind a fortress of metal mixing bowls she begins her work: sifting flour, shaving thin curls of lemon skin. The cat stretches up grey and long to inspect. Approving the trio of citrus, mint and vanilla, he pushes off the counter and lopes away. Suddenly she bends, a fog of lemon burning in her chest. Last night her lover drew a diagram of her body, pointing to places widely praised. Tonight when he arrives he will be slow and silent, adjusting her eight points on the bed, folding her thin arms above her like a crane.
RIKKERS âˆŤ 60
GROOVING IN THE GOBI
it is really a fairy tale borne of elastic fragments to enter the dark forest to draw up, stand, contemplate the lake
translated into music
there are two moons shining & your eyes can reach neither a warring city flames and smoke inkstains translated into music knotted twisted humped an immense whole of inexhaustibles
the sun taking off its clothes
TRUITT âˆŤ 61
Alan King Wind swooped and cackled when you cursed the last train leaving the platform. It was New Year's Day. You spent the night before counting down at a subway station, wishing you'd listened to instinct and stayed home. But what called you out at the last minute, and had you chewing Jell-O shots at a bar across town, where confetti spiraled like glitter inside a snowglobe? Were you searching for something New Year's Day among the buzzing kazoos and party blowers punching the air? That night, the bright streamers were serpents curled among liquor bottles that blurred like landscape through the windows of a train headed to the end of its line. You watched the lit subway cars zig zag the night like the Dancing Dragon of Chinese New Year.
KING âˆŤ 62
Sarah Browning On the border with Mexico we call it a fence, as if to lean on its top, chat with those neighbors to the south, trade rakes, trade gossip. Call it a fence, call it a gate, call it good – still, Nogales, Arizona, Nogales, Sonora: trench, ground sensors, infrared night-vision scopes.ch, . In Palestine, the land‘s already been taken – families on one side, orange groves on the other.
Ours is a culture of many walls the Saudi poet writes in her email. Translated into Japanese, her poems vault the high barriers of this world. Young people sat on the Berlin Wall and waved the flags of their future. I want a flag that waves like that, for bricks that go home in tourist luggage, for the Saudi poet and her sisters, for touch. I want the flag of touch, the flag of men waiting for work in the morning chill of the 7-11 parking lot, the flag of nannies pushing strollers to the park for fellowship and swings,
BROWNING ∫ 63
flag of the women who spend each day changing the soiled sheets of their new country. I want the flag of talking, of sitting on the disintegrating wall and gabbing, gossiping, negotiating, waving that flag of no walls. That flag.
BROWNING âˆŤ 64
A SMALL PORTION
(for the men of Washington, DC, incarcerated at Rivers Correctional Facility, four hours from their families) Sarah Browning 1. Ten Men Their pens inclined – some for the first time – to the page, to this wondering. And how can one thing be true – the love in that room, the yearning – and another – the dope, the zip-lock plastic bags in the park. And here they are, both true – the men, two days, bearing poetry in their open mouths, longing for the soft and fuzzy heads of their children, for Sunday games of pitty pat in the backyard while their own Mamas bake cakes through the back door in the kitchens that fed and sustained them in their own coming up. Leonard said his own Mama never told him she loved him, just: Get your raggedy ass to school. Rodney‘s arms are pocked with the needle‘s remembrancers, pink scars everywhere on the pecan tan of his skin – pecan tan a phrase I praise for its assonance, its surprise, the sweet hard A sounds and the men laugh, it‘s nothing new to them, pecan tan, common praise words for a Black woman, a fine woman, her pecan tan. Then I laugh too, point at my own arm, how white one woman can be, how you learn something new every day. Today I am learning Mike‘s grin when he stands to read what he has written, I‘m no poet, he says, then smiles, then reads a poem. You could warm the bottles of a thousand babies on that smile, a smile to give us new definitions of the word sweet –
BROWNING ∫ 65
not too-sweet, not sticky sweet – just – oh, where is the image-metaphor-simile (the tools I try to give them) for that smile of Mike‘s? A smile to put Hallmark out of business, to make the mourners at the dignified funeral stomp for the sheer pleasure of the life now lost, a smile that drives my pen even now. I hadn‘t expected beauty – not charm, hustle, but sheer beauty – shy Jermaine in the corner a high school football star who‘s just made the big touchdown; John, who recites his full name, each time he stands to read what he has written, then Washington, DC, Northwest – his locator, his home, even here in the Tidewater flats of North Carolina, BBQ country, cotton country. On the TV commercial for Prison Break the men are vicious. We can tell by the fast editing, shaved heads, tattoos (Jay, the goofiest of the men at Rivers, the jokingest, teasingest, has tattoos of snakes and crosses and the whole world up the length of both arms), by the clanging music at the service of this fear and for the first time I think of the Mamas who see that ad, who don‘t get to the clicker in time to change the channel, of the children of the daddies in this class, the lovers, sisters, aunties.
BROWNING ∫ 66
2. Back Home Back here in my backyard in Petworth, a squirrel flings itself from the roof of my neighbor‘s car park to a spindly branch on the oak tree, sticks the landing, of course, clambers straight up this tiny walkway to the acorns, nutrients, source of all its improbable success. Next door, Gary‘s cooking the city‘s best jerk chicken for the baby shower for the baby who came too soon, but that‘s OK, the showers are passing, Gary‘s set up a tent, the friends, cousins and uncles will eat rice and peas, smile at the chicken-spice and celebrate a new life, a baby boy. The squirrels will pitch in their own chattering hosannas. I try to imagine the ten men at Rivers today: playing cards, writing their daughters, watching Prison Break. Let there be sun, but not too much. Let one small syllable of hope, or even 17 – a new haiku of hope – sprout from the handout I printed off the web at the hotel at night, unprepared as I was for their hunger for form. Seventeen will do for one day – for any of us – a small portion, improbably rich.
BROWNING ∫ 67
THE WRITING LESSON
A shaky finger worked its way along the bottle‘s label, spelling out Canadian Club in script, leaving no visible mark: the finger did not secrete ink as it traced the label: ―Whisky/Aged 6 Years‖ and then moved to spell out ―Est. 1858‖ in illegible print —1758, 1858, 1958, 2058; what matter? Hoisting the 1.75 liter bottle by the neck with a wasted chicken bone of a wrist —his palm covering ―CC‖ on the label— he tilted it straight up, draining the dregs of the Novocain like he‘d done for years.
MCCORMICK ∫ 68
―nothing quite like it‖
9 ¾‖ x 7 ½‖, Mixed Medium on Composition notebook, 2007 FRANKLIN ∫ 69
POST MILLENNIUM (for Duncan)
We could talk about what is small, meaning hard. the odd corners the broom doesn‘t reach, that fist of clean straw, notion of sluice, nets of black widow, the dust balls that catch the bread crumbs, burnt matchsticks, the sticky ends of popsicles, whatever you don‘t want to see. Us in the parking lot of the supermarket with our bleeding chops. In the Pay-less, in the K-Mart. We could talk about what we need. I could give you a glass of cold tap water, watch you drink it, each flex of muscle in your throat, which I associate with beat, this depleted music of everyday. Confess how once we rehearsed such heroics, picture the climatic saga moments—the wolf at the door, the burning house from which we haul the naked child. I could tell you how artificial watermelon makes me desperate as does ―tropical sunset‖ when used as a name for a scent. Describe how as children my sister and I drank honeysuckle from the bush at the bottom of the garden, not knowing how hard and long, how rare to be holy. You and I at the dinner table, drinking our thin coffee, moving around each other so carefully because to pin it down would be to lose the blue-edged shadow that is all we cling to. Instead, I give you this glass of plain water. I give you the dust that rests on it.
BLACK ∫ 70
Dream, who pissed Cabernet out of my urethra?
Tiger woods wouldnâ€˜t have married a black, Jamaican home health aid.
Dream, what channel did this dream come on? Para espanol presione dos. Dream where did that pale ass learn to speak Negro?
Join the army, see faraway places, meet interesting people, then kill them.
Dream, where is outer space when you need it?
I'd like a subcrime, adjustable race mortgage, to go. Dream, why why when you can have a when when situation?
Because I am a really gross national product.
MILLS âˆŤ 71
OTTAVA RIMA MARGINALE
Some of us can afford to forget brine we were dipped in, drenched in stark staccato that we tamp down for company, that grime cannot be washed off and haunts the ghetto. Ordered, pressed, polished, educated, blind— all adjectives for those told to let go. We can‘t unclasp the lockets of times past. I won‘t hide dirt beneath my nails, harsh class pressed into pores, caught on sharp length of tongue inside the mind‘s crevices, not washed out. Forthright, ready to remember what‘s been sung. The etiquette of pretense won‘t buy clout when the soaked shadow-rags wait to be wrung out to respectable dry. The tight mouth of wealth says who‘s worthy of moving up and me, unashamed silt staining the cup.
BETTS ∫ 72
STORY OF RED
Jordan Antonucci i apologize … that … i was [am] your boar tonight i stole a hundred chalk to make our(‘s) worth while
i give you red ochre found draw me a Buddha use our mirror
i do not explain to appease to let you in
i give you a frame to protect your child red bed-clothes
i just want you to know red is found beneath your groin within y(our) eyelids
(red is a hobby )…( takes dedication)
ANTONUCCI ∫ 73
kill me our Buddha and offer him to the Indians Adonis laughs through decay thought of menstruation satori through red ochre nails chalk in my stomach
i offer you a frame red pigment a lens different more exotic than before
i discovered red drew ochre on rock
(chose to drown slower)
ANTONUCCI âˆŤ 74
7 ¼‖ x 15‖, Mixed medium on found sign, 2009 FRANKLIN ∫ 75
This baby doll swaddled in a cartoon Gospel scars carved on curved legs blush explosions on battlefield-bone cheeks bides its time in shoebox exile holds back detonation until fleshy, faith-laden arms hand it to the girl who must be taught how wrong and dark she is.
