David Reamer, mirror, budapest, hungary
The Porter Gulch Review 2002 and back issues are available online by accessing Cabrillo College’s
homepage, then going to the English Department, then clicking on PGR. Critiques of this year’s
submissions and book reviews by the editorial board are also available.
Welcome to the 17th edition of The Porter Gulch Review. This year’s PGR was
edited by the students of David Sullivan’s English 1B class at Cabrillo College.
The purpose of this annual project is to showcase novice and experienced
writers in the Santa Cruz County region and beyond. Over 360 written pieces
and 325 artistic works were submitted to the PGR this year. As is customary,
all submissions were judged anonymously to ensure an unbiased selection.
We would like to thank all those who contributed to The Porter Gulch Review
for helping to make this the most diverse PGR ever. And thank you to Cabrillo
College, whose generous funding makes The Porter Gulch Review possible.
Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries Prose Award:
Maryann Hotvedt’s The Corner Store
Charlotte Parkhurst Prose Award: Stephan Lestat’s Punk Chicken
Mary Lonnberg Smith Poetry Award: Julia Alter’s Poems
Graphic Arts Award, on behalf of George Ow Family Properties:
David Reamer’s Photography
Pajaro Valley Arts Council Visual Arts Award: Chantrelle Pryor’s Art
Submission Guidelines For PGR 2003
We invite submissions of short stories, poetry, excerpts from novels,
screenplays, plays, photography and artwork for the 2003 issue by Dec. 1st.
Please indicate on your cover letter if you are submitting to the special
themed section devoted to Hidden Agendas. All prose (two maximum per
writer, 5,000 words), and poetry (four maximum per writer), must be single-
sided, typed, single-spaced, in triplicate, in a 9x12 envelope with your name,
address, e-mail address and telephone number on the cover page only. Also
include the titles of submissions in the cover letter. Do not staple or use
paper clips on any pages. Please put your name and contact information on
the back of each piece of artwork. Original artwork can be retrieved at the
PGR public reading. All written entries must include a computer disk which
exactly duplicates the hard copies, but includes your name. Send to: Porter
Gulch Review, Cabrillo College, 6500 Soquel Drive, Aptos, CA 95003.
PGR 2002 Staff Members
Nick Bassano, Shebley Browne, Jeremy Burch, Edgar Calderon, Drew
Clowser, Clancy Cole, Ben Doblack, Danielle Escalera, Lucas Fornace, Maya
Giannini, Ben Gonzalez, Katie Holman, Jacqueline Kerkhove, Stephen Kok,
Sean Kiehn, Katya Lerner, Melanie Monser, Lisa Macdonald, Matt Neff, John
Sargent, Jason Shuffler, Jennifer Simanek, Shawn Simpson, Beth Truso, Cody
Townsend, Edie Vyeda, Heather White, Jake Whitelaw. With production
assistance from Imelda Jimenez, Kathleen Stallworth, and Kelly Woods.
Thank you to Tony Torres, Francine Van Meter, and David Warren for their
assistance with production. A special appreciation for Janet Thelen, who
assisted in editing, production, and marketing for the second year in a row.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Stuff You Can Do at a Boring Poetry.......Philip Wagner……….....6
Blackberry Jam………………………………Joan Safajek…………....8
Pokey Pine Dinner ………………..............Jefferson F. Hancock....9
Didn’t Plato say, “In my Paradise....…….David Thorn…………..10
Unison………………………………………….George H. Joyce……....11
Smoke Rings..………………………………….Susan Allison……….....12
Addiction: The Wicked Witch…….......……Olga Rosales…........…..14
Seasons…………………………………….….Eleanor Van Houten…17
Punk Chicken…………………………………Stephan Lestat………...20
david in the dust…………………………....Thomas Hickenbottom.28
Late Fall, Jade Pools and Silver Mushrooms..Thomas Hickenbottom....29
Excerpt From Thirst…….......….....………….Helene Simkin Jara…...34
Since You’ve Gone....................................Anna Lonnberg...........35
Annunciation for the third Millennium……Joan Zimmerman….......36
licking wounds…………………………….......Thomas Hickenbottom.37
Frozen Burritos………………………………….Martin Garcia…….…….38
Green like Unripe Mangos…………………….Barbara Leon…..……….39
Blue in the Face………………………………....Dane Cervine….……….41
Paseo en El Paso, 1945…………………………Elaine G. Schwartz….....43
the neighborhood……..……………………......Thomas Hickenbottom..44
Dying Wish of a Seventy-three Year Old……...Phyllis Mayfield.....……..46
Blind Beauty……………………………………....Theresa K. Donis………..49
in sync………………………………………….....Thomas Hickenbottom...51
Testament………………………………………….Carol A. Housner…..…...53
After Words……………………………………….Cathy Warner…...……....55
What We Cannot See……………………………Dane Cervine…..……….57
What Mothers Have Always Done………..……Susan Allison……..….....58
Feliz Navidad…………………………………….Joan Safajek…….…....…61
The Story of Lovers on an Orange Afternoon..Julia Alter………........….63
The Corner Store…………………………….......Maryann Hotvedt.....…..64
Landfill Children……………………………….Katrina Marvin-Travis..71
Like a Man…………………………………….......Lauren Locke-Paddon…73
My Mother Loved to Party……………………...Julia Alter………….........74
An 8x10 of My Father…………………………....Ian Kleinfeld…...….........75
The Cow……………………………………….....Joe Carlson…..…...........76
Eternal Lovers…………………..................Carlie Bobrowski…...78
The Second Greatest Equalizer………………...Daniel Purnell……….....80
Central Valley Madness…………………….......Julia Alter…......………..81
Exactamente las 10:00 p.m………………..Jesica Mora.…………....82
Itzhak’s Crutch, for Itzhak Perlman………..Ken Weisner….…….........83
Morning Rant #84……………………………...Julia Alter……..…….........86
Fucked Up……...………………………………Roxan McDonald….........94
Responsible Backpacking……………………..Ken Weisner.....…….........96
Fat Girl………………………………………….Roxan McDonald.............98
In a Wild Place, Alone………………………... Julia Alter………….........102
Eulogy to Mister Fish……………………….....Erica Lann-Clark….........104
A Change of Worlds..................................Ken Weisner...............106
Song at Sand Hill Bluff............................Marcy Alancraig........108
Incognito.......................................................Ryan G. Van Cleave....116
Disappointments of the Mask.....................Tilly Shaw.....................118
Mary Guilfoyle.............................................Debra Spencer.............120
On the Occassion of my Grandmother’s..........Kim Scheiblauer..............122
Dirty Little Drug Addicts.................................Roxan McDonald...........126
Ruby Ring..........................................................Carol See-Wood.............129
Little Lady and the Angels..............................T. C. Marshall.................131
Broken Clock………………………...………....Helen Beeson….............139
Clancy Cole, Front Cover, dolphin diving underwater
Sara Friedlander, Front Cover, shell insert, 33, 52, 54, 100, 127, 132, 140
Kelly Woods, Back Cover, trees, 13, 18, 56, 57, 79, 110, 115, 125
David Reamer 1, 10, 11, 20, 38, 48, 50, 75, 85
Jody Bare 2, 19, 62
Lisa Macdonald 5, 34, 96, 116
Iain Pirie 7, 71
Elizabeth Nissen 8, 9, 27, 28, 40, 51, 80, 117
Daniel Bliss 16
Katie Holman 26, 102, 139
Chantrelle Pryor 35, 42, 45, 49, 97
Janet Fine 36
Gaku 40, 91, 138
Diane Patracuola 46, 76, 88, 93, 107
Cricket Grice 59
Paige Anderson 60, 82
Bob Newick 69, 70
Jillian Soto 73 Alan Voegtlen 101, 130
Brian Voegtlen 77, 105 Donna Riggs 119
Bruce Telopa Bigelow 87 Dustin Thelen 121
Marc Gould 95, 128 Imelda Jimenez 123, 136, 139
Katherine Mitchell 103 Judy Anton 133
Stuff You Can Do at a Boring Poetry
Reading Philip Wagner
1. Write the names of the people you love
on the roof of your mouth
with your tongue.
2. Humm lyrics–
ones you’ll write in green ink
on your lover’s silk underwear.
3. Imagine...walking around the building
Sing out the names of everything you see
and chant the words, “I–love–you”
Take for example this “Wet and Fallen Pine Cone”
“All the spent and dented...
all the forgotten...
all empty beer cans...
everything in the gutter,
and “O parking meters
lonely with no time left for anyone
4. Listen carefully to the poet
Invent a little prayer for his easy death.
Recite the mantra : deDUM deDUM, heDUM heDUM
5. See what happens
when you add the words “chicken guts” at the end of each stanza.
6. Aurally rewrite a line in Pig Latin
Rallay-o-ray write-o-ray a-ray ine-lay in-ray ig-pay atin-lay
7. Move to the front row
Look into the poet’s eyes
Stare into his corneas
Go there, &
with your feet on one side and your two hands on the other
open his irises real wide
so the poet can see
what it is
he’s talking about.
Blackberry Jam Joan Safajek
First we wash the berries, round and ripened
by summer sun, then stir and cook them down
in a big copper pot, with sugar added,
until the boiling syrup thickens
dropped from a spoon, luscious deep purple
ladled into old fashioned jelly jars,
delicate orange and white flowers
painted on the gleaming gold lids.
We sit at the round oak kitchen table
sipping green tea and talk, as women do
about complexities of love
while we count the twelve cooling jars
seal themselves tight with a satisfying pop,
all day aware of how seldom
we give ourselves this gift
of more than enough
world and time.
Pokey Pine Dinner Jefferson Franklin Hancock
He hobbles and bobbles by
In comic fashion–
squat squat squat,
eatin’ pine cones,
never boeherin’ a soul,
makin’ his own peacable way,
grumblin’ an’ mumblin’
through a forest of meanness.
Then some coyote trickster comes by
and decides she’ll have a bit of fun
with poor ol’ Pokey Pine.
Coyote swipes. Coyote swats. Coyote bats–
a rollin’ and a tubblin’ the little fella
over and over and over again,
lookin’ fer a soft underbelly and a yummy meal,
laughin’ all the while at her meal’s misfortune–
Then Coyote gets a face full o’ quills.
And Pokey Pine waddles off into the sunset,
A mumblin’ an’ a grumblin’ all the way home.
Didn’t Plato say, “In my Paradise
poetry won’t be allowed. Nope, David Thorn
I’d ban it. Protect people
from poems, from prurience & prophecies,
from pretty or petty posturings. Make ‘em
illegal, like wear your seatbelt;
don’t bring berries or pears,
peas or petunias from some other state;
don’t sniff coke or smoke cannabis—
not even a Camel at break!
I’d say hey you’re safer, better off.
Poetry’s just cholesterol—
it’ll crowd your conk till you croak.
In my Perfect State, we
won’t have poems
that might clog or cramp us
or cause us to choke. And we’d never—
ever—teach ‘em to kids,
recall and recite
or force them to read & even to write.
Yup, I’d ban ‘em, make ‘em taboo,
& get rid of that snake
that goads us to whine, “What else is true?”
We’ll follow this simplest of rules:
(easy as ‘Wait Here to Pay Fine’)
a poem’s hocus pocus for fools.”
Unison George Joyce
I held hands with God
as she fell fast asleep.
Her form a beautiful
breathing in unison
with crashing waves outside
We lay entwined like disparate
branches wishing to be
of the same tree, and her hands
spoke these words to mine:
Be still and know
is in your grasp–
and the Kingdom of Heaven
Unison–A process in which all elements behave in the same way at the same time; simultaneous or
synchronous parallel action; in perfect accord, harmony, corresponding exactly; [from the Medieval
Latin root word meaning “of a single sound”].
David Reamer, untitled #19
Smoke Rings Susan Allison
that I want to smoke
but my mother did;
and on the day the doctor showed her
x-rays of cloudy lungs,
blood vessels exploded in her brain.
Nurses thought she’d die in an hour
my friend saw her in a dream
in the middle of a wooden bridge
looking back at sunrise on dandelions.
She tried to cross
for four days
while I slept on a cot in her room
listening to a gurgling rattle in her throat.
It sounded like she couldn’t breathe
No one closed her eyes or
covered her with a sheet
so I found her
face arched to the ceiling
with snarled matted hair
and blue film over chocolate eyes.
I ran crying
but heard my mother’s voice:
Don’t cry for me;
you’re the one who’ll
live another thirty years
without a mother or father
and you an only child, too;
but remember I live
in your turned up nose
and skin—soft like mine.
I covered my ears and pushed
through revolving doors
into August sun,
hiding under sun glasses and
past fields and beaches and
it’s not that I want to smoke
but she did
and I could maybe
find her or
like the time when I was six
and we pulled down shades till the room
and she puffed on her cigarette
till it glowed red and gold;
I clapped my hands and squealed
as she blew smoke rings, and I tried
to put a finger through one
before it disappeared;
but it’s hard to catch smoke
that fades so fast;
you just have to
The Wicked Witch
Staring through the eye
Massive angry hurricane
Twirling in the sky
Evil wicked witch
Flying past the window of my room
Mounted on her broom
Ugly, dirty witch
Surrounded, whistling a neurotic tune
Tattered, torn, and fading dress
Pointy, black, and dated hat
Evil Wicka mess
Green and slimy worms
Tangled in her hair
Breathing all that isn’t fair
Seeking souls that do not care
She looks so real
Rotten nails on wrinkled hands
She reaches out for me to feel
Hoping one more high
I’ll let her steal
I scream into the rain—
“These are not my eyes!
This is not my hurricane!”
Hearing only echos
of all I can not tame
Needing to crawl right outside my skin
Needing to fall right outside this massive rain
This spinning bin of sin
Hearing rampant trains of thought
Jumping off the yellow track
My journey lost without a map
Now I can’t turn back
Comatose state of amazement…
Looking out my window ~I begin to weave a web
Strengthening each thread
Watching how this Wicked Witch is fed
Watching all the beasts feed upon themselves
The flies that surround her greasy thighs
All along the angels of her human cells
The flies that glare at me with all demise
I notice the bees
Feeding on her skin
Gathered at her knees
Horror filling seas
I must retrace my track,
find that missing yellow road,
and forgive myself for what I lack,
dream up a magic marker and draw out another track,
I tap my heels
And close my eyes
And hope this hurricane away
I pray the Wicked Witch will die today
That I can live the sober way
Art Allston James
I wish every motherfucker
Who ever told me he’d
Always wanted to write a novel was
In this small room this two A.M.
Taking a look over my
Shoulder at a 50-chapter
Character who refuses to say
Anything other than
“I’m trying to remember ways to
Keep from killing myself.”
L.A. Allston James
She crossed her legs
In a move of calculation,
Hoping to gain a part in a movie.
She lay in silence
Next to her sleeping husband,
A realtor, and convinced herself
That the producer must have been a fag.
Seasons Eleanor Van Houten
Ed was a smoker, a two-pack-a-day man. A framed black and white
photograph, on the mantle in his living room, showed him at twenty-two
with a dark crew cut and that impish Irish grin. A pack of Camels was
rolled in the sleeve of his white T-shirt, James Dean style, and he looked
like the world was his for the taking. Forty years later, the hair was white
and he sported a trim white beard, but the grin was the same and the ciga-
rettes were still there, now ensconced in the pocket of his blue Oxford cloth
In a vain attempt to curb his habit, his wife had banished smoking
from the house, but nothing seemed to work for Ed. Butt ends of the ciga-
rettes that finally killed him were scattered on the road for thirty feet in
either direction of his front door. It was probably his habit that introduced
him to the neighborhood and to the strollers, joggers and dog walkers that
enjoy our tree-shaded dirt road. At least smoking put him in the right place.
His easy friendliness did the rest.
A double row of humped metal mailboxes marks the convergence
of the two streets in our neighborhood where roads are too rutted and full
of potholes to accommodate the mail truck. It is at the mailboxes that neigh-
bors meet to talk about the weather and exchange gossip. Ed’s house faces
that meeting place and we often stopped to visit with him in our comings
and goings and to listen to him tell jokes as if they had happened to him.
“One day I was waiting for a flight at O’Hare Airport in Chicago,”
he would say, “and I decided to have a drink in the bar. A man came in and
sat next to me. He pulled a tiny piano out of his briefcase and set it on the
bar and from his pocket he took out a mouse wearing a vest and a top hat.
`Bartender,’ said the man, `how about a drink on the house for every song
the mouse plays on the piano? ....”
After a while people caught on and knew a joke was coming, but
not always. Sometimes he pulled us in and then we would laugh, Ed more
than anyone else.
When summer brought warmer weather Ed roamed farther afield.
He walked to the Mom and Pop Grocery Store and stopped along the way
to visit with people working in their gardens. The purchase of a quart of
milk could lead to a half an hour of story telling with Jake, the proprietor.
He might stop in the real estate office to see Bud and find out what was
selling and who was buying. His walk usually took him to the bluff where
he stared out over the Pacific, maybe recalling his Navy days when as a
young ensign he stopped at ports of call along the Atlantic and the
Mediterranean. Once in Istanbul, after a few beers, he accepted a bet and
swam the Bosporus. Or so he said, I never did find out if he had to swim
back to catch his ship.
In the fall Ed was a
football fan. Professional football
he could take or leave alone, but
he watched every game that
Notre Dame played on
television. He loved the Fighting
Irish and could recite statistics
from all the great games of the
past, especially from his days at
South Bend. He was filled with
legends and lore of Knute
Rockne and the years of glory.
The winter before Ed
died, the weather was torrential.
Day after day rain sluiced down
the hillsides, undermining trees
and filling roadside ditches. The
river rose and spilled over its
banks, the worst flood in
memory. Strawberry fields
drowned in silt and water
coursed through low-lying
places, leaving a carpet of mud
in the houses of strawberry
It was a time to stay inside. Ed read the paper and watched the
deluge from the window, stepping outside under the eaves for a brief
cigarette. Then, wrapped in a blanket he slept. Sometimes all day.
When the rain let up for a few minutes, the neighbors gathered at
the mail boxes to hear the news and ask about Ed. Surely he would be
better when the weather cleared. Funny how much we missed him.
In February false spring came, as it often does here, and stayed for
a week or so. The new grass was so lush it almost hurt to look at it. Trees
were washed clean and shone in the pure light. We stood with upturned
faces and congratulated ourselves on our good fortune.
Ed’s sons came to celebrate his birthday. They sat on the deck in
their shirtsleeves, drinking beer and reminiscing about old times and old
places, laughing at their father’s old jokes. Ed went to bed happy that night
but was too tired to get up the next day.
Then one morning we awoke to fog that wrapped the trees and
houses in white gauze. When at last it lifted, the sky hung low and sullen.
Gray day followed gray day. In the mornings Ed stood on his front steps in
a plaid bathrobe smoking, sipping coffee and watching the road. When the
cup was empty he retreated into the house. The dull sky offered no promise,
and he felt none in his heart. When we walked up to get the mail he was
seldom outside to greet us. The neighbors did not ask about him so often
now, we were afraid to know.
In May, Ed went into the hospital and after a month came home to
a narrow hospital bed in his room. He waved to passersby from his open
door, and people stopped by to visit. He was pale and weak, but the grin
was still there and he still told stories. The neighborhood white cat poked
its head in the door every day but would not enter.
Ed died on a warm day in summer when the sky was the color of
Bachelor Buttons and wispy Mares’ Tails clouds streaked the upper reaches
of the air, portending change. Summer’s healing power was too late for
Ed; like the winter storms, sickness flooded his body and could not be
stopped. When at last he was released we could not be sorry, he had suffered
long enough. Quiet settled on the street like a blanket; what we were
expecting had finally come. But the sun no longer shone so brightly in our
neighborhood and we shivered despite the warmth. So it is that the seasons
bring us gifts and then takes them away.
Jody Bare, Raised Aloft
David Reamer, unstoppable
Punk Chicken Stephan Lestat
Ralph and Kip were the best panhan-
dlers on the avenue. Ralph was a chicken.
Now Ralph was not your ordinary chicken,
no sir, Ralph was a cannibalistic, fire eating,
alcoholic chicken–and a smart one to boot. Kip
was a Punk Rocker, one of the famous, or
should I say infamous, Berkeley Gutter Punks.
To construct a Berkeley Gutter Punk do the
Take one underachieving above aver-
age intelligent 18-year-old male from a middle
to upper middle class neighborhood in any
state USA and add the following:
1 bored, domineering alcoholic mother
1 overworked workaholic father (preferably middle-aged, overweight and
in the throws of a mid-life crisis)
1 fifteen year-old sister–honor student, cheerleader, Jr. high school spell-
ing bee champion and Girl Scout
1 twelve-year-old flatulent golden retriever with bad breath and glaucoma
1 twenty-three-year-old brother attending an East coast Ivy League school
Vigorously mix on holidays while occasionally ignoring young male.
Bring to boil and remove from environment.
Add to mixture:
1 chicken, preferably alive
Apply to male:
Generous layers of black leather w/ anti-racist graffiti
1 sprinkling self-inflicted tattoos
1 pair well-worn Dr. Martin high tops
Apply to mixture:
Copious amounts of metal adornments
Top off with crew cut. Place in liberal college town and allow to
cool for one to two years or until exhausted.
Early in the morning I would head over to the bench in front of the
Porta-Potties at People’s Park and take my seat next to Ralph and Kip.
“Morning Kip” I would say.
“What’s so fucking good about it? Did you win the fucking lottery
Schlep was Kip’s endearing term for those not of the Punk
persuasion. I myself was considered a Hippie, in other words, a schlep.
in the same manner as helium would be for the old chipmunk voice imita-
tion. At the time possession of nitrous oxide in California was legal, as
was the purchase of the balloons and the device for filling them up. They
just couldn’t be bought together, a minor problem solved by the local head
shop (which shall remain nameless). The nameless head shop (at 9237 Tele-
graph Avenue, Berkeley, Ca., open 9 to 5 Monday through Sunday) would
sell you the little CO2 cartridges of nitrous oxide on one side of the store,
and on the other side of the store, using a different business license, sell
you the balloons and the device for filling them up. Pretty clever, eh?
As memory serves (and my memory is a little damaged) you would
place the device on to the nitrous oxide CO2 container. Then you would
place the balloon over the device at which point you would then turn the
device clockwise. The seal of the cartridge would then break and fill up the
balloon with the nitrous oxide. Next you would carefully remove the bal-
loon pinching it tightly at the base, being careful not to spill any of the gas.
Then, most importantly, you would exhale until you turned a bright shade
of magenta, being very careful not to pass out. Finally, you would quickly
place the pinched neck of the balloon in your mouth, and feverishly in-
hale, being careful not to lose your grip on the balloon. And–Voila! You
have advanced yourself one step closer to the endangered species list.
While Kip and me were further increasing our personal depths of
awareness with hippie crack, Ralph would be casually pecking at the ground
in anticipation of his morning drink. As far as I know Ralph never dropped
acid or smoked any reefer and he sure as hell didn’t go in for the whole
whippet thing. He was pure alcoholic.
Ralph had that worn and weathered look of an experienced trav-
eler. His feathers were a tainted gravy brown hue and tipped off with a
dramatic flare of fiery yellow. I suppose in chicken circles this would be
considered the human equivalent of a good tan. To me Ralph just looked
adventurous. His eyes were the color of…well, actually sometimes they
kind of resembled dish soap bubbles, always changing in the light.
Oftentimes, however, he looked dangerous, gazing far off in to the future
through crisp slivers of black diamonds.
When it came time to go out on to the Avenue to acquire funds
Kip would pick up Ralph place him on his shoulder and trudge off to their
favorite spot. I would watch with apt fascination as they made their way
up the street. Kip’s shoulders would swing in synchronized rhythm to
metal chains pounding a pagan beat against his beautifully faded leather
jacket. Ralph perched on his left shoulder like some mythical dragon cen-
turion keeping a vigilant watch for imagined foe. Their favorite spot, by
the way, happened to be directly in front of the store that sold the nitrous
oxide and accompanying paraphernalia. Go figure.
There is an unspoken rule in the brotherhood of panhandlers, which
says in part to give ample distance to your fellow business competitors. So
I would usually head off to some other prosperous real estate to conduct
my transactions. Kip and Ralph had been my teachers.
“Always read the shoes,” Kip would tell me.
“See that schlep there? He’s got two hundred dollar Italian loafers
on. Take him down.”
“Excuse me sir,” I would nervously ask.
“Could you…ah…could you possibly spare any change?”
“No, No, No. What the fuck?” Kip would scold.
“Don’t ask’m for fucking change you schlep. Ask’m for a few pen-
nies man. When he hears pennies he’ll think, hey, what the fuck, a few
pennies can’t hurt right? So he’ll dig into his pocket and pull out all his
change, an see’n as how he’s probably in some fuck’n hurry to get to his
Schlep FUCK’N job he won’t bother to sort out the pennies and he’ll give
you all the FUCK’N change! Got it?”
I eventually got the hang of it and was allowed to venture out on
my own. Always read the shoes. Always read the shoes. Ask for pennies.
At some point in the day I would usually meet back up with the pair and
we would head off to one of the prime alley spots for the morning cocktail
hour (no pun intended) which usually consisted of a couple of forty ounce
bottles of Rainer Ale. Now, chickens are not known for their intelligence,
so the only explanation I can possibly come up with for what would take
place at these morning rituals is that Ralph was actually a reincarnated,
1930’s alcoholic blues musician, probably from Louisiana. It went down
like this: Kip would carefully remove the cap from the bottle and place it
on the ground in front of Ralph. Next he would pour beer from the bottle
into the cap. All the while Ralph would be watching intently, his little sand-
paper tongue licking at his beak while he stood drooling, and completely
transfixed. You could feel the anticipation in the air. Ralph would look at
Kip then down to the cap then back to Kip, as if he were awaiting permis-
sion to dive in. Next Kip would raise the bottle to his pierced lips, close his
eyes and take a good long pull. Ahhh… Still Ralph hasn’t moved, hasn’t
blinked a beady eye. Then Kip would raise the bottle again and tip it to-
ward Ralph in a sort of victory toast for their morning accomplishments.