ENGLE âˆŤ 76
Jeremy Byars Broken blocks of cement and twisted steel heaped in bulging mounds, two-bys and plywood strips scattered along the bank gravel and clumps of Centipede grass, flocks of ring-billed gulls skipping along the scraps of tin, scavenging the carts of clean fill dirt, dual-pitch rafters flanking steel angle strips, polyethylene sheeting, my grandfather‘s men staging a frame on concrete slabs, his son, my father, scanning the cross-section plans and penciling in new measurements, ten steps ahead— I strayed like a dog, stung by the Southern summer heat, watching white pines fall and backhoes hollow the earth across the street behind the Byars Construction sign. After my grandfather died, his sprawling business closed, his assets dispersed among his wife and step-siblings; my father freelanced throughout the southeast region while Uncle Johnny, who also shares the magic gene, gave up construction, started flipping homes before the housing boom made renovation-for-profit chic. He‘d sell for several thousand over market value with just an added bedroom or wall-to-wall hardwood— turning modest bungalows into golden thrones. No modern Midas here, I gladly lean on landlords, request my mother‘s master-painter boyfriend or my father-in-law for all my home improvement needs. So it should come as no surprise I‘ve missed a step and built these new ―easy assembly‖ bedside tables backward, the rear veneer nailed fourteen times to the front— the subtle angles and empty drawer slot ignored while thoughts wander from cable news to William Matthews. This DIY defect claims another victim as one-page instructions are re-examined, parts dismantled, measured again to find my faults. My wife, pleased with her gift of prophesy, blow-dries her hair, evading random tools, my sprawling work area. ―You can‘t blame that on your dad,‖ she says, dumping the damp towel in the floor among my just purchased trash heap.
BYARS ∫ 77
Jeremy Byars The hornets‘ nest plastered, sagging to a drooping branch, a neighbor‘s maple. It lacks the brilliance, not papier-mâché or fleshy pink, gold or emerald— no seven-pointed star to strike, no disproportionate donkey or fish. And yet I thrash it anyway, whack the colorless carcass, smash it to bloodless chunks—no fantasy of candy treats, riches of battle. Behind me parents blindfolded, groping the earth for empty treasures; each hopes to swipe the fallen bounty while knees, elbows, and egos bruise. No matter that the winter chill killed the colony, doused their fire needles. Their teardrop paper carton in busted hunks and spilled shells. No devil, his deadly sins displaced, the war waged for empty blessings.
BYARS ∫ 78
TO THE POET, IN CASE I CANNOT MEET HIM
To the poet, in case I cannot meet him I would like to say that I loved him, that is if love is love when love has no hands. It is something else if and when one looks at it for too long looking for some sense to lean on, some reason, one sees nothing but mean ruses. So let me not say love. Let me say garden. Let me say wood and orange and wood. Let me say moon. Let me say meteor and undertow and shower. Let me say smoke and spirit. And hour. Let me say twine and entwined let me say some sort of flower. Let me not say love for love loves knowing. And I know nothing. But let me say yes. And let me say yes, as if yes needed no question, simply to say yes. Let me say long as if life were so long just when one learns to wait the wait
HARTMARK âˆŤ 79
dissolves, and life is no longer long. For the poet, in case I cannot meet him, will not know or care how the yard looks how the house warps, how the child grows, or how the Fall falls near. But the poet, the poet I do not know but did not let not knowing stop loving, would be the love I love when near when silent when closer when far as the foot of the stair when stare sees nothing more than rest when chair holds soul holds hope, holds the poet poet-ing there. To the poet, in case I can not meet him, let him not know some days I find myself in such a state as to stare in mid-air seeing that life there those shadows shadowpuppeting mimicking the life not led but the life that led me to love loving again.
HARTMARK âˆŤ 80
in awe of Harriet Tubman, who walked this talk Laura Hartmark So let me be this safe knot or wood or cord or skin that brings you from me, let me, let me be the the mark on the tree that says safety safety so breathe, let me be not the tell me or push me or pull me. let me be tongue and thumb and tummy, let me be the breeze in the trees the pause that calms the wheeze the breathing and the heaving moving you onward let me see forty seven thousand trees these years and back again and back again and back again let me be the wind in the trees a green sign sung low let me be safety let me be safe, see let me be let me be and forty seven trees and back again and back again let me be
HARTMARK âˆŤ 81
the cool and the breeze the safe and the green the night and the owl and the sign and the howl that pushes you on and carries you home sing sweet sing low sing come sing home let me be the breeze and the green the pause in between a twilight and a blanketing a midnight and a whispering let me be the knot in the wood and the tie in the tree forty seven thousand names and the name for you the name for me let me be green as night and dusk as late trees and low as pine pitch and leaning to see thee and pine as pitch sky and lean as new moon and new as leaning and green as dew on the ground in the blue hour and let me HARTMARK âˆŤ 82
let me hush slip out now go now hush hush now go go now go go
HARTMARK âˆŤ 83
IN THE BOSQUE
below the house, velvet mesquite is in full flower, heavy with yellow-green catkins. It will be June again. Already the palo fierro blooms pale rose. Saguaro's angled arms reach high above its ironwood nurse, dead butcher bird's grisly cache there dried, brittle, still neatly spindled. Red sand shifts, gives way underfoot and rusty talc lifts knee-high, a cloud of grit dusting the witchgrass. Tonight I remember Apache plumes, brittle bush, palo-de-hiero, the moon reading owl-throated night, your face opal, ivory, lips parted, your impudent eyes, deep in each a counterfeit star
STREEBY âˆŤ 84
Salvatore Attardo The uniformed young lady at the hotel desk stumbles on the word ―linguistics,‖ subtly undermining my professional look ---I am here for a conference, of course--as she ceremoniously wishes me well and a nice stay in the Big Easy ―Lust is life the rest are details‖ pontificates a sign at the entrance of Bourbon Street ―A disappointing store.‖ I think, with a few unconvincing vibrators and uncomfortable looking leather gear Later, as I walk in the streets, the faint pleasure of familiarity ---this place is so European--I hesitate whether to have dinner at Louie's House of Vodoo Cafè or should it be Madame Pompadour's Po Boy Palace? But it will be somewhere else where no music plays that being the price of being just a little too late.
ATTARDO ∫ 85
We dug cubby holes in dirt mounds left from expansion on the car plant next to the tenement where redlightgreenlight1-2-3 and down down baby kept our bellies filled with laughs. We constructed cardboard palaces complete with hidden passages near the top of dirt piles, laid our cribs out with shaggy rugs and chiffon treatments hung to hide squares cut for windows, spliced with filaments from a stranger‘s garage. And we I-spied the mamas tethered to rotting wood porches talkin‘ bout a white man makin‘ a movie about us, ‗bout how the company next door made off with the life of our town, ‗bout how they didn‘t want no talk ‗bout the white horse destroying our community in the man‘s movie. And we named ourselves dirt dobbles, never intending to stay in the gutters where we were born, never intending to ride that white horse. Each day we watched the car plant‘s entrance from our earth houses, waited for the pity christ to show up with a camera and a gaffer boy to record the jagged edges of our lives, make us as famous, or at lease offer a dime for our troubles.
TOWNS ∫ 86
ODE TO MERCEDES SOSA
Moms liked to torture us with her folklore records—the contraband vinyl she amassed slinging discos at Broadway Records in Buenos Aires, 1969.
Los Chalchaleros, Los Nocheros, Los Grandes Exitos de Jorge Cafrune, and Mercedes Sosa records alongside Lou Reed's Transformer, Black Sabbath, and Credence. I liked to think my mother and Mercedes Sosa were going to retire together. Two Tucumánas building schools in Nicaragua; heading up a casco azul (ONU) battalion devoted to rescuing child slaves, adolescent prostitutes, or albino HIV orphans. Anything but Sosa's death in a Palermo hospital at the age of 74. Anything but my mother, a phlebotomist in a rude bloodmobile. The proud mother of two gringitos born in Bensonhurst? (but raised in the People's Republic of Miami.) My sister and I would stuff our ears with brat wool as "Gracias a la Vida" or "Alfonsina y el Mar" jeered out from the speakers; we despised both ladies greatly and meditated on ways of giving her extra sensory perception aneurisms via ice-grilling. She had to be stopped from making us listen to Sosa at ungodly decibels as if we were cosmic peasants or filthy industrialists with blood on our hands—or worse, deliberate serial busses of her musical affinities! We despised Mom's crazy, but respected her nostalgia; after several years of trying not to listen to Mercedes Sosa, la Negra's juju spreads over my crying throttle. And, I imagine how lonely my mother, her sisters, that province, this account are at this moment. My mother the ancient Commie, and Mercedes Sosa the world's guerillera lyricist! Sosa with her vermillion poncho, her indigenous mask of skyscraper cheekbone, that voice that could lay the sea out, that diaphragm wisdom to spank the generals and dislodge the official memory. Moms in her bloodmobile, a stranger in a lab coat tapping that vein which is your ore with a proboscis of fine, sharp metal.
CURA ∫ 87
DOUBLE AND DUTCH
SheeShee, ReeRee heavy set brown legs flashing fast go go go get to this got to
uhn-uh! let me get in let me let me bounce baby bounce one-two one-two we in this we this we dis we we we move to it this way this way follow come on
BASS âˆŤ 88
one two step back to the back hot sweaty Payless shoes on paid less streets SheeShee, ReeRee clap to this clap clap yeaaaaaaaahh uuuuuuh-huh!