He’d have that peculiar look of a proud parent that’s just taught his child
how to ride a bicycle for the first time. Suddenly Ralph’s little head would
rear back, then lunge forward lapping fiercely at his cap-full of beer. In
true wino fashion he’d never spill a drop.
After they had both had their first pull from the bottle Kip would
proudly kick back and light up a newly rolled cigarette. Perfect smoke rings
would waft into the air and he would begin to expound upon the prob-
lems of democracy, capitalism, and what ever else was wrong with the
world that his parents had “fucked up.” Now as the minutes would linger
on, Kip would be continuously pouring more beer in to Ralph’s little cup
as it became empty, and should he forget to do so, Ralph would become
violent and go into a clucking fit, pecking wildly at the bottle demanding
more beer. After all, he had worked hard for his share.
About half way into the first bottle Ralph would start to get a buzz
on. I doubt if you have ever had the opportunity to witness a chicken with
a beer buzz, but no words can do it justice. His beady little eyes would take
on this fiendish little glow and his trademark head bobbing would become
progressively more dramatic. Instead of only moving up and down it would
kind of weave a little from side to side, giving him this eerie human-like
quality. You would almost swear at any moment Ralph was going to launch
into some sad story about his poor old uncle Harlan out in Kansas, a ban-
tam rooster cut down in his prime by a rabid blue tick hound back in the
summer of forty-one. Instead he would suddenly get this weird look of
insanity and lunge at your cigarette, pecking the head right off! I imagine it
must have burned him a bit because he would start violently shaking his
head from side to side and do this “Funky Chicken” dance kind of thing.
Now it just so happened that the University of California Berke-
ley has its own police department. They also hold jurisdiction within a
seven-mile radius of the Berkeley campus. It also just so happens that the
best drinking spots fall within this jurisdiction. So it’s of no surprise that
our little cocktail parties were occasionally broken up by the university’s
finest. You could always hear them coming and they would usually ap-
proach an alley from both ends as to thwart any attempts at escape. Officer
Chow, a stout little policeman with a gentle attitude, had the unfortunate
karma to cover our area of Telegraph Avenue. I’ll never undersand why
police ask such stupid questions, like:
“Good morning gentlemen. What are we up to this morning?”
Ralph’s answer was usually a little cryptic.
“Cluck, Cluck.” This was Punk chicken lingo for fuck off.
Ralph hated cops. I, on the other hand, tended to take the more
polite approach when addressing the men in uniform. Usually in hopes of
avoiding any prolonged visits to the Berkeley house of correction, (not
that the food was all that bad, in fact it was kind of cool that they brought
it right to your room three times a day and all), it was the not being able to
come and go as you please that I objected to.
Now, living on the streets has its disadvantages as well as advan-
tages. For the sake of Earth First and all the mature trees out there I’ll forgo
a lengthy dissertation of all the disadvantages, and just relate one rare situ-
ation in particular that falls under the heading of both advantage and dis-
advantage. Over the course of a few months in any one particular town
most winos, thugs, prostitutes and generic derelicts, including hippies and,
yes, punk rockers with chickens, will acquire tickets for a number of var-
ied violations. Such as: drinking in public, trespassing, drunk in public,
pan handling, and my all time favorite for embarrassing court appearances,
urinating in public. These little tickets or citations come with court dates
and usually the court dates are never kept, leaving the holder of the lucky
ticket with a warrant for failure to appear. Over the course of a summer,
tickets would be collected then cashed in during the cold months for a
little R and R: Your tax dollars hard at work.
On one particular winter morning Kip, Ralph and myself were
casually discussing religion, politics and stock options over our morning
cocktails when up strolled Officer Chow and his new female partner. You
can always tell the new cops, they’re extremely hyper-vigilant and have
this curious first-year-rookie twitch. This particular rookie had the twitch
real bad, which made me a bit nervous seeing as how she was packing a
fully loaded 9mm Glock.
She glanced over at Ralph, raising an eyebrow while doing her
best to look cool.
“What are we…ah...three up to this morning?”
“Could I see some identification please.” Coming from Officer
Chow this was more of an order then a question.
“Cluck?” Ralph had no ID for obvious reasons.
What happened over the next few minutes was very quick and
well orchestrated by Officer Chow and his new partner. In the time it took
me to get my battered ID out of my smelly blue jeans, they had Kip in hand
cuffs and half way into the police car. This left me as the sole baby-sitter of
one spoiled, drunken, alcoholic chicken.
Apparently Kip had missed a few court dates–time for a little R and R.
“Watch your head son.”
Just before they shut the door Kip threw Ralph a soft reassuring
smile and nodded farewell. He then quickly dictated my formal chicken-
“Hey schlep, don’t eat my fuckin chicken. I’ll be out in a few days.”
Now taking care of a chicken is a big responsibility–especially a
celebrity chicken like Ralph. To start with he had to eat. And of course now
I had to share my beer with him. Which meant that I had to pan handle for
the two of us. But, let’s not forget, I had been taught well.
Read the shoes. Ask for pennies.
There is another little unspoken rule on the street and that is: If
your road dog /partner gets hauled off to jail, whatever money he has on
him usually goes to you. On this day I inherited a sack full of pennies, one
dollar and thirty-seven cents to be exact, not to mention the rest of Kip’s
beer. Sorry, Kip and Ralph’s beer.
Most people judge success in a variety of different ways, some by
the car they drive, some by the home in which they live and still others
(God forbid) by the level of spiritual enlightenment they have achieved.
But not me! Not now, baby. In my mind I had arrived. I had what every
self-respecting wino would want. I had a pet chicken, a fire-eating, alco-
holic chicken to boot. Yet, aside from him being a famous chicken and I
being a not so famous Hippie, we were like two peas in a pod, a real team.
Off we trudged onto Telegraph Avenue, the lost world of Tie Dye and
patchouli oil. The first thing I learned about Ralph was that he liked to
ride on the shoulder closest to the street. The next thing I learned was pain-
ful. Chickens have claws. Claws were designed to dig in. Flesh, as in my
shoulder, was not designed to accommodate claws, especially chicken claws.
So after about an hour I started to see why not everybody had a pet chicken.
It also became clear why Joe always wore a leather jacket even in ninety-
degree weather. I decided to let Ralph walk for a while.
After careful consideration and a small business conference with
my partner, we settled down to our new piece of real estate to conduct the
rest of the day’s transactions. First order of business was food. In the past I
had tried pan handling with a dog, and most of the time wound up with
more dog food than hamburgers. I was not particularly fond of Puppy
Chow, although in a pinch you have to take what you can get. Anyhow, I
had no idea what a chicken would eat, but I was willing to try anything.
Now, the place we had picked to conduct our business was right
in front of a restaurant that catered to the more health conscious yuppies of
Berkeley, and salad was the mainstay. I proceeded to ask for pennies and
“maybe a little change to feed my poor starving chicken”. Ralph did his
best to look pathetically anemic and was well rehearsed at the art. Not
much time passed and we began to get results. Placed at my feet was a
large salad. I popped the lid and stared down in amusement of the irony…
A chicken Caesar salad.
I looked over at Ralph half expecting to see him in shock. But no,
instead he had this strange look. His eyes had become lifeless and blacker
then usual, sort of evil like a shark. A thin sliver of drool was dangling
from his beak and I felt a cold chill as he slowly tilted his head up at me
and almost commanded me to feed him. Had Jeffrey Dahmer come back as
a chicken? I took my cue and slowly slid the container over to him, being
careful to keep my fingers well out of reach. Oh my God, he’s sniffing it!
He cocked one eye in my direction making sure I didn’t try to hoard in. I
felt as though I had been thrust in to the middle of a miniature version of
Jurassic Park. I watched in horror as he passed up all the fresh lettuce,
peppers, and feta cheese going instead directly for the meaty hunks of his
brethren! I decided to munch on a stale roll and we ate in silence. We didn’t
speak much the rest of the day. I felt a little awkward.
As twilight fell it became necessary to look for a place to bed down
for the evening. After another short conference we decided that the bushes
at the end of Durant Street would suit us best. In the past I had camped in
the same area as Kip and Ralph, so I was well advised on the bedtime
rituals for Ralph. They were in fact not that much different from a small
child, a rather spoiled small child, I might add. First, there was the cap of
beer before bed. Next, there was the careful grooming and praises for a
day’s job well done. (I’m talking spoiled with a capital S.) No bedtime story
reading was necessary, thank God. However, in order for Ralph to sleep he
had to be placed into a paper bag, on this point he was rather fussy. It had
to be a bag from one of the more upscale supermarkets like Andronico’s
but most importantly it needed to have the correct amount of breathing
holes, twelve. Ralph had also been trained as a watch dog, sorry, watch-
chicken, and should some one venture into camp Ralph would usually
sound off a distinct barrage of nervous clucks.
Aside from Ralph’s occasional snoring, I slept rather well that night
assured that I was being guarded by the world’s best watch-chicken.
Frankly, I was quite relieved that Ralph was on my side. I surely didn’t
want to have a cannibalistic chicken for an enemy. Who would?
In the morning I awoke rather sharply with a peculiar feeling of
dread. I sat up and felt a sudden numbness all through my body. The bag
was gone! Ralph was gone! Had he been chicken napped? I couldn’t recall
hearing a single cluck. I looked franticly for a ransom note, nothing. What
could I do? I panicked. I couldn’t go to the police and file a missing chicken
report, it hadn’t even been twenty-four hours yet. As in most cases of panic,
I decided to think it over and clear my head with a few beers. I packed up
my sleeping bag and headed for the liquor store. Fear gripped me at every
step. How could I have let this happen? Kip would never forgive me. I had
failed as a parent. Suddenly, as I rounded the corner of Telegraph and
Channing Street I saw Ralph! Relief swept over me. Gathered around him
was a sea of black leather, gleaming chains and fresh crew cuts. It seems
word had gotten out to the rest of the Berkeley Gutter Punks that their
leader Kip had been hauled off to jail and that Ralph needed to be rescued
from the gutter hippie. Apparently, they had come and taken Ralph in the
middle of the night, feeling it best that Ralph should be with his own kind
for the duration of Kip’s incarceration. Just as well, I was not well suited to
be a chicken sitter. Besides the whole cannibal chicken thing had left a bad
taste in my mouth, so to speak.
During the course of the next few months I would see Ralph on
occasion with his Punk family and we would greet each other in passing
with a respectful nod. On one particular day I could swear he actually
winked at me.
It was spring before Kip was finally released from the county jail.
And for some reason he was never quite the same old Kip. Years later I
heard that Ralph and Kip had moved up to Seattle and that Ralph had
been killed by a pit bull and that Kip had in turn killed the pit bull out of
grief and anger.
Even though chickens are female in gender, to me Ralph was al-
ways one of the guys. I don’t know what became of Kip or if he ever ac-
quired another chicken, but one thing is for certain, you could never re-
david in the dust Thomas Hickenbottom
full moon blaring
sticky summer sheets
crickets chirping me awake
i flashback to 1968 during the tet offensive when you and i
where huddled in that damp dank bunker in the central highlands
toking a pipeful of cahnsai
while the other medics
were unloading the scores of gunshot wounds from the hueys
and and the half empty body bags
we hid in the bunker sick to our stomachs and smoked and and
swore we’d live through it somehow
and the rockets and mortars tore at the hillside like meat-stalking
and sand dripped down on us with every incoming blast and and
the bunker shook
fuck it you said
fuck all this shit
as you took one big drag and ran out into the shrapnel storm
then the flash
the ear-shattering, eye-squinting explosion of fire and dust
i called out to you
but you were dust and then the silence and and the full moon
and the crickets
come back to me come out of the dust and tell me once again
how we’ll make it out somehow and and tell me about the
mountains and lakes and snow fields and vast prairie of your native
i listen for you in the night winds
and search for you in the clouds
but tonight there is just the crickets
the damn loud crickets
that god-awful bright moon
Late Fall, Jade Pools and Silver
Mushrooms (For Tristan) Thomas Hickenbottom
The warm November sun slid from behind bulbous clouds and
shined bright in the rear view mirror of the old Ford pickup as they drove
up High Street, past the University of California at Santa Cruz.
They parked in the dirt turn out next to the metal gate, climbed
through a hole in the barbed wire and strolled hand in hand across the
field of drooping straw.
“Look dad, a whole bunch of brown and orange caterpillars.” The
young boy bent down and watched as two of the furry creatures climbed
over a brown leaf.
The dad sighed, rubbed his brow and stared at the horizon past
the dry field, “C’mon son,” he stumbled forward, “we gotta keep movin.”
“But dad they’re really cool looking. Wonder what they’ll turn into.”
The boy took his father’s hand and squeezed it as they continued
to cross the field. “Do you think they’ll be butterflies, dad?”
“I dunno...maybe moths, white moths.”
The dad yawned, squinted, and thought about the session with
the therapist earlier in the day. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, the
psychologist called it. Hell, he’d been away from Nam for twenty-five years
and was doing damn good he thought. Until she came down with breast
cancer. He dealt with it pretty good at first, until the masectomy. He was
the first one to see her after the surgery, when she was just coming out of
the recovery room. She was all hooked up to a web of plastic tubes and
sensors. All spaced-out and groggy. He took her hand, rubbed it and
whispered to her that everything was going to be okay, but in his stomach
something was churning.
“Hey dad, look...cows.”
Directly in their path, about forty yards away, a small herd of cows
grazed on the dry field hay. They all turned their heads, chewed and
watched the two intruders slowly approach.
“Will they hurt us dad?”
“Nah... just walk slowly and keep quiet.”
“But dad, there’s a bull over there.”
“That’s just a young one. He ain’t nothin’ to be afraid of.”
The cows spread from the dusty path as the two sauntered past
towards the fir and bay forest.
“That was scary, dad.”
The dad thought about when his wife, former wife, was in the
hospital. She had to go in several days each month when the chemo drugs
lowered her resistance to infections and viruses. Now that she was bald
and hooked up to the IV’s again, a constant knot tightened in his gut and
his mind drifted constantly.
“Dad, are we going to Candyland or Superland today?”
“Huh...oh yeah, I guess Candyland.”
There was a special spot along the little creek where a huge redwood
had fallen, creating a dam and waterfall. The boy called it Candyland and
knew that fairies bathed there. He could always spot burned out stumps
where the fairies lived, but knew that the fairies turned into bushes and
trees whenever humans entered the forest.
The trail down to the creek was steep and winding. The boy held tight to
his dad’s jeans as they descended, slipping from time to time on yellow
and brown bay leaves and fir needles.
“Dad, do think fairies are afraid of us?”
The father ignored the boy’s question, his thoughts flashing back
twenty-five years to another time and reality....
...“pick up that litter and get going”...blood-stained white sheets...diesel
smell...generators whirring...overhead chopper blades cutting through dark night
sky...“Incoming!”....stench of dank bunkers...artillery going off in the distance...
“Dad, did you hear me dad?”
“The fairies...do you think the fairies are afraid of us. You and me,
“You know dad, the Candyland fairies.”
“But we wouldn’t hurt them, would we dad?”
“ No... no we wouldn’t.” Dad wiped his brow and took a few deep
breaths. In, out, in, out, just like the therapists told him to do.
“Then why don’t they come out, dad”
“I, uh dunno...maybe they sleep in daytime or something...”
“Hey dad, look, crickets.” The boy knelt slowly, then thumped
down with hands over the captured insects, “can I keep them?”
“I dunno, yeah, I guess.”
“We’ll feed them to the fish, dad, here.”
Dad pulled a white envelope from his wool jacket. He stared at the
return address, Veterans Administration, Oakland, California.
“Put them in here.”
The boy slid the crickets carefully into the slit opening of the
envelope. “Don’t hurt them, dad.”
Dad folded the envelope in half, “you carry them, son.”
“Thanks dad, I’ll be real careful with them.”
They found the usual break in the barbed wire fence where the
trail bent into the redwood forest. “I can smell the bay trees, dad.”
Dad couldn’t smell anything and held the little hand firmly in his
own. They made their way down the steep, muddy path, through the
towering forest. It wound around a few downed oaks, past some charred
redwood stumps from when the area was first logged back around the
turn of the century. A shallow creek flowed over moss-covered, granite
stones at the bottom of the trail. The veteran paused a moment to catch his
breath, a slight pain in his chest. He stared at a moss covered, split log
which hung precariously over the stream, held up by a small, bent over
oak. Probably come down in the next storm, he thought.
“C’mon dad.” The boy had run ahead, along the creek. “we’re in
Dad looked ahead and watched his son climb atop a huge, downed
redwood, which spanned the creek. Sticks and brush nested against the
tree, at water level, backing up the flow, creating a natural dam. Bubbles
swirled near the bramble, then disappeared underneath, as the current
surged under the snag. The boy lay down on the log, staring into a pool
opposite the snag. Dad sat next to him, staring at the surface of the water.
The sky reflected atop the deep-green colored pool as did limbs from the
“Cool, huh, dad. I can see the blue sky and clouds.” Everything
dad saw had a gray cast to it. “And I’ll bet there’s some fish too.”
They sat quietly as yellow and brown leaves spiraled into the pool.
The boy knew that fairies sometimes used the leaves as little boats to flow
down the stream in. “Look dad, a feather.” He reached down and pulled a
small gray and white feather from the side of the log. “Is it an owl, dad?”
“Hawk, young hawk.”
“Here dad, you hold it,” the boy unwrapped the envelope slowly,
carefully pulled out a cricket and tossed it into the pool. It’s legs shuttered
about, creating tiny undulating circles that radiated out onto the edges of
the bank. A small trout leaped from the shadows below and snapped the
insect in it’s throat, then dove quickly back into the depths beneath a
submerged log. “Cool, dad, did you see that?”
“Yeah. I saw it.” Dad watched the leaves tumble and thought back
to how they used to flutter down in the hot jungle back in Nam during
rocket and mortar attacks, when he used to cringe down low, and hope to
god one wouldn’t land on him.
“Let’s throw another one in, dad.”
“Listen, why don’t we just let the other go, son.”
The boy looked up and saw the glazed eyes of his dad, seemingly
on the edge of tears. “What’s wrong dad?” Dad just stared at the reflection
of the clouds on the pool. “Okay, dad. I’ll let him go.”
The boy stood up and ran off the log into the fern-laden forest. The
veteran rubbed his eyes and slid the hawk feather into the front pocket of
his coat, just above his heart. He stretched and began the walk back along
the creek to the winding trail which led to the field above.
“Hey dad, over here.” The boy yelled and waved his hands. He
was kneeling down next to a hollowed-out stump. Dad stopped where the
boy was and caught his breath again. “Dad, I saw a fairy. I set the cricket
down here and it hopped into that fairy castle.” The veteran watched as
the boy pointed to a large, grayish mushroom, coated with slime. It seemed
to shine inside the log, as if the sun were beaming on it. “Then a fairy got
on its back and they disappeared. Can fairies become invisible, dad?”
His dad smiled and took a long breath, “yeah, I guess they can.”
“Wow, that is so cool, dad.”
They climbed the muddy trail, hand in hand, to the break in the
forest where the oaks and firs gave way to the browning straw field.
“Hey dad, the cows are gone. Where’d they go, dad?”
The veteran smiled a deep smile at the boy, “I dunno, son, I guess
they just disappeared.”
“Wow,” in his mind, on the way back across the field, the boy
wondered if maybe the fairies had somehow made the cows become
They drove out of forest, down High Street, past the university
into the west side of Santa Cruz where the boys mom’s house was. Dad got
the boy got out of the pickup and walked up to front steps of the house.
“That was really great, dad.”
“See you next week, son.”
“Sure, dad. I can’t wait to tell mom about the fairies.”
They hugged. The boy ran up the steps, opened the door and went
The veteran fired up the Ford and pulled the hawk feather out,
twirling it slowly in his hand. The bright sun from the windshield
illuminated the soft, delicate down when his breath blew through it. As it
spun in his hand he saw a rainbow of colors flash from it. The interior of
the truck seemed like a prism and for a brief moment he felt himself floating
as if in a bubble surrounded by colored light.
His mind felt somehow more at ease for just a few brief seconds.
He felt the anquish and pain slowly leaving his consciousness. He laughed
aloud for the first time in a long while. He stuck the feather in the visor,
pulled the tranny down into first and lurched down the street, toward the
clinic as the waning sun turned the horizon orange and black, thinking
about fairies floating down stream on tiny yellow boats.
Excerpt From Thirst Helene Simkin Jara
They were taking a car trip across the desert with their mother in a car with
no air conditioning. When they got in the car, everything was fine and
then they got thirsty. “Mom, we’re thirsty,” said the 6 year old. “I can’t
stop anywhere. We’re in the middle of the desert,” said the sweating mother,
as if that would mean something to the children. “Mom, we’re thirsty,”
whined the 6-year-old once again. Looking in the rear view mirror at her
darling children with bright red faces, her voice rising as she said, “Why
didn’t you tell me that before we got in the car?” The six year old looked at
the eight year old, who said, “We weren’t thirsty then, Mom”. Glaring at
them through the rear view mirror, she yelled, “Well, DRINK YOUR SPIT
THEN!” They spent the rest of the trip trying to figure out just how to do
Since You’ve Gone Anna Lonnberg
methodically pick the
bottom shirt off
not trying to impress
not seducing you
with that gold-beige shirt
you used to love.
drink too much
at night and in the morning
laugh it off
about what I did
lose weight one day
eat eclairs the next
I fantasize about love
with other women
with other men
and wake up
from my daydream
the stars begin to fade
feel inspired until
I fall asleep.
Since you’ve gone
my life has been
on its knees
tongues of life
licking the world
breathing soft breaths
Annunciation for the third Millennium
she falls back
she falls back slowly
on to soft pillows
against satin pillows
the light turns golden
blossoms like sunset
fills with roses
she watches his hands
she loves their hardness
he bends toward her
leans over her
she lifts her hands
caresses his shoulders
strokes his torso
grazes his shoulder blades
that protect his wing buds
house his hidden wings
encase his wings
now they begin
they begin to open
licking wounds Thomas Hickenbottom
coyotes yipped last night
outside our cabin
we’re alone in bed for the first time since
two weeks ago when the cancer surgeon
sliced off your left breast
hiding away in big sur
just the still forest
and your muffled breathing
you dreamed you were a mountain lion
making love to me
in a bed
with people standing around watching us
writhe and tumble
this morning you awoke growling
pawing at my shell
i was dreaming about pebbles
tumbling below the frothy surface
of a shallow crackling creek
i awoke with your head in my loins
lips and tongue scouring my furry pouch
i moaned and panted
as my body came to life
you growled and snarled as you mounted me
i pulled you down
licking the foot long scar
where your breast used to hang
sucked your other nipple
as you exploded on me
howling and screaming
into the dawn
Frozen Burritos Martin Garcia
My people cross
my other people’s border,
creating the dust
my burning pupils.
Am I to be
two peoples at once?
Or a third altogether?
And supply a thorned apple
for every smooth cactus I own.
Am I to be
or America’s stepchild?
David Reamer, the morning express
Green Like Unripe Mangos Barbara Leon
With thanks to Ellen Bruno, whose documentary film, “Sacrifice,” tells the story
of Burmese child prostitutes dying of AIDS in the Thai sex industry.
They say: daughters provide for this life
sons for the life beyond
from besieged hillsides they speak
of land stolen, crops burned
of sacrifice and filial duty
soldiers besiege the hillsides
leave nothing we can use
nothing but dutiful daughters
green like unripe mangos
nothing but empty hands and mouths
and traders seek out our young
pluck them like undeveloped fruit
firm flesh, taut skin
traders demand a girl immature
green in city ways
skin taut, flesh firm
unwitting in the ways of men
green in the ways of Bangkok
where greed claims the girl child’s life
green whets the appetites of a thousand men
fresh shoots fetch a better price
greed claims the lives of girl children
scythed like growing grass
harvested new the price is good
consumed before their season
grieve for grass that ceased to grow
mourn the fields left pillaged
one short season, then consumed
they come home to the village to die
lie dying in fields, strange discarded crop
our village bereft of daughters
mountains stripped of sweetest fruit
They say: sons provide for the life beyond
daughters provide for this life
Blue In The Face Dane Cervine
You conceive a few molecules,
the beginning of something slender and compressed
as sperm penetrating a wall, but it is more than this,
you have already been born, it is the second one, riskier
than the first, more fundamental, the beginning of the you inside,
nurtured along as a pale flame in the cold that everything else will
it grows, consuming fiber, teeth, neurons, till the whole body,
the forests of hair, the oceans of blood
are bulging with the possibility of birthing yourself anew,
but you never do
then you read the newspaper, knowing what it is to die
before you emerge, and the story is not about you but of course
she had hidden herself for nine months
beneath black sweaters, trusting the light to reflect a different truth,
even the boy she danced with in the dark knew nothing, was not the
barely beyond his own mother’s womb, not enough to notice
his young date’s mound, maybe she was just gaining weight, but man
she looked good anyway, promised her everything, anything for just one
that was why
when the flood began to flow through the breach in her legs
down into her spiked shoe, she ran towards the alley alone with her
and spilled it out, did not wait for a cry, wrapped the phosphorescent
in one story after another of yesterday’s newsprint, burying her new life
deep in the bottom of the trash bin before her date would notice
because he was the only hope—
it is difficult to explain
how we run from ourselves, there are many reasons not to become
what it is we want—but the oceans of blood are rushing, the forests of
hair are afire,
every neuron gnashing because it is more than teeth, more than skin,
more than hope for a better life,
it is this—
you wake blue wrapped in other people’s stories, it is
only this scream, this first in then out of air, then you have it, then you
then you begin.
Paseo en El Paso, 1945 Elaine G. Schwartz
Pushing the dark blue baby carriage
Miriam strolls through the Plaza Central.
Dark, olive toned hands firmly grasp
the warm metal handle.
Black hair gently caresses
the red peonies embroidered
upon the collar of her beige linen suit.
Engorged breasts strain the buttons
of her jacket.
The hot Texas spring challenges this midwestern bride.
Her feet, in fashionable pre-war pumps,
begin to swell.