BASS âˆŤ 89
THE HMM HMMM: A FATBACK MCGRISTLE STORY
Derrick Weston Brown
Half past the dark side of the moon, Fatback McGristle stood sweating under a streetlight. The muggy D.C. air flanked him on all sides like a constricting secret service detail. A sweat bead rolled down the back of Fatback's neck, struck a mole and separated into twin beads that continued down into the darkness of his clothing. Right now, it was all Fatback could do but mumble to himself. A frightened mantra of nonsensical words kept washing over his lips, and FatBack panicked as the horrible realization sunk into his mind like a doomed submarine; he couldn't remember a poem to save his life. He was so glad his friends weren窶葉 anywhere around to see him in this rare state of confusion. Cornbread Othello was home lifting weights, while Big Brains McCain was off consulting the neighborhood roots woman for some tonic or a spell that could help him reclaim his lost mojo. "Must be a bad moon or something," muttered Fat Back as he raised his gaze from the fifth floor window of an apartment building to eyeball the silvery sliver of the moon. "Too many funky things going on tonight" he continued. He brought his gaze down from the moon to the window, where he focused on a familiar wide hipped silhouette standing in the center of the window sill. He knew it was Viola Spearmint. And by some unknown power he sensed she possessed, he now found himself fumbling for words to explain to her why he was in front of her building, at four in the morning, ringing her bell, and scrambling for the right words to make this moment make sense to himself and her. He cleared his throat, took a breath, and said...
BROWN 竏ｫ 90
THE UH-HUH: VIOLA SPEARMINT‗S STORY
Derrick Weston Brown "...Viiiiooooohlaaaa!
Viola Spearmint held her full lips in a pout. There he was with his no account big headed self standing under her street light, on her block ,two hours shy of sun up, yelling her name.
Right now, with the way I'm feeling, if that nigga turned to stone like a gargoyle when the sun rays hit him I wouldn't shed a tear-", she thought. She glared at FatBack McGristle from her bay window and nervously bumped her hip against the frame softly. He had done the unthinkable. Called out another woman's name! And during phone sex of all things!
I know men aren't the most trump tight creatures in the world when it comes to getting caught and trying to cover up a mistake, but damn, an orgasm must be truth serum to these fools. Viola shook her head of thick curly in-between nappy and anglo saxon hair. Her green eyes moistened, as she contemplated traveling the five flights of stairs to let Fatback in to plead his case, but she knew he was no good at saying anything even remotely appeasing. He had a habit of getting tongue tied in moments of dire importance and especially when the subject matter involved their relationship. Sorry ass writer. Nigga can write circles around the world, write my draws off despite my best efforts to resist, but can't hold an intimate conversation to save his life. Viola wiped away her tears with a quick and rough swipe of the back of her hand and decided against walking down all those stairs to bring Fat Back in. No. She had a headache already and decided the best thing was to draw a hot bath, add some lavender oil to the steaming water, and sit and soak out the rest of the fury traveling through her body.
Let his ass wait. Sweat it out. That's what I'll do. Then it‗s off to bed. I won't even think about him. She turned and walked away from the window toward the bathroom. For a second she thought of turning back, but didn't stop walking until she fell totally out of sight.
BROWN ∫ 91
―To Be Young, Gifted & Black‖
11‖ x 14 ½‖, Mixed Medium on board, 2007 FRANKLIN ∫ 92
Hillary Stringer I was standing with my hands in the chain link fence, watching the firefighters burn down the building again. They did this every other Wednesday all afternoon. The building still had things inside it that would crackle and pop, somehow, and the firefighters would come out all sooty and efficient dragging dummy bodies behind them or with parts of bodies over their shoulders. I imagined that the ones who had only parts of bodies got in trouble. Like a C- for the day, or a ―doesn‘t work well with others.‖ They might have to do the grunt work later, shoveling all the burned bits and bodies back into the building, or recoiling the hoses, or shinning the more successful firemen‘s boots. Those firemen, the winners, would lounge on the steps of the fire trucks and laugh with each other, or tussle with the Dalmatians, or get to be first down the shiny pole in the firehouse while the B-team was screwing up again. I don‘t know if that‘s what really happened, because by then I would have had to slog off to my apartment to do homework and if I didn‘t leave by a certain time I would miss the last bus of the day chugging through, back to the same stop where I‘d gotten off earlier on my way home from the University and walked through the hot Houston day towards where I knew the fire‘d be burning the day hotter. Every other week I said to myself that it would be the last time, but I kept coming. Now I think I was waiting for something, maybe him but probably not. He ran up all panicked and grabbed the fence too, shaking it. ―Oh my god! What‘s happening!?‖ He had greasy bangs slicked all the way over and across his face and those bright sneakers that everyone was wearing. His earlobes were stretched out with metal. He thought the building was really burning down. For a minute I thought about not telling him, just because of the way he shook the fence with my fingers still in it. He had the eyes of a person who really cared about things. ―It‘s firefighter training,‖ I said. ―It happens all the time, well at least every other week I mean.‖
STRINGER ∫ 93
―Oh.‖ He let go of the fence and looked away from me, watching the building. I wished I hadn‘t told him. I wished I could have given him a real disaster, one of those moments where people can show what they‘re really made of. I was made of whatever likes watching burning buildings and he was embarrassed. ―The first time I thought it was real too.‖ This was a lie. ―Lots of people do.‖ Also a lie, as no one ever walked by let alone stopped, and if they saw from their cars they thought it was someone else‘s problem. The firemen were out there, running and hauling, so maybe people could be forgiven for that. ―Well, yeah, it‘s a building on fire, and besides it is real.‖ Now he looked better, warming up to something. ―Just because the fire was set on purpose doesn‘t make it a fake fire. It‘s still burning things. It‘s still being put out. Its function is the same. The reaction to it by the firefighters is supposed to be the same, right? I mean that‘s the whole point of it being a training school. A fake fire,‖ now he was smiling, ―just wouldn‘t fucking cut it.‖ I didn‘t really know what to say to this, so I just smiled and wished my face wasn‘t so sweaty and obviously nervous. All of my friends were engineers and wore shirts that said ―Engineers do it better‖ on the front and a lot of things that were inside jokes about sexual prowess on the back. They were the only people at school who ever talked to me, and I was pretty sure that it was because they thought I was pretty. They didn‘t talk as if anything could ever not be real, and broken down into a formula or an equation. ―Sorry, I didn‘t mean to offend you with my language,‖ he said, so I guess the combination of smiling and concern looked like offense, which was probably better than nervous but maybe was worse, maybe made me seem uptight. ―Are you like a punk or something? I mean, with your ears. Because that‘s cool. I like punk.‖ Then I remembered asking my last boyfriend if a Fugazi song was about an exercise move that I‘d done in aerobics. The repeater. He‘d laughed and laughed. After him had come the engineers. ―Oh yeah? What bands do you like?‖ He moved a little closer to me. The heat from the fire was a conduit between us. ―Blink 182, MXPX, Screeching Weasel.‖ These were the wrong bands, I knew, and his face closed up a little bit. He looked back at the building. The instructors were clicking their stopwatches as the firefighters ran out again. None of them had a body, not even a part of
STRINGER ∫ 94
one. ―How about you?‖ The firefighters were stealing the show. I should have known that they would. I wondered if he was the kind of guy who liked to introduce girls to things like music and books and perspectives. If he would say things like those bands are a good starting point, or, when I was younger, I liked them too. I remembered driving through the woods listening to a walkman in the backseat of my parents‘ car, thinking about how this music was just like me: still a little sweet but trying to peel back the edges of things. I‘d felt dark and untraceable, my parents something easy to push against. ―I like your hair,‖ he said, looking back at me. ―It looks like Ramen.‖ ―Oh.‖ I touched my hair, run through with dried sweat stiffness. I‘d dyed it blonde but the color hadn‘t really come out right. ―No, I mean I love Ramen.‖ Now he was right next to me and I could see that his hair was thinning out just a little bit, which I‘ve heard can happen when you dye it too much. ―As a hair-do?‖ ―In any context.‖ We were looking at each other like this when the explosion happened. We both turned back toward the building. ―Wait,‖ he said, pointing. ―Does that always happen too?‖ The firefighters were all running backwards and their mouths were open and urgent. They grabbed the hoses and all sprayed at once, which never happened. ―No, do you think something‘s wrong?‖ We both had our fingers back in the fence. ―Should we call for help?‖ ―They are the help,‖ I reminded him. Now the building looked more on fire than ever. The trucks had their lights on and maybe their sirens, but we couldn‘t hear. ―I mean back-up, should we call for back-up? Do you have a phone?‖ ―No, do you?‖ ―No. Is there a pay phone?‖
STRINGER ∫ 95
―Back by the bus stop.‖ We both knew where that was. I wondered if we‘d ever been on the bus together, if maybe he‘d been sitting there right behind me thinking about how everything was always real even if it was just for practice. ―That‘ll take too long, ― he said, and dug his sneaker into the fence. ―Wait, what can you do for them?‖ He was halfway up and I grabbed his ankle right above his shoe. He didn‘t say anything but shook his leg so I‘d let go and the fence wobbled dangerously. Then the fire went out completely. I‘d never seen that happen before either. The firemen looked happy and easy, patting each other‘s backs, and for the first time, maybe, they all got the same thing for the day and they all won. I pictured the Dalmatians greeting them back at the firehouse. Their whole bodies would wag with the joy of it and the firemen would take turns petting and paling around with them. Then they would all go upstairs and go to sleep in their long rows or bunk beds with their boots on, all of them all ready for whatever would come. He came back down the fence and for a while we stood looking at the smoking building. ―Thanks for trying to save me,‖ he said. I hadn‘t thought about it like that, but I guess deep down I was so I said: ―You‘re welcome.‖ And we stood as the afternoon faded and darkened until all that was left were tiny embers around where the base of the building had been. All we could see was that gleaming.