She finds relief on the Spanish tile bench
encircling the alligator pool.
Miriam adjusts her baby’s lace bonnet.
Brown eyes focused on her daughter’s blue ones,
she doesn’t notice the approach of the woman.
What a happy baby! So clean and fresh!
You take her for a stroll every afternoon?
You are a fine nanny.
I have two little ones at home.
I could use your services.
I’ll pay you well.
raises her head, momentarily
shifts her gaze to the woman.
I’m happy with my current employer.
the neighborhood Thomas Hickenbottom
they’d drag the nets out of the rickety shack on sunday
and line’em up all the way down the street
from laguna to lighthouse
the stench of rotten fish blew towards our place
with the on-shore fog bank
laughed and gestured as they sucked their stogies
and sipped their dago red
while they stooped and clawed through the vast web
with stout cracked fingers
every inch of the net was scoured
a rip here
a tangle there
fish parts wedged between strands
dried seal blood darkened ropes
I’d sometimes ride the old schwinn
down the middle of the street
across the nets
they would yell
“stronzi che cazzo statte fachendo”
at me as I sped around the corner with my heart racing
on widow Theresa’s porch
young women in aprons watched their men tend the nets
and gossipped as infants suckled nipples
milk dribbled onto stained white blouses
in the kitchen
under the plastic crucifix glazed with grease
pots of pasta water boiled
on a two-burner gas stove
as white-haired matriarchs chopped garlic and basilico
and folded dough
for the afternoon feast
music blared from the victrola
songs of family and love
sung by Mario Lanza
sent to the group from the relatives back in the old country
the older men
too tired or broken down
from a long life of hard work on the sea
sat in the cool cellar
next to the kegs of homemade wine and drank and told stories
of the days when the sardines swarmed the bay
and how their monterey hulled boats
would fill to the gunwalls with piles of fish
and how they’d go to meet the young girls at the dances
on saturday nights at the Sons of Italy Hall
with pockets full of money and vie for the prettiest one
as an accordian and mandolin wailed into the wee hours
back then in 1960
it all seemed so simple
the sardines are gone
the old fisherman dead
the babies grown and moved to the suburbs
working high-tech jobs
but I’m still here
35 years on the same street
and sometimes when I walk down the sidewalk toward the bay
where once dirt paths lined the route
with my newborn son in my arms
I close my eyes and still smell the garlic
wafting from the screen doors
hear their ghosts laughing and chiding me
and realize that I’m still tangled
in the great net
Dying Wish of a Seventy-three Year
Old For Her Far Distant Future
When I die
I want to have a black thumbnail
from when the hammer missed
And a web of scratches
from pruning the roses that day
Lost Susan Allison
She wheeled her grey, electric cart onto the narrow sidewalk and
stopped. I looked up from a frantic search for my bike helmet, buried
somewhere in the cesspool of my car, to see her looking right at me. All I
wanted was to find my gear quickly, get on my bike and ride away. But
something about her made me pause. Her white hair fell over her forehead,
and she pushed it aside with a small freckled hand. She was about five feet
tall and very thin, wearing heavy beige slacks and a green cardigan sweater,
winter clothes for a balmy spring afternoon. Her voice shook as she softly
“Excuse me, but is the cat hospital on this street?” I backed out of
my car and turned to fully face her. Up close, she seemed even smaller,
more frail, and older than I first thought; she looked at least ninety, with
heavily lined face, and eyes that seemed to be blue, squinting in the bright
“You’re a street too far; you want to turn around and go back to
California Street, then turn left on Walnut, and finally turn right on Mission
at the Chevron Station.” I thought my directions were clear, but I must
have spoken too fast, or she was just too nervous to understand, for
suddenly she began to cry, not loud sobs, but quiet, stifled tears. It was
then that I noticed the wicker basket behind her seat begin to move up and
down, as if something pressed on its lid. Of course. Her cat sat in the basket,
probably old and sick and in need of a Vet.
I imagined a large, fluffy gray cat named Jasper, with long whiskers
and green eyes, her only companion. I could see the woman living alone in
a tiny wooden house, overgrown by climbing roses and wisteria,
surrounded by unruly gardens she and her husband once tended. Without
his help, the vines and bushes grew up around her, shutting out the world.
He had died many years ago, and now she sipped Earl Grey tea from a
chipped china cup and huddled by the floor furnace with Jasper. Her
seventeen year old cat slept most of the day curled on a green braided rug,
and she fed him fresh cooked chicken livers. Now her dear cat-friend lay
deathly ill, and his mistress sat crying next to my car.
Without hesitating I told her, “I’d be glad to have you follow me to
the Vet’s office, just up one block on Mission Street, or I can take you if
But she just kept shaking her head, No, and crying more intensely,
yet still softly, head lowered to her chest, finally whispering, “ No, no, I’ll
be just fine in a minute.”
A middle aged man, with balding head and kind dark eyes, walked
out of the nearest house and approached us. He asked if he could do
anything to help, but she just kept shaking her head, and sniffling. I of-
fered once again to take her to the animal hospital, but still moving her
head from side to side, she turned her cart around and puttered out of
sight. We watched in silence, then caught each other’s eyes in a look that
seemed to say, “Poor woman. I hope she’s okay.” It was a glance that held
our own fears of growing old alone, of becoming ill and confused, of some-
day ending up lost and frightened, crying on a stranger’s sidewalk.
David Reamer, quatro regatse, rome
Blind Beauty Theresa K. Donis
I passed a van today
on the freeway.
At a glimpse, I smiled at an old woman in the backseat
savoring the pure December day
through her thick “granny sunglasses.”
It was sunny enough to be August.
She smiled back at me
as I read the decal:
“Doran School for the Blind”
Sleep Don Lobner
In our bed
waiting for sleep
to take us away
Following the scent
of past nights
up the curve of your back
I chew your aroma,
pulling the breath from me.
Sliding my hand
across your belly
the pain of your presence
gnaws my fingers.
David Reamer, untitled #37
in sync Thomas Hickenbottom
my four year old son screams from nightmare visions
I awaken on the couch at 3:33 am
stumble to his bed
embers fade in the woodstove
the refrigerator hums to life
in the garden worms poke through rain drenched soil
brown tomato vines glazed with dew
droppings settle in the bird bath
bare walnut limbs slap gently
under the wharf seals chant into the night
fog buoy bobs on the bay
winches on crab boats crank heavy drag net atop slick deck
a drunk runs a red light in L.A.
a new born child plops onto a cardboard bed in a Tijuana alley
steam rises from a crater on Kilauea
high above the pacific two businessmen work out the fine
details of the deal on the redeye to the orient
the super computer at the SSI building in New York collects data on
living and dead humans nearing the speed of light
in Kyoto a monk pondering bamboo becomes one with it
in Sarajevo workers dig through rubble collecting bodies
in New Delhi a mutilated beggar’s cup rolls into the gutter
in Lillehammer the gold medal for the downhill is decided
by 8 100ths of a second
another worker loses a finger on a canning machine in Siberia
I set a few more split oak pieces in the stove
wrap up in the thin blanket once again on the couch
fondle my groin
hear my eight month pregnant wife toss in the bedroom
and realize that everything is in
September 11, 2001
Testament Carol A. Housner
if he was there it was because
the blood of the dispossessed roared through his veins,
mingled with the dark blaze of religious certainty
and burned a river of grief and retribution
into the waiting cage of his heart
until the words of the leaders and those of his ancestors
echoed up from the constant war of his past
and merged into one voice enunciating
a ruthless doctrine in his ear
if she was there it was because
she was raised to believe that the world could be trusted,
that relative safety was a gift pressed into her palms
when she was born, that if she stepped onto a plane
she would arrive where she expected to go
and when that world changed into one of knives
and religious fervor and the role of human sacrifice
placed in her disbelieving hands
she could only watch
as they hurled through the blue air
toward a final altar of glinting steel
if they were there it was because
it was Tuesday morning and the scent of early autumn
tinged the air as they balanced the paper coffee cups
against the swirling sea of people on city streets,
their minds on work or appointments or breakfast
and if they looked up
to the roar of engines fueling the morning sky
they did not expect to see
a deafening embrace of metal and gas,
an unholy bloom of orange and charcoal
that billowed into the sun
and darkened the world,
sealed the day forever.
Sara Friedlander, view x 4 from ground zero
After Words Cathy Warner
A response to September 11, 2001
It was a time of uncertainty, doubt and fear
a time of mourning, weeping and crying out
a cacophony demanding
Revenge, Justice, an End to the Madness
A time when we perched at the brink
looked into blackness
and rock crumbled underneath our feet.
A time when we held our collective breath
and braced ourselves for the hand
that would push
us into the abyss.
We clamped our eyes shut
images of destruction replaying
in the darkness behind our eyelids.
Then we felt it.
We were not standing alone.
Shoulders pressed against ours.
Fingers found their way
into our clenched fists.
We offered our hands, opened our eyes
stepped back from the precipice
into a sea of tear-streaked faces.
Voices swelled like waves
our grief, our lament, washing us clean.
Stripping us bare.
And we knew that to heal
we needed a new vocabulary
with the power to break divisions we’d invented
to keep us “us” and others “them”.
Words to topple fences
that kept neighbors apart.
Words to weave humanity together
across the span of continents.
Words to reveal what it means to be human
in all our brokenness and beauty.
At the edge of the pit
we held the hands of strangers
we called them brother and sister.
We sang of hope, of love, of a presence bigger
than our constructions and our understanding.
We spoke of the power that embraces us all.
We became the river of life
carving a new path to a place
we’d been longing to discover all of our lives.
What We Cannot See Dane Cervine
A red Coca-Cola can lays empty in the sand—
splintered hole from an Afghan carbine tumbling
the aluminum sacrament from its perch on the baked rock.
Target practice, ambivalent icon—longed for, forbidden.
Parched lips are teased by visions of black liquid,
effervescent, electric—western devils mixing with virgins
in some promised land, but which one? The afterlife
bears strong resemblance to television, desire
beckoning, sated, spawning. Everything with a hole in it:
flags, buildings, yearning.
A world away, I sip chai, wonder what I would give
my life for, am I giving it away now, to what end.
There is a squandered heaven, here, on earth.
I live among the few with enough to hoard.
Which is why hands beat at every door,
I am afraid to look in the mirror, assuming halos,
fearing horns. What we cannot see haunts us.
There is a world outside every bolted door,
waiting to open.
What Mothers Have Always Done
(Images of September 11 and Beyond) Susan Allison
I’ve been hiding for two weeks
in loud music
and cinnamon rolls
in a briefcase full of papers; now
no longer able to escape
images of men
on their backs
down eighty flights; and
priests and fireman
crawling through smoke and darkness.
Other visions haunt me of
mothers quieting children
on hijacked planes
holding them close to
fast beating hearts
soothing with soft hands.
What mothers have always done.
In Germany, standing in line
at the crematorium
a child on each side
arms around shivering shoulders
mothers hush lull promise
All will be well;
We’ll see daddy soon.
Or in Somalia
one child leaning
the other sucking air
from a dry breast
past meatless ribs
wild wide eyes
while mothers continue
It will be better.
What mothers have always done.
Even as the plane crashes
the oven door shuts
the dark eyes close
she keeps humming
What we’ve always done.
Once diving into a mountain pool
surrounded by sharp rocks,
my babies playing in the shallows,
ringed snakes gliding towards them;
not a good swimmer but
I became an Olympian
stroking fiercely through green water
lifting and tucking a child under
kicking and thrusting
to the opposite bank;
kneeling in damp sand
kissing each wet face
clutching them to my
What we’ve always done.
But not every plane lands.
Not every camp is
rescued by the Allies.
Not every child is fed
or saved from snakes.
Mothers know this. Cricket Grice
And it’s these images that crowd
not of buildings exploding
not of twisted metal and ash;
but of mothers
refusing to give in to
letting words and songs rise
from tight throats
holding one another;
crying and praying,
they keep singing.
What mothers have always done.
September 11, 2001
Feliz Navidad Joan Safajek
Feliz Navidad, I say to my dog
when he wakes me at dawn on Christmas day.
No turkey to bake, no presents to open,
just us here on the beach
in warm Baja blue, where dragonflies
big as hummingbirds flutter in an emptiness
my mind fills with memory
of gifts, given and not given,
the red wagon and pony I longed for
that never appeared under my childhood tree,
the blue Schwinn and English riding boots
I treasured, gold charms for my bracelet,
a new one each year, that failed to stop
my father’s drinking or cure my mother’s
despair. One year, I must have been ten,
I gave her a deck of playing cards, engraved
with her initials, my allowance saved up
because I saw that she laughed
when she played bridge
with her lady friends.
For my sixteenth Christmas I was given
a gold cross on a gold chain and a white
luggage set for going away to college.
When he was one I gave my first son
a red and white rocking horse
from FAO Schwartz that cost more money
than we could afford. Then a second son
came along, and soon two wonder horses,
two Tonka trucks, one red and one blue,
appeared under our tree, then tricycles
and bicycles with training wheels,
always one red and one blue,
a wooden train set added to each year
and a jungle gym for the backyard
that took almost all night to assemble.