STRINGER ∫ 96
When your life is a country song you spend your days driving, breathe fresh hay and lilacs, your hair blown real wild til it‘s smoothed by the touch of your man‘s redbrown hands, his blue cotton work shirt so stiff on your cheek. You find yourself wishing for 4H club picnics barn dances, church suppers, that pink jello salad. Looking back with disgust on your old strip mall Sundays you cleanse your hands deep in your small garden‘s dirt. When your life is a country song you call your man baby and hand him a beer when he gets home from work. You paint your nails red and choose just the right lipstick, then slide way too close in his pick-up‘s front seat. Cause it‘s always summer and just before twilight when dust and White Rain seep down into your ear. And you fear sometimes your full heart just can‘t take it-still you purr, don‘t you mess with that radio dial.
FREMO ∫ 97
Rebecca Fremo covers tire ruts and cracked cement, remnants of creeping charlie and kudzu, even that scalded patch of ground where too much weed and feed fell last May. Beneath the tire swing baby green grass gave up the ghost, no match for stabbing soccer cleats. Now nobody mourns squash, crushed and rotting, no eulogies for cherry tomatoes bleeding in the dust. Snow grants absolution to all lazy gardeners.
FREMO âˆŤ 98
JANUARY: TAKING STOCK
Sunrise — the sky glows like a sheet of thin blue ice; conifers gold-tipped, with molten halos trunk axes vertical, vectors of calm. Camellias and rhodies droop, leaves huddled around their stems as if seeking warmth or comfort. Stock market has plunged — skidding, slaloming down to 11,800 — the voices are alarmed; my radio whines with a threnody of doom. But geese arrow through dawn‘s fretful clouds, winging their way confidently to the next rendezvous. Vees of avian purpose, threading through the river‘s steamy breath, they rise like a bull market on this morning‘s frozen assets.
MCGUIRE ∫ 99
ON LOOKING AT THE COLLECTIONS OF HENRY WELLCOME
The British Museum, London Kim Roberts
1. Votive offerings used in prayers for healing in the shape of feet, hands, eyes, viscera, genitalia, uteruses, bladders, kidneys, tongues— all in ceramic, and highly detailed, made in ancient Greece and Rome. Hippopotamus ivory dentures on dainty porcelain stands, a box of glass eyes, a guillotine blade used during the French Revolution, Egyptian canopic jars, 17th century clappers used by lepers to warn people of their approach, artificial limbs, arrays of obstetrical forceps and amputation saws.
2. After his death, they found crates that had never been opened. The treasures lay inside, packed in straw: human remains from the Sudan, the dearticulated bones side by side in the dark; German manuscripts on alchemy; figurines from New Guinea shut in boxes as if in mass graves. He bought obsessively, the buying was most important. That, and the idea of his museum for the study of the roots and foundations of medicine. I am not merely ―gathering curios,‖ he told his exasperated wife.
ROBERTS ∫ 100
Ever since our marriage, she wrote, the greater part of our time has been spent in places I detested collecting curios, sacrificing myself— And for what? Filigreed amulets of open hands from Tunisia? Canopic jars for a dead man's intestines? Or those unspeakable miniature women? Their heads resting on ivory pillows— their hair arrayed in perfect curls, little smiles playing at the edges of their lips— how can they look so serene when anyone can reach right in and remove their intestines, reach right in and evict their tiny ivory hearts?
4. A pair of slippers owned by Florence Nightingale. Charles Darwin‘s walking stick, topped with a tiny skull carved in ivory, two emeralds for the eyes. A snuff container made from an entire ram‘s head hollowed out, so the snuff replaces the brain, resting on three silver wheels. A radiograph (Germany, 1908) of a child born bearing two spines and two heads. Ceramic women, no bigger than my palm, with removable fetuses. A tobacco resuscitator from 1774: one of a series of kits placed along the banks of the Thames at regular intervals, to revive drowning victims by injecting smoke into their rectums.
ROBERTS ∫ 101
5. In my home, too, there is a collection of medical oddities, votive offerings used in prayers for healing: latex gloves, alcohol prep pads, pleated white paper face masks, boxes of heparin lock flush solution in 5-inch syringes, a clear bag of single-use sodium chloride injection packs, 9 volt batteries, filters with add-on siphon valves placed along the banks of the dining table, interlocking 20g precision glide needles, 4 central-line kits rich in passionate symbolism, one wide-mouthed red plastic container marked "biohazard."
6. Nine years passed before Syrie Wellcome left Henry behind. She persevered as long as she could. I know the cost, how it made him a little less human. But his passion was larger than himself; it swallowed him up. Tincture of bryony, infusion of capsicum. An ivory model of a human ear. How could he stop? And now I live with someone elseâ€˜s obsession, the collection on my dining room table, bandage tape, 3 kinds of antiseptic lotion, needles in several sizes, a little museum, the self-absorption of the dying.
ROBERTS âˆŤ 102
7. What happens to avid collectors? After a while, they cease defining themselves by the objects they possess, and the objects seem to possess them instead, as if the human becomes a vehicle for inanimate fulfillment. As the definitions of their obsessions get more and more refined, more exacting (an optometer with 38 lenses), the humans, under the weight of their project, like butter at room temperature, go soft around the edges. They are fascinating. They themselves become a display. An extreme version of something inherently human. All that derelict beauty.
8. A mania for objects, for creating a world— a metaphor for the world—a smaller cosmos, but controlled, and controllable. Is it triggered by loss? Fear of abandonment? Depression? As if the wonders of the little world had magic properties, as if these fragments on display could keep the body whole, could stop time, stop death: keep the blood moving through the veins, the food digesting, keep the muscles and the bones from splitting and the delicate webbing of skin— a fragile cabinet whose textures imply so much activity beneath the surface— were somehow under our own control.
ROBERTS ∫ 103
RIBBONS & BELLS, OH MY!
Stephen Mead 1
Red is a power color, the deeper the better. Red can both absorb and reflect light therefore, while drawing energy, it can be a grounding influence, or so is my take on the ancient teachings of Feng Shui. Hope I‘m right since I use the color generously throughout my apartment. Even before one gets there, above the threshold leading in, is a good three foot stretch of blood red silk knotted at each end to form a valance. Not only that, but on either side of the front door knob is a matching nine inch red ribbon tied with a small gold bell, a jingle bell to be precise, from a local fabric store. There is one of these on every door and window where I live, including the rusty brass mailbox three stories below. These are to invite in good tidings while also being a preventative against the postal, the dangers, the troubled waters of the day. Yes, there‘s definitely more than bats up in this belfry, and I realized that while stringing those bell-ribbon combos, the cats being very helpful by bopping the bells into every cranny and nook. I‘ve also learned it‘s very hard to have effective Feng Shui when one lives with the ever-feline Thomas and Speedy, but still I persist. Even now as I write this, quite coincidentally, I am wearing red sweat pants and shirt. Above me, above this bed of burgundy coverings, dangles yet another bell on red ribbon taped to the ceiling. It sways ever so slightly, currently wreathed by the breath of one of my Native Lights. I also might add that the very small clappers in the center of these bells do not ring unless actually shook, so I am not exactly Quasimodo yet. What can a person possibly make of all this, that I am superstitious to the point of phobia? Actually I place faith in these theories of color with a grain of salt, sort of like an ecumenical agnostic who is not hedging any bets but is willing to take help from wherever he can get it. In fact, in addition to small bells and various hues of red, there are myriad angels, both statues and images, keeping watch about this apartment. The film, ―Wings of Desire‖, is largely responsible for that, much more so than my catholic upbringing. Indeed, the idea of angels, the necessity of so many of us mere mortals needing to
MEAD ∫ 104
2 have a belief in them, to have such spiritual want, has informed a large part of my art. Certainly sometimes as I wander about this cluttered place, especially when overtired or over-wired from painting, I feel as if I am actually living in some large collage or an installation piece, and an animated one at that. There are also times when I consider chucking most of it, the cluttering hodge podge, and going in for minimalism, the simplicity of bare white walls and uncovered windows: space meeting space. Usually that‘s when I go out for a walk and come back with some new find from the curb. There‘s so much a person can come across in student neighborhoods in a five college town, especially at the end of term. Often I think it‘s as if some larger guiding force has played an enormous part in the shaping of this place. Really, I‘ve purchased very few of the furnishings here and even those I felt kind of funny about, as if I were going against some inbred law of transience. The deep plum hued futon for instance. Sure I like it well enough, but got it mainly for what little company I have. For the most part I prefer a pillow and the floor. As I get older though, I‘m finding it a lot harder to get up once I‘m down there. The floors are another big tapestry aspect of this place. There‘s a whole assortment of runners running into other runners, and scatter rugs on top of other scatter rugs. Some are oval, some square, some fringed, some braided, some patterned, some solid, and quite a few have to be stapled down repeatedly thanks to the antics of the cats. I thought such an assortment would make for nice muffling, and in my case I guess it does, but as for Thomas and Speedy, a neighbor below once asked if I owned Behemoths. Well, I try. Still, I do like the feel of this Indian rug bazaar. I also have a varied collection of pillows so living here is rather like a genie life, a place to work on wishes, to figure out what they are. In the past, when friends have visited, some have remarked that it‘s like I am cocooning or nesting, especially since the red valance motif of the front entryway is repeated in some fashion over every other door and window.