All I remember of my third son’s first Christmas
is the cards we sent, all of us in red bathing suits
but as far as I know,
they never used them.
Last year I made scrapbooks for the children,
forty plus years of memory
culled from cardboard boxes.
This year, alone by choice
under my pool of umbrella shade,
I watch the dog chase sand crabs
the color of ghosts,
his playful pounce
to the silence.
Jody Bare, Dancing Atoms
Story of the Lovers on an Orange
Afternoon Julia Alter
To any breath of self-consciousness, he says I love you
most when you are so woman and love is a soft red river
and to any turn of her face, his hands say yes to this
woman’s body, her caves and shuns and growls, he says
yes, the hands along the body, yes to the small hairs shining
spun in daylight, and to her request for a small dark space
to crawl in, to her request for dark, he takes her face and says
yes, yes to darkness, placing his palms gently over her eyes—
she feels them damp but cool and relaxes, and he cups her body
like a blessing, an offering, and sets her skin onto sheets,
sheets of skin pliant and wraps of bone and maps of blood and
woman and flesh and femur and time and the world is a turn
of skin and the light expands around their bodies, one firefly,
one, showing the night what it’s missing, it takes exceptional eyes
to see this glowing this rocking and the sheets are warm
and like skin and he is warm and like skin and they are a firefly
setting the air in flames, whose light pulses the room whose glow
fuses oxygen, pales the sun, they are skin and hair and fingerprints
they are breathing they are light and they are breathing the ink
of each other’s dreams and today there is no wind and tonight
the earth stops spinning and he tells her when she covers her flesh
you are a world wrapped in baby’s breath, so light you might float away
with the grace of your body rivering the world, and he pulls her closer
than before—and one morphing body, skin and knees and trust and the
sheets under their bodies unfold the print of a butterfly, rusted
in the cotton, spread in cells and skin and never letting her feel
alone or flawed and on the sheets the butterfly pulsing with light,
spreading slow into the world and he has long since lifted his palms
from her eyes
but she does not believe
what she sees.
The Corner Store Maryann Hotvedt
Right after the accident, people sent a lot of flowers to Salvatore
and get-well cards by the truck loads. Sometimes his two best friends, Eddie
and Joseph, would be in the hospital room, and the nurse would come in
and say, “Hey, you guys need to keep it down or I'm going to have to ask
some of you to leave,” and Salvatore would just say, “Oh come on, give us
About the same time the bandages were removed from his face,
the hospital began arranging appointments for Salvatore with a psychiatrist.
Salvatore told the doctor about the fire and how he struggled to put it out
so they wouldn't lose The Corner Store. He didn't remember much else
except waking up in the hospital and seeing Eddie looking back at him
with tears in his eyes.
Eddie had been Salvatore's friend since grammar school. Their
fathers purchased The Corner Store in 1958, which was located at the top of
Main Street in the town of Pearl River. They sold sandwiches, sodas,
newspapers and magazines, candy, cigarettes and lottery tickets.
When Salvatore and Eddie began high school in 1970, mini-malls
began popping up just outside the town of Pearl River, but Salvatore's father
said, “Nothing can ever replace The Corner Store.” And it turned out he
was right, because here it was, 1975, and Sal and Eddie were beginning to
take over the business when the accident happened.
Salvatore had just finished working one full week at the store since
his release from the hospital, and he was happy to be back at home to the
apartment he shared with Eddie. He felt a little tired, but all in all he thought
things went pretty well. People told him how glad they were to see him
back in the store and recovered.
“Hey, Sal, what'da ya say,” said Eddie. “How `bout a few beers
down at the wharf tonight.”
“No, not the wharf “ said Joseph. “There's never enough girls there.”
'Who needs girls?” said Eddie. “Sal and I just want to drink a few beers,
that's all. Isn't that right Sal?”
Eddie watched Sal as he carefully combed his hair and he wondered
what he was thinking. Eddie looked at Sal's reflection in the mirror. Sal's
face was a mess. His right eye was nearly closed and his skin hung like
warm wax that drips from a candle. But Sal seemed relaxed tonight, in fact,
he seemed really happy all week at The Corner Store.The week hadn't been
easy for Eddie, though. Wednesday the phone calls started coming. The
Corner Store did light deliveries like milk, cereal, and coffee for elderly
folks, and moms who didn't feel like packing up the kids just to get a few
things at the grocery store. Eddie didn't like running all over town in the
van, but Salvatore liked to get out of the store now and then so he did most
of the deliveries.
The first call was from old Mrs. Peterson.
“Eddie,” she said, “I like Salvatore and all, but he's giving me the
creeps. Is he healed and everything, because he looks like he should still be
in the hospital.”
Eddie cupped his hand over his mouth so Sal couldn't hear and
said, “It's Sal, Mrs. Peterson. It's the same old Sal. It's the same Sal you
bake cookies for and give a big tip to every Christmas.”
“And that's another thing,” said Mrs. Peterson. “I feel sorry for
him and I feel like I have to tip him more and I can't afford to. I've made up
my mind so I'll see you next time Eddie.”
“Who was that?” Salvatore had asked.“Oh, just Mrs. Peterson
adding something to her list for Monday's delivery,” said Eddie.
Thursday, Joan Emmory called. She has four kids and she calls every now
and then for a delivery and always begins her order by saying, “Everything's
falling apart over here today Eddie. I need your help.” But today, in a
whispered voice she said, “Eddie, I'm glad you answered the phone. It's
“What about Sal?” said Eddie.
“Look, I don't know how to say this Eddie, but Sal...well, he's
scaring the hell out of the kids. I don't want to make a big deal out of it, but
it might be better all the way around if you brought my order by from now
“Oh come on Joan,” said Eddie.Mrs. Emmory had asked both Sal
and Eddie to call her Joan. She said calling her Mrs. Emmory made her feel
old. “Just talk to the kids, they'll understand.”
“They're kids, Eddie. You can't expect them to understand,” said
Joan. “Besides, I talked to John about it, and he said to just call Eddie and
tell him how we feel.”
“Jesus, Joan,” said Eddie. “You should understand this. I don't think
its been easy for Sal, adjusting and all.”“Everybody has their problems,”
said Joan. “John Jr. has some kind of bug that's been going around, and I
had to keep him home from school today, and Chrissy may be coming
down with it as well. I've got my own hands full here, Eddie.”
Eddie thought about what Joseph had said about meeting girls at
the wharf. Earlier that day, Eddie had lunch with Sarah. Eddie and Sarah
had been dating for nearly six months and Eddie asked Sarah if she knew
any girls that might be interested in Sal.“You're kidding, right?” is what
she had said. “Sal’s a great guy, Eddie said. “You even told me once that
you wondered what would have happened if you had met him first. You
two really hit it off remember?”
“Look, the only woman in town who we know has always been
crazy about Sal is Brenda Sawyer, and I don't even know that she'd be
much interested any more. Come on Eddie, it's...it's hard to look at him.”
“Yeah, well, apparently it's hard for everyone to look at him. Old
Mrs. Peterson and Joan Emmory called saying they didn't want Sal doing
their deliveries anymore. How do you think Sal is taking all this? Has
anyone thought about that?”
“Well, I stopped into the store yesterday and Sal seems to be doing
Sarah was right. Sal did seem to be doing just fine, and this puzzled
Eddie, because he was feeling uneasy, and he'd been short-tempered at the
store all week and had become frustrated with some of the customers when
they couldn't make up their minds about what they wanted. And now this.
“A beer sounds good,” said Sal. “And you know what Joseph,
you're right, there aren't enough girls at the bars on the wharf. Let's go to
the pub Eddie.”
“All right!” said Joseph, with enthusiasm.
Eddie took his time getting ready to go. He even made a few phone
“Jesus, Eddie,” said Joseph, “let's get a move on.”
The pub was always crowded and full of locals. It was the kind of
place where you could walk in alone andalways find a familiar face. When
the three of them walked into the pub Eddie began feeling uneasy again,
and he noticed that his palms were sweating. As they moved through the
crowd, Eddied watched the people look briefly at Sal and then, just as
quickly, look away. A few people managed to say hello without really
looking at him and Eddie could feel anger welling up inside him. As they
made their way to an empty table, Eddie noticed that Sal was smiling like
“What'd ya have Sal?” asked Joseph.
“Whatever they got on tap, and lots of it,” said Salvatore. “How
‘bout you Eddie?”
“That sounds okay to me.”
Joseph got up and made his way to the bar. Eddie thought this
might be a good time to talk to Sal about the deliveries.
“Sal, I've been thinking, since you're still kind of recovering an all,
maybe I should take over the deliveries for awhile.”
“You know I like to get out of the place now and then, besides, I
feel pretty good, a little tired: maybe, but I feel pretty good.”
“Well, I don't know, but it kind of makes sense if you take it a little
easier. Don't ya think?”
“Quit worrying about me. I'm gonna be okay Eddie.”
“Damn it Sal. You're not okay. Christ, you don't know the half of it.
“Here ya go. One for you, and one for you, and I told Steve to keep
‘em coming,” said Joseph.
Sal and Joseph picked up their beer. “Come on Eddie,” said Sal.
‘We've got some drinking to do to catch up with this crowd. Here's to good
friends and Saturday nights.”
“Watch this,” said Joseph. He gulped his beer and when he finished
he slammed the empty glass onto the table.
“Why can't you drink beer like normal people,” said Eddie.
Why don't you lighten up. Tell `em, Sal. Tell him to lighten up.”
Joseph stood and kicked his chair back with his right leg. “Now don't you
two wander off `cause I'm gonna find us some ladies.” Sal watched Joseph
disappear into the crowd.
“Same old Joseph,” said Sal. “He never lets us down.”
“Yeah,” said Eddie. “Same old stupid Joseph.”
“What's up with you?” said Sal. “And what's this about me not
knowing the half of it?”
Eddie didn't answer, but got up and went to the bar. When he
returned he was carrying two shot glasses and two more beers.
“Washing down your troubles, Eddie?” said Sal.
“Yeah, something like that. Drink up Sal ‘cause I got something I
wanna show you.”
Sal finished his shot of tequila and gulped his beer. Eddie did the
same, then stood up and started walking towards the door.
“What about Joseph?” said Sal. “He's gonna find us some girls.”
“Joseph isn't gonna be finding us any girls,” said Eddie. He pushed
opened the front door to the pub and began walking down the hill towards
“Where we going?” said Sal.
Eddie didn't answer. Sal followed behind him. Eddie had his hands
in his pockets and his dark hair flopped up and down with each step. The
cool night air felt good on Salvatore's face. Eddie stopped in front of Brenda
“She's all yours,” said Eddie.
“She's expecting us, or should I say, she's expecting you.”
“Me? What the hell are you talking about?”
“I set it up for you, Sal. I got you a date. You know Brenda's always
had a thing for you.”
“You've had too much to drink Eddie and I'm not into this. I'm
going back to find Joseph.”
Sal turned and began to walk back up the hill.
Eddie shouted to him. “You think Joseph's got a girl for you Sal? Is
that what you're thinking?”
Sal stopped and turned to look back down the hill at Eddie
“I don't know,” said Sal. “I just wanna go back that's all.”
“You can't go back, Sal. Come on, you should be able to handle
this. Everybody thought you were pretty brave the way you put out the
fire and all. Just one thing I want to know Sal, why didn't you run like I
“I didn't want to lose the store. We never could have afforded to
build it back up again.”
“And you think I did? Is that what you think?”
“I don't think anything Eddie, I just wanna go.”
“Well guess what Sal, your stupid bravery may have saved the
store, but you lost your face, and you know what else, everybody around
here thinks you're just an ugly son of a bitch. Old Mrs. Peterson and Joan
Emmory don't want you coming around anymore `cause you give them
the creeps. They told me so. They're not saying, ‘Oh Eddie, please send Sal
over with my things `cause he's so brave.’ People don't remember bravery,
“Shut up Eddie!“
Sal crossed the street and sat down on the curb. Suddenly he didn't
have the energy to walk back up the hill. He could feel the tears welling
up. He began to rock back and forth, slowly, right there underneath the
streetlight that illuminated his face.
Sal sat with his elbows on his knees, his fists clenched on either
side of his head, and let the tears come. He didn't wipe them away, but let
them fall one by one. Sal imagined each tear to be perfect, smooth and
spherical at one end, and tapering gently to a point at the other, until it
rolled down his melted face and began to lose its soft shape, taking on his
ugliness, until it fell, finally, onto the pavement. Eddie could hear Sal's
quiet sobs and he crossed the street and sat down on the curb next to Sal.
“That first night at the hospital, Sal, I was scared, more scared then
ever. Hell, I'm still scared,” said Eddie. “Maybe it’s been too easy up to
now. Hell, the biggest thing that's ever happened around here was when
Scott Coonan missed that last curve on Grand View Road and sent that
white Mustang of his sailing over the cliff. Remember that? The Dryden's
moved away a year later. Seemed like they blamed the whole town `cause
their daughter was with him.”
Sal didn't move or look up, so Eddie thought maybe he should just
keep on talking. “But that was after the factory burned down. That old
shoe factory went up like a box of matches. The whole town came out in
freezing cold weather to watch. Dad opened up the store, and you and I
carried two boxes filled with donuts and coffee to bring to the firemen.
Good thing you didn't try to put that fire out. Hell, you'd be a goddamn
At first, Eddie thought Sal was crying harder, because his body
started trembling. But then he realized he was laughing, he was trying to
hold it in, but he was laughing just the same. Then Eddie started. First, just
a broad smile, and some trembling, just like Sal. The laughter must have
been working its way up from somewhere deep in their bellies until it finally
did reach their mouth. It shot out in great bellows across the street, and up
the hill past the pub, the bookstore, the bakery, the barbershop, the two
pizza parlors, Woolworth's, and the photo shop, and all the way up Main
Street to The Corner Store.
They both rolled over onto their sides holding their bellies, until
finally, Sal said, “ A goddamn French fry.” And that sent the bellowing all
the way back up Main Street.
They must have laughed for a good five minutes, but finally they
grew quiet. Sal looked across the street at Brenda Sawyer's house. There
was one light on in an upstairs window.
“Remember when she showed up that September at school
pregnant, “ he said.
“Yeah, Christ, all hell broke loose,” said Eddie. “They wanted to
throw her out of school ‘cause they thought it was disgusting having her
walk around like that. I thought it was pretty brave, her staying on like she
did, knowing full well what everybody was thinking.”
Sal didn't answer.
Eddie stood up and reached into his pocket. “Hey, I got the keys to
the store. Feel like a sandwich?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Sal stood up. “Okay, let's get a sandwich.”
They walked the five blocks back up the hill. When they got to the
store, Sal pointed to a carton leaning against the door and said, “What's
“Oh, I bet those are the roses,” said Eddie.
“Yeah, Dad said over at the gas station they're selling the things
like crazy. He said folks come in for a six-pack or something on their way
out, and I guess a rose is a nice touch if you've got a date. Dad thought we
should give them a try, see if they move.”
Sal picked up the carton while Eddie opened the door.
“I'll make some sandwiches,” said Eddie.
Sal didn't answer, but set the carton on the counter and opened it.
Inside were nearly three dozen, individually wrapped, red and white roses.
Sal reached in and pulled out a white rose. “Think I'm gonna hold off on the
sandwich Eddie,” said Sal
“What?” said Eddie.
“You know, it's kind of funny Eddie, but sometimes when I look in
the mirror, I see my old face, and sometimes I see my new face, and I was
wondering, which one do you see. My old face or my new face?”
“Most of the time I see your old face, it's only when other people
say stuff about you that I see your new face. And then, well...it gets so I
don't know who's who, and that kind of scares me.”
“Yeah, well maybe it's gonna be up to us to figure out who's who,
one by one.”
“How we gonna do that?”
“Well, I can start by keeping my date, and you can start by letting
me do the deliveries Monday morning.”
Eddie and Sal stood looking at each other. Sal smiled first, and then
Eddie. Sal turned and walked out the door, and stood for a moment with
the white rose in his
hand before turning
down the hill to
walk the five blocks,
past the photo shop,
two pizza parlors,
the barber shop, the
bakery, the book-
store, and the pub,
to Brenda Sawyer's
Landfill Children Katrina Marvin-Travis
When I lug my clanking garbage bin
to the curb, I am disturbed that it must
weigh as much as a fifteen-year-old boy.
Every Tuesday night, I give birth
to a teenaged boy of trash
and send him into to the world to disappear.
I fear one day they will
come back to me, these weekly stinking orphans. It will be one
at first, knocking timidly at my door, his bottle cap eyes
shining dimly under wet spaghetti hair
through my peephole. I will not
open my door, and he will wait, standing patiently at first, then
slumped over on my stoop. While I am inside
trying to ignore him, his brothers
will arrive, alone
and in groups, a lifetime of Tuesdays heaping themselves on my porch
and around the foundations of this home until I can see
their decomposing bodies at the bottom of my windows and smell
their rot while I shower, and wash dishes, and play Solitaire.
I fear I will become a prisoner
in my dusted, polished house, held captive
by this sad, quiet mass of boys suffocated
by their silent demand that I stand up, that I open
the door, that I claim the lineage
of their wild, soggy bodies.
Construction Philip Wagner
—a love story
Coffee and donuts, KPIG radio...
6:30 A.M. loading pickups...
shovels, stakes, header boards and sledge
Today together we bend...lift the tamper
tomorrow who knows, but today
I am one of them
Nobody told us in a couple years we’d all be paying child support
or that a month after Swede retires
his heart would stop
...that Granger’s cool wife would leave him
that he’d disappear in his trailer behind the Torch Light Motel
and drink himself to death
Details. What matters:
I am one of them
No ruby-throat songbirds, just cigarettes
extra diesel and loud talk
who’s late, who’s no fucking good,
who knows his ass from a hole in the ground...
who’s breaking, who isn’t
Love is a strange language
I am one of them
A bunch of happy bullshit no one quits
nowhere to turn, 7:30 strap on your nail belt
like Chino, ever whiskered and grinning through his Foo Man Choo
...best screed man we’d ever known, and nobody forgets
the day his wife and five kids got head on-ed by a semi.
All are killed...
together we carry their coffins,
down some beers...then drop Chino at his empty house.
We were home, the ones who could read his language:
the ever-present cigarette, the worn-out shoes.
Chino misses a half day’s work
then shows up shovel in hand
whatever his reasons
I am one of them
I am one of them.
Like a Man Lauren Locke-Paddon
She drinks beer and
holds her cigarettes roughly
spits on the ground between phrases.
talk to truck drivers
or entertain in smoky bars.
Unashamedly she rents hetero porn and
berates the technique of the actresses.
“What the fuck is she doing?”
Sitting on the couch she
swigs from the bottle.
Her own sex life exists as
before she can love them. Jillian Soto
She shaves her legs out of spite
Pushes up her perfect breasts with white lace and
On the beach, sitting with her legs
open and spread, nowhere near inviting,
she accosts strangers.
They get battery acid burns from her sarcasm
never see the glowing dignity under the
self-deprecation and offensiveness.
She’s funny like I thought only boys could be
vulgar and free with
I hold her vulnerability in with my arms all through a long night
and very soft skin.
My Mother Loved to Party Julia Alter
Queen Martini, they used to call her
from here to Seventy-fourth Street.
You’ll recognize Lola by the olive between her teeth.
You’ll recognize Lola by the gold lamé something she’s got on.
You’ll recognize Lola by the way she hands her babies to perfect
goes out on the balcony to smoke.
My mother loved to party.
When she died, the women of San Rio gathered all their old
necklaces, cut glass in shapes of lips and peas and mums,
polished them on the hems of their skirts—birch beads and great
grandmothers’ rosaries with milagros tacked into the crosses—
and gathered, all her friends, Princess, Yolanda and Rita.
Lolita, Poochie and Gwen. Sassy, Rebecca and Mavis.
They circled her white lacquered ship of a coffin,
the Queen Mary model, I think it was called.
And I was there too in that false air of roses and pancake faces
and so much Chanel I could barely remember the scent of the sea.
We stood in a circle around her like her parties when they’d stop
to watch my parents dance—he’d pick her up light as a child,
swing her from one hip to the other, the fancy stuff
people only did on American Bandstand and Lawrence Welk.
We gathered there, a circle of amethysts and spun glass,
a planet glinting around her. The men huddled in clusters
under the oaks, talking about What’ll Johnny do without Lola?
She made a helluva tuna casserole.
She threw a helluva party.
We fastened each necklace to the next—rubies to lucite to amber,
remembered the light in my mother’s eyes when she would laugh,
catch the olive in her teeth,
biting down on it with her life.
my, oh my
An 8x10 of My Father Ian Kleinfeld
More sweet than the picture
of you in the Berkshires
is the memory of taking it
I saw you talking with
that philosophical excitement that
jumps from your eyes and hands to your lips
to a friend
who looked a lot like Art Garfunkel
stopped turned looked and
loved me for 23 years in a glance
breathed shone turned back and talked
as if I had never been there
but for the smile
so whole on your face
that my camera
cried you on to my wall forever
The Cow Joe Carlson
Once upon a mid morn sunny,
As the bees strove to make honey
All alone my soul felt funny
For my friends went to the store
I was left all by my lonesome
Hearing far off cattle groan some
Shaken by some sad unknownsome
I began to worry sore
First I heard, a cow was mooing
Then I felt some trouble brewing
For I saw that bovine chewing
Stately ravens, birds of yore
Not the least obeisance made he
Not a minute stopped or stayed he
But with air of Marsha Brady
Sat upon my chamber door
How he got there, ne’er he told me
Yet with harsh words he did scold me Diane Patracuola
Then his actions did enfold me
For my mind he did explore
“Prophet”, said I, “Thing of evil!
“Leave me now you bovine devil”
So he left me to go revel
And I saw him, nevermore.
Belly Ken Weisner
Belly! Cubic foot!
Look, I haven’t been measuring you
like some men measure.... Come on, who’s
been packing you, secretly, like luggage for
some midnight elopement? But I’m already
married! Still, I imagine belongings: balled socks
in there, worn dress shoes, a crushed fedora, the medicine
bag—below the belt. Let’s face it: hunger is lonely, travel
involves danger. The argument is: you are a safe house
where I live, in America and have mortgaged fear and
pay regularly in meals, snacks. I wish I could
ask my father where he got his.
Eternal Lovers Carlie Bobrowski
Lewis kneeled close to the ground and stroked the smooth surface
of the marble headstone that stood before him. It was so remarkably cold
to the touch, yet the day had been warm and the sun had been shining.
His wife’s name stood engraved in shiny black letters that stood out against
the pale gray like the blue of her eyes had once shone out from the porcelain
of her face. And what a beautiful face it was. It was all he could dream
about in the night. The delicateness of perfection and beauty made him
almost too afraid to touch it, fearing that he would find she was nothing
but a part of his imagination. Almost a year before she died she had cut
her hand while slicing carrots for the salad they were having that night. It
was just a small cut, but he had wept at the small trickle of blood that slid
down the back of her hand. He wept of happiness, because to him, this
proved her humanness. The fact that he had kissed her face hundreds of
times throughout the day wasn’t ever as tangible as her actual blood, the
very essence of her life. The liquid that ran in little crimson streams
throughout her body letting her live. He knew that the day that life source
was gone would be the day his life source would disappear as well. And
of course as fate would have it, at the ripe young age of 27, that life source
seemed to vanish into thin air. She had been on a five-minute run to the
store to pick up milk, when, as she was crossing an intersection a drunk
driver decided that in his world the red light meant go. He hit the little
Honda on the driver’s side, crushing almost every bone in her body. Lewis
got the call about the accident more than ten minutes after it happened.
He ran out the door screaming until he reached the hospital where her
body lay. They wouldn’t let him see her. His very own love, they would
not let him see. Tears flowed down his cheeks and landed in puddles at his
feet. He knew in some way that they were trying to protect him, but he
didn’t care. His love couldn’t be dead. He was still alive, therefore she had
to be alive as well.
The funeral was on a Saturday. The weather was perfect for a
funeral. If there is such a thing as perfect funeral weather. The sky was
gray, the rain fell down in big drops of sparkling diamonds. Lewis had
finally gotten a last look at his beloved. There was so much makeup on her
corpse that she only looked like a mannequin. He took the little pocketknife
from his pocket and lifted up her hand. He found where the scar was from
the carrot-cutting incident, and he reopened it. This time there was no
delicate teardrop of blood. He screamed over and over until there were
people standing all around him trying to calm him down. He couldn’t
stop screaming. His beloved wasn’t dead. He knew that. They were
supposed to be together forever and longer. She could not be dead. She
“She’s not dead you goddamn mother fuckers!” He screamed at
everyone and grabbed up the body, running away from the crowd of people.
“I love you Catherine!” He yelled frantically at her. Of course she didn’t
move or answer back, but in his opinion, she did.
Security had arrived by this time, and jumped on top of the two
eternal lovers. Catherine was taken back to her lovely wooden shoebox
and Lewis was taken to a lovely padded cell downtown. The funeral carried
on and the beautiful woman was buried beneath a mound of damn soil.
Lewis was let out the next day. He ran to the cemetery where his supposedly
dead wife had been buried. He bent low and stroked the cold marble. He
ran his fingers through the indented letters of her name, kissed the top,
and whispered to her that he was going to get her back.
He came back as soon as darkness had fallen over everything, and
he started digging. He was protected from the prying eyes of passerby’s
by the maple trees that littered the hollow ground. It took him four hours
of digging before he hit his beloved’s lower-level apartment. It took him
another hour to get all the dirt from the top of the oak box. He opened the
heavy lid to see the gray skin of his wife. “I love you honey,” he said to
whom he thought was listening. He lifted her body out of the hole before
lifting himself out and lying beside her. He rolled on to his side and kissed
her cheek. “I missed you so much honey,” he said. “Don’t worry, we’re
together now,” he thought she said.
He stood and took her in his arms the way he did on their wedding
night. He kissed her gently on the lips and smiled. He walked her to the
car and sat her in the front seat. She wouldn’t put her belt on, so he did it
for her. Making sure her life was safely
secured to the seat. He turned the CD
player to their song; the first song they
had danced to. He lifted her hand and
kissed it, wondering why it was still so
cold. He drove out of the parking lot and
into the street. As he entered the
intersection, a drunk driver decided that
in his world the red light meant go. He
hit the little silver car on the driver’s side,
crushing almost every bone in his body.