MEAD ∫ 105
3 Yes, it is a bit like Tara meet Scarlet, the last of Victoriana, and I a fading Blanche Dubois, except I do not try to avoid the light. I use colors for their luminosity, almost as if someone could bathe in them, the colors and brilliance both. Of course my partner jokes that it is a bit like a brothel here, also noting the hazards of the carpeting, for tripping over, for slipping. He is an occupational therapist and so does have a good point. This is why I try to be so vigilant with the staple gun, especially on yet one more set of stairs with two more oriental runners. These are the first things one comes across once entering and shutting the door, that and the cornucopia of fake fruit and flowers tacked just above the stairwell, that and the band of gold trimmed red Christmas ribbon taped to the rail, a garland of artificial ivy winding around it. All this acts as an Ariadne thread, the thread through the labyrinth, though Erica Jong also said of writing that it was the red thread through chaos. I tried to keep that in mind while using red ribbon as metaphor. Another literary reference enters when coming up the runners, a large lantern like flower set apart from a dark paisley background smack in the center of each tread on the stairs. In one of her poems, and also in ―The Bell Jar‖, Sylvia Plath wrote of a regal yet frail woman who was a patient in the mental hospital where Sylvia recovered from her first breakdown. The place must have been fairly posh for it had carpeting, and part of this woman‘s condition was that she could only walk from room to room by following the orderly pattern of flowers in that rug. There is a similar account in Oliver Sack‘s book, ―Awakenings‖, but in that instance it‘s how black tiles are arranged amid white ones. In that story, when an obstructive table is removed the woman patient is able to follow the black diagonal through the white, and finally reach a water fountain at the very end of the room. Apparently she‘d been very thirsty right along, had the water in sight, but didn‘t know the means.
MEAD ∫ 106
4 Perhaps we are all a bit like that. My favorite flooring story, however, is called ―Beyond the Fringe‖, by Gregory Maguire. It is about a magic carpet finished by a clever Gram so that her son and Grandson can fly out a window just as village marauders enter their home.
Nesting. Cocooning. Ariadne‘s thread. The Red Thread through Chaos. Above the stairwell, to, as the say in Feng Shui, ―neutralize the empty space‖, is a shimmering multifaceted crystal. It is not quite tear dropped shape. It is rounder. That orb was given to me by my partner and this too hangs from a nine inch red thread tied with nine gold small bells, nine and red being positive bringers of energy. What menace does that amulet ward off, spiraling gently, spilling its flecks? What menace? What marauders? The stories these objects stir up, the chords they summon and strike, are not of car chases and page turning intrigue, but reflections from the interior, the insular from which a macrocosm also spirals. Part of that universe, sadly enough, of course contains potential violence. How many homes have become crime scenes? How many hallways, stairs, the place where perpetrators lie in wait? It is one thing to be decimated by natural disaster, but when human harm comes lurking into a sacred space, it has the same sort of decimation as war. Whether a crime of passion, an act of vicious intent, or of cold indifference, how to recover from the outcome of the desecration, how to explain it, to find an understanding? Will there be any? I believe I arrange my surroundings as a way to try and make sense of some thing, at least one thing, in this world. It is often a case of sheer inspiration or instinct.
MEAD ∫ 107
5 Virginia Woolf wrote of the importance, the validity, in having a room of one‘s own, and I agree. (Of course I believe it was also helpful for her to have an understanding partner/publisher like Leonard.) For years though, even when I had such a room, I allowed myself to stay in a space where it was repeatedly violated, where the one whom I chose to love and stay with was like an army, and so, I‘ve come to re-define Virginia Woolf‘s doctrine for myself. Yes, it is true, I now do have a supportive partner, but even while winding red thread through the chaos of this nest, this cocoon, I am still in a dance with my own private minotaur through what, three floors up, is also a labyrinth. Perhaps I will become like Walt Whitman‘s spider and pull a beautiful web out of myself, but even so I do not want to catch any one else and drain the blood. This is why I think it is important to go even a little further than Virginia, to have an apartment of one‘s own, and a couple of good solid dead bolts with a peephole between. I can lock myself in. I can see who or what else might be out there.
MEAD ∫ 108
LINES FOR JANE KENYON
A single life weighs less than a feather. â€“ Anon KB Ballentine Dead a decade, you once ranged these woods with Gus. Now I wander from New Canada Road to Eagle Pond where hemlocks hang, no furry friend nosing the undergrowth. A nuthatch nosedives, lures my eye to gray and white feathers forgotten by some itinerant goose. A sudden stir
of air moves the sere late summer leaves, sounding for a moment like . . . rain.
Across Route 4 the white corners of your house wedge half-hidden behind colossal peonies blushing beside bruised hydrangeas. A cat spars its shadow in the yard. As sunlight louvers through trees, I imagine the wood floors you scrubbed, scarred by generations of men dusting in from the fields. Women whose feet ghost through kitchen steam to skin tomatoes, strip beans, can the corn, whose hands pieced quilts now tucked in trunks. Quilts packed and layered heavy with feathers, comforting on icy nights.
BALLENTINE âˆŤ 109
Slapping air, a sparrow nulls the silence. Darkness dissipates, thrushes of song gouge the pre-dawn glow, goad me from hard-won sleep. I segue from dream to thought, not ready for this day. My Chevy crouches in the drive, packed. I roll over, glimpse mangled shadows of boxes bristling the room, watch the sunrise here one last time.
BALLENTINE âˆŤ 110
Another still winter night and stars glitter again, shining over the far dark fields, sparkling like the tapered rows of thin drill bits or those heaps of nuts and bolts I remember seeing scattered across a tabletop under dull shop lights in my father‘s garage, that graying wood-framed structure behind our house he had converted one summer Sunday into a carpenter‘s workroom. In a corner of that dimly lit space, he would spend long hours each weekend, sometimes fitting together the finely-sanded pine slats, fashioning drawers, planing molding until smooth, staining cabinet doors, varnishing shelves, always repairing several pieces of furniture at a time for many of our neighbors who knew to listen for the music of his jigsaw.
BYRNE ∫ 111
FOR MY SISTER AFTER HER SURGERY
—for Barbara Edward Byrne
Late May morning in Indiana, muted music plays on a neighbor‘s radio, birds murmur nearby, fill a willow at the edge of the meadow. Somewhere from vast farmland beyond, corridors of cloud dust drift and dissipate in a tractor‘s wake. We await afternoon‘s promised rain; yet, for now, nothing but a flat backdrop of blue. Even the pair of tall evergreens beside the yard barn remain still. Their stiff thin shadows begin to recede into themselves, withdrawing under a bright windless sky, all dark giving way to light on this day, as if driven into exile.
BYRNE ∫ 112
WHEN I THINK OF YOU, LOVE
I think of crop whips Jackboots Bile green berets Cockeyed Cross Your Heart bras Black Marias and Bomb-sniffing dogs I think of the Kindness of strangers Red army ants Cream of Wheat Laced with cyanide A bullet in the chamber Rose petals pouting On the window sill Prune juice and Cold plump plums When I think of you, Love My feet get warm Like Joan of Arcâ€˜s My heart pitter-patters On the dining room floor I get lockjaw Chomping on the rare Black Angus beef You tenderized With a ball peen hammer And broken glass
MEDINA âˆŤ 113
I get gas At the thought Of you curdling My milk Like you curled My toes— One yank at a time, The pliers proved too slick To slip the proper grip, Thank god thank god When I think of you I dribble and drool I babble by the brook The backyard turned into After you evicted the Roto Rooter Man With a lead pipe and two sticks Of dynamite When I think of you, Love I remember how you tried To convince me that Cayenne pepper was Paprika And those Ginsu knives You hurled my way, Skinning my scalp And nailing my collar To the fridge, Were car keys— Baby please— You could‘ve Handed them To me
MEDINA ∫ 114
When I think of you, Love I think of the Spanish Inquisition Taxation without representation Blankets stuffed with smallpox I think of the Hindenburg Hitler with Charlie Chaplin‘s mustache A glow-in-the-dark rash Water that‘s yellow Phlegm-like Jello I think of hell not having no fury I think of a trial without a jury I think of death camps Advertised as resort hotels I think of the Berlin Wall Falling down on my head And the subsequent Price of bread I think of Al Green hot grits to the nuts I think of Night of the Living Dead The living dead
MEDINA ∫ 115
Tony Medina The police officers carried the small suit As if it were my son, lifeless, in outstretched arms. I remember the funeral director Asking me for a suit to bury him in. But he was so young; he had nothing formal To wear—I couldn‘t bare the thought of buying My son‘s first suit worn for his casket. And so the first cops that responded to our call Chipped in to purchase it as if they were buying flowers. At the wake he looked peaceful and sharp As a tack—not with that final look of anguish That wrenched his face with pain as his sickle cell Spleen ballooned and burst in his frail body— All eight years of him stuck in a lifetime‘s suit.
MEDINA ∫ 116
Hey Daddy, how do I look? I hope Mom don‘t Cry. She always makes a big deal of stuff. Like the time I rode my bike without training Wheels, or when I was a tree in the forest In my first grade class. Remember how she made A cake and invited everybody Over like it was my birthday. I felt like A star the way everybody was fussing Over me and all I was was a tree. But that made me want to be in more plays and In movies and on TV so you and Mom Would be proud of me. I wanted her to See me in a suit but not like this one. Please Don‘t let her see me in this little old box.
MEDINA ∫ 117
DEAD MAN TEACHING
It‘s over. The school day has shrieked, screamed and squealed to an unsatisfactory close. If days can be understood as sounds, today‘s sounds were of a slaughterhouse, pigto-pork-chop variety. Labeled ―Teacher Tenderloin 50% off,‖ I‘m today‘s selection. So, once again it‘s judgment time. Hold ‗em or fold ‗em? Stay down or pack up? While the outside of me is comatose--I could play a corpse on TV‘s ―CSI‖--the inside of me is holding a loud debate in the classroom behind my eyes. Hang in or run away? Quit or stay? Damned if I know. At this time of day, I don‘t think I‘m alone in pondering my teaching future. In our county, 56% of the teachers quit within their first three years. Nationally, more than one-half of the teachers leave within their first five years. But, for all that, my mind veers, as usual, to the particular and the personal. So God help me, why am I still teaching? Crazy kids. Crazy parents. Crazier teacher. What do my students want? What do they need to know about English grammar to survive a world gone insane? Am I any good at this teaching thing? How can I do better? What karmic failure am I trying to correct in this life? I lift my head to look at six stacks of lined paper, one for each class, totaling 143 essays, or nearly 65 hours of grading if I want (and I do) to mark each grammar mistake, drink enough coffee to stay awake, urinate, and write ―chatty, good effort‖ comments for every student. ―Sorry,‖ I hear myself explaining to the English Department Coordinator, ―I have to quit teaching in order to grade essays.‖ But, for all that, I do love this particular assignment, which I have used over ten years of teaching. ―Here‘s Your Assignment:‖ I wrote for my high school students. ―Describe (Show) the Moment You Changed.‖ I then verbally explained to them that the moment of change is the time and place when your world tipped over like the Titanic, when you discovered that the people who should love you might not, when the light bulb went on or went off in your understanding of how the world works, when you understood what you didn‘t understand was that you will never understand, when you found or lost a lover, a friend, a parent, a pet, God, or when, in one blinding moment, you came to a personal covenant with this small, delirious, spinning planet. That, good people, is the moment you change. FOX ∫ 118
I like this essay assignment for a ―whole rack‖ (as my kids say for ―a lot‖) of reasons. First, it is a good way to teach students to write descriptively using imagery and figures of speech. More directly, the assignment helps students to ―see‖ their world through the language they use (―All language is virtually metaphoric,‖ as Robert Frost puts it). Second, it allows students to connect their experiences with their words. And, finally, and most importantly, the ―Moment of Change‖ assignment offers students the opportunity to find their unique voices. After years of abstract one-test-fits-all schooling, some students might discover that they have something important to say because they, themselves, are special and important. They matter. They count in a way that can‘t be counted (to badly paraphrase Einstein). But am I the person, flawed as I am, to tell them that? Is this my own moment of change? Is this the time I lift myself up from my graffiti scarred desk, take my box of pencils and go home, forever? I pick up the first essay, from class 1B, English 11, Honors. ―I fried bacon‖ I read, ―in a cast iron frying pan for my family‘s Sunday church breakfast when my Grandfather died. I knew he had passed because I heard my mother scream, a high-pitched, quivering sound, like canvas tearing.‖ What? I reread. Yes, a ―scream like canvas tearing.‖ I‘m awake. I dig into the mountains of essays. In the fourth essay I read, ―I lost five friends in a year to drive-by shootings,‖ a young man writes. ―When my older brother got shot I couldn‘t even cry, my tears all used up.‖ ―My mother raised me and my brother,‖ a female student writes, ―in a creik [crack] house. She wasn‘t there even when she was. And then she just disappeared.‖ I give up grading, marking essays and just read. A young woman writes, ―My mother got a [phone] call from our Uncle Paul . . . ‗Drew‘s not breathing,‘ my mother whispered, very gently hanging up the phone. ‗A 9 mm. He‘s been shot.‘ I hit the floor like a jar full of pennies when I heard my brother had been killed. Drew became our family‘s screaming sadness.‖ I pause. I‘d forgotten what ―screaming sadness‖ we adults had left as our legacy for some of our children. A young woman wrote, ―My mother told me ‗I was the future.‘ I said, FOX ∫ 119
‗Thanks for nothing.‘‖ ―I don‘t think I‘ll ever forgive the dude who killed my mother, in a bad drug deal,‖ a male student wrote. Of course, not all the essays were that--what?--heavy and grim. A young lady finds peace in watching sunlight ―filter through the trees‖ as her family drives to North Carolina to visit distant relatives. A boy changes when he learns to ride a bike, after falling many times. A young man makes peace with a recovering, alcoholic father. But still . . . one out of every three essays dealt with brutality, violence and death. And, more importantly, everyone in this generation knew these stories. Meaning? I had disconnected from the conditions under which many of my students lived. I have forgotten the stories that circulated over the internet and on TV about young-blood, ―gangsta‖ life in 2009. We adults, while busy with the ever increasing demands of our own lives, had allowed a generation to grow up alone, become their own subculture, a ―separate tribe‖ as someone wrote. We fed them a diet of media violence and sexuality. This is the worst sort of junk food, because it rots the mind as well as the body. Those least capable of understanding the lies and ugly fantasy crap we force feed them are exactly those who act up, drop out and see no alternative to drive-by shootings. As it happens, in a drive-by, three of my students, who were kicked out before their third week of school, shot and killed a young woman outside of a rival high school. I went back to reading to try to understand what‘s gone wrong. For me, one of the most poignant essays came from a female student I barely knew, because she rarely talked in class. ―In the bus station I tried for the fifth time to phone my father. I left another message. ‗Dad you promised. Where are you? You said you‘d meet me. You‘re two hours late. No, three hours late. I trusted you. For Christ sake, it‘s Christmas, Dad. I‘m cold and all alone here.‘‖ Then this. Anna Lopez‘s story, near the bottom of the stack, English 9, 1B. She‘s one of my best, who, unlike 95% of my students, actually likes to read and to think. I don‘t know anything about her background, except I‘ve heard some distressing rumors. I start reading, noting the precision and grace of her handwriting.
FOX ∫ 120
Pregnant at 14 years and a mother at 15. Named the baby girl ―Starr‖ and moved into Washington DC, Northeast, with my Grand Mother, after my mother kicked me out for being pregnant. Being Mexican Catholic, abortion is not even talked about as an option. The one bedroom apartment was OK, clean enough for what it is, a Section 8. The neighborhood had once been up-class, white, but now it‘s mixed, mostly Black. Every night we heard sirens, people shouting and gun shots. And it‘s hot, very hot in the summer. But you can get used to anything. After awhile, the sirens, gunshots, and even the heat don‘t even wake me. Grandma, bless her kind heart, gave Starr and I her bedroom and made a place for herself to sleep in the living room. Grandma and I painted Starr‘s room a pretty, light blue and put up large Wily Coyote and Roadrunner cutouts racing around the room. And, to get some of the summer‘s evening breeze, we put Starr‘s crib under the large window facing the street, lifting up the crib by putting thick books we got from the building basement under each leg. On July 6, I woke up not because of any noise, but, just the opposite, because in our bedroom it had grown so quiet, as if the electricity had gone out and our neighborhood of air conditioners had gone silent. I got out of bed, tiptoed over to Starr‘s crib. She had her bare arms up beside her head, the sign of her surrender to peaceful sleep. Even in the dim light given by her night light, I once again saw how pretty she was, black curly baby hair framing her face. When I saw the dark blood on her arm and on one side of her pillow, I collapsed, mouth open but unable to make a sound, pulled down onto the floor. But I‘m asleep, that‘s it, a nightmare, a bad movie, a video game. I wake up and it‘ll be OK. I lifted myself up, holding onto the crib rail, and just watched Starr for I don‘t know how long. Maybe she would move I prayed, crossed myself, asked God‘s help. I loved Starr so much. And then the weird thing. Maybe God helped. I haven‘t told anyone, even my priest, about this last part.
FOX ∫ 121
In Starr‘s bedroom, God help me, even as the tears washed my face, I planned what to do next . . . ‗my baby has been shot, killed,‘ I‘d tell everyone. Everyone would be sorry. I‘m only 16. I‘d start again. I‘d study . . . get good grades and be a teenager, go where I wanted. Boys say I‘m pretty. Freedom can feel so terrible and so good all at the same time. I hated myself for being excited about the future I never had. But there it is. Once you have a thought you can‘t make it go away, can‘t pretend you never had it, even if you hate it. At St. John‘s Catholic Church in DC, Father Sullivan said that the universe only tells one story. Death and Resurrection. Yes. That‘s right. Death and Resurrection . . . I stopped reading, the words swimming, incomprehensible in my tears. I‘m more than sorry for forgetting that much of what our students present us—the whoring, gang-banging, disrespect, violence and selfishness we see in the classroom, hallway, community—comes from a depression so deep and so pervasive that it goes unnoticed, even by the young people who feel it the most. It‘s our children‘s raw pain, young blood hardened into a life pattern that passes for ―normal.‖ I suddenly grew bone tired. The screaming sadness caught up with me. But at least I know this: I do know that I must stay around, stick with teaching, as goofed up as I am as a teacher and as a human being, and listen. It‘s the least I can do for a future I‘ll never see. And I will just listen--the students teaching the teacher . . . #
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TO SASHA ON BECOMING FIRST DAUGHTER
Seven years old, election night, you stepped out on a giant stage, in patent leather shoes and black taffeta with a bow. Dark ringlets bouncing, one hand held Daddy's and one hand waved, as you posed for a family portrait televised around the world. Clad in solid blue pajamas, I cheered from my bedroom, eyes as red as Jesse Jackson's, remembering the year I turned seven, in a town with two sides, like a half moon cookie, attending a school where only the chalkboard had a black face. You will learn why I wept, from history books, the same ones that will recall how Americans danced in the streets while your small black hand waved a bubbly hello to a country we hardly dared to imagine the year I turned seven.
JULES âˆŤ 123
Up early, choked with night-fumes, I assay the winter dark in terms of the great war before my birth. The Japanese Zero fighter plane sticks in my mind. Why Zero? Simply the rising sun emblem? Or Emily Dickinson‘s Zero at the bone? Visiting Tokyo, I found no clues to the war, only steak houses featuring bourbon and Argentine beef and shop fronts rich as the Champs Elysee. I‘d rather not return before I solve the war that shaped the seventy years that followed. I‘d rather not suffer courtesy in hotels I can‘t afford and women tending bar with smiles too crisp to compel a response. I‘d rather stay home and observe the winter sun rising from hills too old to doubt, the snow enameled and tough, rocky streams half-frozen, the current black and bottomless. Anything rather than obsess on fighter planes winking in skies too blue to survive, the clatter of machine-gun fire too vivid and quarrelsome, the tropical sun too stony for me to swallow. DORESKI ∫ 124
Cinnamon Stuckey Japanese beetles Divide my toes with their emerald coat of arms Wired mouths resuscitate each freckled pore With grass root residue Osculating Investigating the body inch by inch Baited with floral scent, iris bulbs on their breath Tracing the latitude of my hips
STUCKEY âˆŤ 125
Cinnamon Stuckey Oh Dios The onion fields are leaking blood I noticed when I harvested the roots In the raw, my hands slid against the red Oh Dios mio The snails are muscling away from their shells The jelly of their flesh parched like chalk I watched them turn inward, slowly, and respite Oh Dios mio, oh Dios The appaloosa ponies are chest deep in mud I saw them struggling to move Their spots abraded in the Nez Perce rock quarry Oh Dios The moon is chipping away at the sun and Iâ€Ś I am witness to a catastrophic change One thousand appaloosas Drowning in the rain One thousand onion pearls soaked in your grace Oh Dios mio, oh Dios mio The calendar marks the end of days as today And I can taste it on The undercurrent of your tongue As you repent
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Cinnamon Stuckey In Amadito Exiled people sleep Close to the red tipped tail of the Aztec border Oaxaca petals protect the corn From arterial spray in the slaughter of evening Blue cows nurse cocaine addicts In Amadito From clean pipes and silver spoons Ceremonial sands, blackened palms Pollen crumbles across our daughters‘ faces In Amadito Magazine clips function as wind chimes, Baby mobiles and monitors Preened cocks strut When their legs aren‘t cinched together In Amadito Salty lemons and limes Are a national treasure Bruised thighs milk In Amadito Sugarcane poles, residue glowing in black light Vitex buds break and bleed An ode to President Benito Juarez every 5th of May In Amadito The devil blows kisses while angels Huddle for safety in the shadows Language is a form of defiance But you can swap needles in bulk In Amadito Toltecas graze on the Sweetwater grasses Arching their necks and exposing gold teeth if you step too close The water surges low below a crust of earth When the harvest is pregnant with American tourists In this republic of longing Pushers don‘t realize Their eyes are the surveillance system of god STUCKEY ∫ 127
Gulls & Cherry Blossoms
Abdul Ali is a native New Yorker residing in the District of Columbia. His poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Gargoyle and Full Moon on K Street. He produces ―Poets Corner‖ on Pacifica radio, WPFW 89.3 FM. His commentary on culture has been widely published. Abdul Ali‘s blog is Words Matter. (Photo: Emile Benjamin)
Sherisse Alvarez is currently at work on her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Hunter College. Her work has appeared in Palimpsest: Yale Literary and Arts Magazine, Daylight Magazine, Becoming: Young Ideas on Gender, Identity, and Sexuality, Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology and other publications. She lives in New York City and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Photo: Lisa Ross)
Jordan Antonucci is an MFA candidate in the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. An artist of multiple mediums, his textual work can be found in the forthcoming Anthology of the Awkward designed by Fast Forward Press and published by City Lights and his art exhibit with collaborators Joshua Antonucci and Min Jung Oh can be found online at www.sen-sing.com. Salvatore Attardo is a professor in the Literature and Languages Department at Texas A&M – Commerce. His poetry, translation and photography have been published or are forthcoming in Strange Machine, Crash, Italian Americana, Apocalypse, Harpur Palate and others.
KB Ballentine (www.kbballentine.com) has published in many print and online journals. A 2007 finalist for the Ruth Stone Prize in Poetry, a 2006 finalist for the Joy Harjo Poetry Award and a recipient of 2006 and 2007 monies from the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Fund, Ballentine has published two collections of poetry, Gathering Stones (2008) and Fragments of Light (2009).
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Holly Bass is a writer and performer based in Washington, DC. A Cave Canem fellow, her poems have appeared in Callaloo, nocturnes (re)view and Beltway. She studied modern dance and creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College before earning a Master‘s in Journalism from Columbia University. Her current work maps the endless allure of booty—from Venus Hottentots to video vixens. (Photo: YTanou Photography).
Tara Betts is the author of Arc and Hue. She teaches at Rutgers University and leads community-based workshops. Tara is a graduate of the New England College MFA Program. She coached youth who went on to Brave New Voices. Her writing has also been dramatized for the stage in several productions, including Steppenwolf Theater's "Words On Fire" and "Fingernails Across the Chalkboard". Her work has been published in Essence, Bum Rush the Page, Gathering Ground and both Spoken Word Revolution anthologies. (Photo: Dorothy Perry). Sheila Black‘s poems have appeared in Diode, Puerto del Sol, Blackbird, and Poet Lore among other journals. She is the author of Love/Iraq (2009, CW Press), which poet Tony Hoagland called ―hypnotic,‖ House of Bone (2007, CW Press), and a chapbook How to be a Maquiladora (2007, Main Street Rag). She lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico. (Photo: Annabelle Hayse). Educator and author, Antoinette Brim‘s debut poetry collection, Psalm of the Sunflower (Willow Books) was released in September. Brim earned an MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry from Antioch University/Los Angeles. She is a Cave Canem Fellow. A recipient of a Pushcart Prize nomination, her work has appeared in various journals, magazines and anthologies. (Photo: Allen Loibner).
Derrick Weston Brown holds an MFA in Creative Writing from American University Wisdom Teeth. He is a native of Charlotte North Carolina, and currently resides in Mount Rainier Maryland. He also teaches an amazing group of 7th and 8th graders poetry at Hart Middle School in S.E. Washington D.C. He is the Poet-InResidence at Busboys and Poets bookstore and restaurant. (Photo: Marlene Hawthrone-Thomas) CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 129
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Sarah Browning is co-director of Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness (www.splitthisrock.org) and DC Poets Against the War (www.dcpaw.org). Author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden and coeditor of D.C. Poets Against the War: An Anthology, she has received fellowships and prizes from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, the Creative Communities Initiative, and the People Before Profits Poetry Prize. She blogs at www.sarahbrowning.blogspot.com. (Photo: Melissa Tuckey).
Jeremy Byars‘s first poetry collection, Eyes Open to the Flash, was published in 2008, and he is currently working on his second collection, as well as an annotated bibliography of the Towneley plays. His poems and reviews have appeared in many journals, most recently storySouth, Ariel, If Poetry Journal, and Heartland Review. (Photo: Amy Henson-Byars).
Edward Byrne is the author of six collections of poetry, most recently Tidal Air (Pecan Grove Press, 2002) and Seeded Light (Turning Point Books, 2010). A seventh book of poetry, Tinted Distances, is forthcoming from Turning Point Books in 2011. His poems and literary criticism have appeared in numerous journals, as well as a number of anthologies. Byrne is a professor of American literature and creative writing at Valparaiso University, where he serves as editor of Valparaiso Poetry Review. (Photo: Pam Byrne). Ching-In Chen is the author of The Heart's Traffic (Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press). Daughter of Chinese immigrants, she is a Kundiman, Macondo and Lambda Fellow. A community organizer, she has worked in the Asian American communities of San Francisco, Oakland, and Boston. Ching-In is a member of Save Our Chinatown Committee, which is focused on preserving the historical Riverside Chinatown. (Photo: Sarah Grant)
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Michela Costello is a poet and teacher in Washington, DC. She is currently an adjunct professor of English and Education. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in The Glasgow Review, Wanderlust and Poetryfish, among others.
Yago Cura is an Argentine-American poet and librarian, fútbol cretin, and the poetry editor of Hinchas de Poesia, an online literary journal. His poetry has appeared in Lungfull!, Borderlands, COMBO, LIT, U.S. Latino Review, Exquisite Corpse, Field, Slope, and The New Orleans Review. He moderates the Spanglish blog, http://spicaresque.blogspot.com, and the Harlem Y Indoor Soccer League. Pressure Up, mongrels!
T. M. De Vos Work by has appeared, or is forthcoming in, Washington
Square, Pebble Lake Review, Global City Review, Dark Sky Magazine, the Pedestal Magazine, the Saint Ann's Review, HOBART, Sakura Review, Dossier Journal, the Los Angeles Review, and Painted Bride Quarterly.
She is a staff member of Many Mountains Moving, a performer with the Poetry Brothel, and a contributor to Fiction Writers Review.
William Doreski teaches at Keene State College in New Hampshire. His most recent collection of poetry is Waiting for the Angel (2009). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell‘s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals, including
Massachusetts Review, Atlanta Review, Notre Dame Review, The Alembic, New England Quarterly, Harvard Review, Modern Philology, Antioch Review, and Natural Bridge.
Janet Engle was raised in the foothills of southern West Virginia. She tries to write poems that take readers past the stereotype of the Appalachian hillbilly and capture the magic and frustrations of life in a coal town. She is the executive director of the nonprofit organization Still Someone, Inc., www.stillsomeone.org. (Photo: David Engle) CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 131
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Krista Franklin is a poet and visual artist who lives and works in Chicago. Her poetry and mixed medium collages have been published in lifestyle and literary journals such as Copper Nickel, RATTLE, Indiana Review, Clam, Callaloo, and the anthology Gathering Ground. Franklin is a Cave Canem Fellow, and a cofounder of Tres Colony and 2nd Sun Salon. www.kristafranklin.com, www.trescolony.com. (Photo: L. Bertram) Rebecca Fremo is Associate Professor of English at Gustavus Adolphus College, where she directs the Writing Center and teaches courses in composition, creative nonfiction, adolescent literature, and secondary education pedagogy. Her poems have appeared in County Lines: 87 Minnesota Counties, 130 Minnesota Poets. Originally from Richmond, Virginia, she braves the southern Minnesota winters with her husband and three sons. (Photo: Jenny Tollefson)
L.H. Fox In mind and heart, I am a teacher. For over thirty-two years, I‘ve taught people considered difficult to teach—troubled, unmotivated, ―at risk‖ students in marginal, often violent schools. Married forty-two years to a great-spirit of a woman, we have two children, both in university PhD programs. I don‘t warrant such blessings. But I‘m awe-struck and grateful . . . (Photo: Elizabeth R. Fox) Regan Good is a graduate of the Iowa Writers‘ Workshop. She‘s published two chapbooks: The Imperfect (2005) Westown Press and The Book of Nature (2009) Ugly Duckling Presse. She‘s currently working on a manuscript of poems called The Needle. She lives in Brooklyn. (Photo: Marion Ettlinger)
Laura Hartmark received her MFA in Poetry from George Mason University . Her poems have appeared in International Quarterly and The Boston Review. She is the recipient of the Bard Writing and Thinking Scholarship, and has taught writing at Lehman College, Hunter College, Russell Sage College and the State University of New York at Oneonta. She lives in Albany , NY with her daughter. (Photo: Leigh Tarentino) CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 132
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Julie Iromuanya is a PhD candidate in creative writing-fiction at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she also teaches English. She earned a BA in creative writing from the University of Central Florida. Her creative work has appeared in or is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review,
The Cream City Review, and Reverie: Midwest African American Literature among other journals. (Photo: Carrie J. Walker)
Bonnie Jones works with sound, text and performance. Born in 1977 in South Korea she was raised by dairy farmers in New Jersey, and currently resides in Baltimore, MD. Bonnie has performed at the Kim Dae Hwan Museum, the Ontological-Hysteric Theater, the ErstQuake Festival, and the 14 Karat Cabaret. www.bonniejones.wordpress.com. (Photo: Klaus Filip)
Pierre Joris is a poet, translator, essayist & anthologist. He has published over forty books, most recently Aljibar II (poems) and Justifying the Margins (essays). Recent translations include Paul Celan: Selections, and Lightduress by Paul Celan, which received the 2005 PEN Poetry Translation Award. With Jerome Rothenberg he edited the award-winning anthologies Poems for the Millennium (volumes I & II). (Photo: Joseph Mastantuono)
Jacqueline Jules is a teacher who writes for children and adults. Her books include No English, Unite or Die, and Zapato Power. She won the Arlington Arts Moving Words Contest in 2007. Her work has appeared in more than sixty publications including The Amistad, Christian Science Monitor, Sunstone, and Potomac Review. Please visit her at www.jacquelinejules.com. (Photo: The poet‘s husband)
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Poet/Performer/Librettist Douglas Kearney‘s work has been featured in many fine publications and venues in print, in-the-flesh and digital code. His first full-length collection of poems, Fear, Some, was published in 2006 (Red Hen Press). His second manuscript, The Black Automaton, was a National Poetry Series selection (Fence). He lives in the Valley with his family. (Photo: Los Jackson)
Alan King's poems have appeared in Audience, Alehouse, Boxcar Poetry Review, Indiana Review and MiPoesias. A Cave Canem fellow and Vona Alum, King is a Best of the Net and Pushcart nominee, and chases the muse through Washington, DC—people watching with his boys and laughing at the crazy things strangers say to get close to one another. (Photo: Marlene Hawthrone-Thomas)
Cole Lavalais received her MFA in Creative Writing from Chicago State University. Her work has appeared in Warpland, Reverie, and the anthology Just Like A Girl: A Manifesta. She is currently pursuing her PhD in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she also teaches creative writing and literature.
Gene McCormick has had ten books published, most recently a poetry collection, Tina, Queen Of The Greasy Spoon. Before that, Rain On The Sun. Live in Wayne, Illinois, and my poems and short stories regularly appear in select literary publications. (Photo: K. Curtice)
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Catherine McGuire is a writer and artist with a deep interesting in mythology and transformational experiences. She‘s had over 100 poems published in venues such as: New Verse News, FutureCycle, The
Quizzical Chair anthology, The Smoking Poet, Portland Lights Anthology, Folio, Fireweed, Green Fuse, Tapjoe and Adagio. She has published a chapbook, ―Joy Into Stillness: Seasons of Lake Quinault‖.
Stephen Mead is a published artist, writer and maker of short-collage films living in NY. Please feel free visit his Amazon.com‘s Author Central page or "google" his name for links to his work. Stephen's enclosed essay is part of a larger book, "A Thousand Beautiful Things", in search of a publisher. (Photo credit: Alan Ilagan)
Tony Medina is the author of fourteen books, the most recent of which are I and I, Bob Marley and My Old Man was Always on the Lam. Medina‘s poetry, fiction and essays appear in over eighty anthologies and publications, as well as two CD compilations. Currently Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Howard University in Washington, DC, Medina‘s collection, Broke on Ice, is forthcoming from Willow Books/Aquarius Press. (Photo: Abe Barretto)
David Mills has won a Hughes/Diop, NYFA and Brio Award. His poems have appeared in Reverie, Callaloo Dark Symphony, Rattapallax, Margie and Aloud to name a few. He has received a Henry James Fellowship. He has also recorded his poetry on RCA records. (Photo: Luigi C.)
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Gregg Mosson is the author of two books of poetry: Season of Flowers and Dust (Goose River Press, 2007), and Questions of Fire (Plain View Press, 2009). His work has appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Cincinnati Review, and The Potomac Review. He has an MA from the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, and lives in Maryland. For more, seek www.greggmosson.com. (Photo: P.H. Bennett)
Min Jung Oh is currently an MFA candidate at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Colorado. Her first chapbook, Body in a Hydrophilic Frame, will be published this spring by Monkey Puzzle Press. Her work is also forthcoming in Flash Forward‘s Anthology of the Awkward published by City Lights Press. (Photo: Devin Hutchison).
Willie Perdomo is the author Where a Nickel Costs a Dime and Smoking Lovely, which received a PEN America Beyond Margins Award. He has also been published in The New York Times Magazine, Bomb, and Mr. Beller‘s Neighborhood. He has been a Woolrich Fellow in Creative Writing at Columbia University and is a 2009 fellow in Poetry from the New York Foundation for the Arts. He is co-founder/publisher of Cypher Books. (Photo: Gabriela Ramirez)
Chrissy Rikkers was the co-editor of Pacific Review‘s 2008/09 issue, and editor of Poetry International‘s New American Poets Chapbook Series. Previously, Chrissy spent four years in New York City working in publishing, and two years teaching English in Nanjing, China. A recent graduate of San Diego State University‘s MFA Program in Creative Writing, she currently lives and works in Montreal, Quebec with her fiancé. Recent work is published in Cold Mountain Review, Portland Review, Web Del Sol Review of Books and San Diego Poetry Review, and forthcoming in The Basilica Review. (Photo: Diarmuid Mac Cormack) CONTRIBUTORS ∫ 136
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Kim Roberts is the editor of Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC (Plan B Press, 2010) and author of two books of poems, The Kimnama (Vrzhu, 2007) and The Wishbone Galaxy (WWPH, 1994). She edits the online journal Beltway Poetry Quarterly, now celebrating its tenth anniversary. Her website: http://www.kimroberts.org.
Jeff Streeby grew up in Sioux City, Iowa, where he attended Morningside College. He holds an MFA in Poetry from Gerald Stern's program at New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire. He is a horseman, cowboy poet and performer whose recent work has appeared in or has been accepted for Alehouse; Flashquake; Rattle; Simply Haiku, Naugatuck River Review, and others.
Hillary Stringer is working on a creative dissertation as a first year doctoral candidate in English Literature at the University of North Texas, where she is Special Projects Editor for the American Literary Review and Research Assistant to the Chair of Creative Writing. Her work is forthcoming in Synergies and the anthology Microchondria, complied by the Harvard Bookstore Press. (Photo: Brent Benedict)
Cinnamon Stuckey stems from a mixed cultural bloodline of Chiricahua Apache, Afro-Cuban, Irish and Czechoslovakian. She lives and writes in Sierra Vista, AZ. Currently working on her MBA in Management through Western International University, she is a graduate of New England College with an MFA in Creative Writing.
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Qiana Towns received a MFA from Bowling Green State University in 2008 and is a Cave Canem fellow. She holds a MA from Central Michigan University where she served as poetry editor for the online literary journal Temenos. She currently resided in Flint, Michigan and teaches at Central Michigan University.
Sam Truitt is the author of Vertical Elegies: Three Works (UDP), Vertical Elegies 5: The Section (Georgia), Anamorphosis Eisenhower (Lost Roads) and the forthcoming Vertical Elegies 6: Street Mete (Station Hill). For more information see samtruitt.org. (Photo: Kim Jaye)
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