The charts for Lewis read “severe
mental illness”. His death certificate
claimed “mentally unstable”. Her death
certificate claimed “twice removed”.
Kelly Woods Their tombstone read “Eternal Lovers”.
The Second Greatest Equalizer
I have my most
when I’m using the bathroom.
Something about the sheer,
of the act, curls my lips,
brings my mind
I often imagine a princely “fellow”
sitting, feigning dignity,
his one-hundred grand trousers
at his ankles,
and indulge in a silent laugh,
for at that moment
he with his golden throne,
his upturned nose,
from my porcelain
Central Valley Madness Julia Alter
I am scared to death of soccer moms. The permanent cheer
tattooed on the face. The Starbuck’s grimace. Cutshucked bangs.
Auburn. Platinum. Midnight. Chestnut. And their knee-padded
angels, muddy-winged, coated in stuck kisses.
I am scared to death of Saturday morning wrapped in neon wind
breakers, embroidered with Go, Team Go! I am scared of sugar
cookie dough stuck under nails, salon-pinked in Bubble Gum Go.
I am scared of the biplane above, writing Go, Jacob, Go! into the sky.
Once upon a time there was a young boy who lived
in a muddy field, his face coated in treehouses, eyelids covered
in apple trees. The boy had grown deaf slowly, the curl of
motherhood leaking into his ears, coiling in a hardwire spring.
I am scared of the jersey and the white Suburban. Icebreath
mornings with gold balls knocked hard over the goal, always
the goal and always icebreath longing in the boy’s eyes.
Today’s opposition, a squadron of testosterone in black, a clan
of snarley devils, six years old times fifteen and ready to pop
the globe from beneath the son’s sweet cleats!
I am scared to death of Central Valley madness and Mom on
the sidelines, cellphone tattooed to her three karat ear, other ear
primed for the score—always the score—mother’s mouth telling
father’s ear. Jacob’s winning, Baby!! Success!! Our little CEO!
I am scared to death of gum-popping, baptist, in balls we trust,
guts-torn-on-the-parking-lot-beneath-the-wheels, teeth porcelain-
capped and gritting. Venti macchiato-swizzling, Chanel sunglass-
wearing nouveau riche. Break out the Dolce and Gabbana!
Calling on MAC and Lauder! Bring it on, Louis Vuitton!
Lord, bring me a Lincoln SUV and a Great Mall shopping spree!
Bring me ALL! Bring me JOY! Give me CHEER! Bring me
The Stain Lifter! Wash me Clean! Give me Xanax, Prozac and
Lord, bring me rubies and this year’s winning team!
Exactamente las 10:00 p.m. Jesica Mora
Posaba la pantalla de un cine
para el dolor de intestinos
destripados de una joven
últimamente sonando con el vino de una pintura seca
en un instante encontré
un libreto un archivo
dentro de una memoria
de un verano desapercibido
en esta ocasión
En todo caso en el motor de mi memoria
donde la tarde se construyo
tragando sorbetes de mantequilla dulce
dentro de la caja descolorida
de palomitas que lentamente tragaba
arrancando al mar de tus palabras
Posando en la pantalla de un cine nuevamente
llorando gotas frías, estornudando palabras finas
vestidos de complejos conejos
con miradas de cuerpos,
comillas por divisores de capítulos de vida
con colores de arco iris delgados
inyectándome bacterias de besos
con tu altura esquelética
sentada en las cicatrices
De un rostro lloroso, lento.
Itzhak’s Crutch Ken Weisner
for Itzhak Perlman
lies next to him
wherever he is.
You can look at it while he plays Tchaikowsky or Ernest Bloch.
Perhaps it’s a kind of violin
that never got to be a violin.
A leg that never got to be a leg.
Of course the music is wonderful...
you could ignore it...
but imagine—if it were yours,
depending on it,
and dragging through the streets of a city—your city.
Or a whole different place:
a glowing concert hall,
or perhaps some
refugee town, some
Of course it symbolizes something
soldiers in the yard,
a family turned,
as your eye drifts with the sweetness.
He plays sitting down.
Bloch’s Three Pictures....
Between pieces, you watch him move
his legs with his hands.
Trees that are not trees.
that are seeds
in a winter’s garden.
Things other than what they are,
and a hundred times more.
Things in plain view...
a boy that is not a boy,
a barber’s son,
A body, an instrument,
scaffolds of the ecstatic.
And you will also hear in him,
men who are not men,
ghosts who are more than ghosts,
history that is more than history.
David Reamer, quindichi, Trastevere, Rome
Morning Rant #84 Julia Alter
This nude funk band plays full hale at the foot of my bed,
a salute of erections pointing to the four corners,
and suddenly this is Utah, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.
Suddenly I am one of those goddamn President’s faces on Rushmore.
Suddenly I am fondling a saguaro and wondering why it hurts
so much to love. And the scorpion in the shower expands
like a sponge when I throw water on him.
I am breathing desert and a sign above the sink says: Not Enough
Water for Coffee, Scorpionkiller.
And the can of Yuban I keep for emergencies in the back of my old
Datsun in the toolbox, the grounds are dirt now and mealworms sift
their phallic bodies up and down, segmented like the day broken by a
There is no way I’ll ever be a hibiscus at this rate, I think, and
the Joshua trees only know how to get shaggier and shaggier and
suddenly I’m thinking about Dr. Suess, how one of these Joshuas
should spit pink caffeine fruits so I will have something to finally
wake me up and I can stop this funk band from molesting me
in my own bedroom.
They are going through my sock drawer. We only need one each,
they say. We salute you! they say.
And all I see is a bunch of tattoo over skin over muscle and
the singer has his mouth now close enough to my ear that I feel
the Braille of his taste buds on my earlobe.
And the guy I hired for the massage was rumored to have hands
big as children’s school desks—a two octave stretch—they said,
but his mother fell into the grand canyon this morning and
the sheets he tied together to save her kept unraveling.
They’d been in the family six generations of Arizona summers
and so he could not make it today.
I wake up so parched I’m sucking my pillowcase for drool or sweat
or oil but oil and water don’t mix, I think to myself, so oil would be
a bad idea and I am nowhere near a cup of coffee.
I’m busy wishing I were Colombian so I could have a caffeine farm
and yell out into the morning like a rooster instead of an owl,
but instead I am this centipede here wriggling between these
Egyptian sheets and it’s a long way to the watering hole.
It’s a long way to where I am going.
Bruce Telopa Bigelow
Snot Amanda Stone
Caryn: A meek young woman living in a small apartment with Barb.
Barb: A non-meek woman living with Caryn.
(Barb enters from bedroom and starts to walk out the front door. She sees a
note at the dining room table and stops to read it out loud.)
Dear Barb, I’m sorry to have to write you a note about this but I feel I must
make clear my stance on this issue right away. It seems that someone hacked
up a wad of mucus and left it on the floor of the tub while they used the
shower this morning. I believe that person was you since it wasn’t me and
since you do not appear to have had any guests last night. I have scrubbed
the entire tub down so you don’t need to do anything further, however, I
would prefer if you didn’t do…
(Caryn enters and is surprised to see Barb. She tries to exit again but Barb
sees her and starts to read louder)
… such disgusting things in the bathroom. Thank you for your attention.
Sincerely Caryn. Well, you were mistaken, Caryn.
I was? I don’t think I was…
It wasn’t mucus.
It sure seemed like mucus.
It was snot. (pause)
Snot? Mucus? What is the difference?
Snot comes out of your nose. Mucus comes out of your throat. I didn’t hack
anything up in the shower. I blew my nose. Understand the difference?
Either way I wish you wouldn’t…
Oh, did you not hear me. I already said that I was sorry.
No you didn’t.
Yes I did.
Just now. Jesus, it was just snot how many times do you have to wring this
out of me? I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Get a life.
I have a life.
Sure you do. You know what your problem is Caryn?
Germ contamination in the bathroom.
Comfort. You live in a world where your only challenges are relationships
and making a living.
And that isn’t enough.
Well, I’m the kind of person who needs more challenges. I’m not saying
you’re bad for living a simplistic life of mass entertainment and popular
culture. I’m just saying that I’m the someone who needs more than that
kind of boring existence. I need to shake things up every once in a while.
You know what I do when I want a challenge?
Actually, Barb, you do watch videos. Until 3 in the…
Staking out the primo spots. There is an art to finding a usable piece. It
takes time. It takes talent. Picking the right bits of foam, the artistic old
tennis shoe with the sad gaping toe.
The videos wake me up and I don’t mind so much, it’s just that I wish you
listened to them a little quieter once it is past 10 pm…
I’m not surprised that you miss the subtly of independent film that needs a
Actually, Barb, you watch Titanic over and over.
Is all irony beyond you? You, with your Gap clothing, your mainstream
Actually this isn’t from the Gap. It’s organic fiber recycled from remnants…
You know what you are missing in your life, Caryn?
That ephemeral sense that someone is listening to me?
That thick neon fabric of the horn-rimmed gods. That vintage scratch. Have
you ever seen someone settling for the mundane while wearing a matching
pink polyester pantsuit and contrasting gold rayon?
Polyester. The fabric of mystery. Does anyone know where this fabric comes
The fabric of those who know how to look back into the past, to learn what
not to do from those that came before us. And look ahead toward creating
our own new definitions for everything.
I can see the waves of hate coming off you. You’re really in attack mode.
And do you know who you are attacking?. Me. All your judgments and
spitefulness is pointed outward, instead of inward, where it won’t hurt
Because sometimes it just weighs me down, you know? All the forces in
the world that push at you and push at you until you don’t have anything
left to do except push back and say I refuse to be humiliated. You hear that
world? I am going to be me. I don’t care the cost
I’m not telling you to be someone you are not.
I shouldn’t expect you to understand.
But what does having a clean bathtub have to do with your creative
My creative expression is everywhere. You can’t limit me to just the
bedroom, living room, and kitchen. I am creative 24-7. Only true creative
people can understand that.
I paint. You liked my painting of the raven and the oranges.
That’s what I am talking about. Limits. Limits. Limits. Rip yourself open,
girl. Dare. Express. Don’t you see that you are doing it to yourself? You’re
building your own fortress walls that keep you in. That isn’t how your
nature wants it. That isn’t what you were born to be. You were meant to fly.
To expand. To stretch. Who cares about some… about some…
Viscous body fluid?
Yes, about some viscous body fluid.
But that is what I am trying to tell you. You’re letting your fear of mucus
over ride your zest for living.
I thought you said it was snot.
Snot. Mucus. It’s all the same. Don’t let a words get between you and living.
What are words but constructs?
Could you at least clean it up afterwards?
You’ve missed my entire point.
I think I am understanding your point.
God. Have we been talking about this all day? What more could you
possibly have to say on the subject?
The only thing there ever was to say.
Don’t you listen? I am tired of all this. Don’t you ever give up?
Ok, Barb. I just have one question for you.
BARB Diane Patracuola
Sure you do.
If you answer
this question we
will be done.
I don’t know
how I have the
patience to deal
with all this.
Can you please
not blow your
nose in the
Fucked Up Roxan McDonald
It was a Michael Jackson doll,
They’d found it in her closet
all wrapped up in x-mas paper
with my name written on it in her
shaky cursive, misspelled even
with two N’s and an E.
I had just been wandering the house
thinking how much I hated it there
cooped up in that dead person’s house
with nothing but the gray Washington winter
It would have been different if someone
had been left alive
but every body who’d ever lived there
We were in dead people’s house going
through their stuff.
She was my stepdad’s mom.
I’d never met her
only gotten homemade jam from her
in U.P.S. boxes and presents at x-mas
that were never age appropriate and always
addressed with too many letters in my name.
So, the Michael Jackson doll had the glove
and the plastic face
It looked just like him (when he was still black).
I’d been in the living room trying to pick
a chair I could be certain she hadn’t died in
and they called me into her room
and I saw that her bed was still unmade and
there were plastic wrappers on the floor the
ambulance people must have dropped
and they made me sit
on that bed that I was sure now that she’d died
and open this present that was years too late.
They made me sit there on that bed where
death just happened and they made me hold up that
plastic Michael Jackson doll so they could take pictures.
“Still giving after death” they cooed between them.
I sat there watching them looking at me through
puffy, water eyes and I thought
“You people are seriously fucked up”.
Responsible Backpacking Ken Weisner
so even when
the light fails,
and I roll the map
into a tent pocket,
vivid, free-floating; Lisa Macdonald
I can actually still study it
for a few minutes;
all the while
breath and set out
down the high inch by inch,
canyons. with renewed
And then, scholarship and enterprise,
as the topo starts to fade, across farthest
it hits me! and I picture corners, boundaries,
you, your into the untold
formations and curiosities, wild.
Fat Girl Roxan McDonald
Tracy was a fat girl till her mom taught her how to throw up. I met
her a year afterward, when we were both fourteen and she was ready to
show off her new tight body and bask in her mothers approval. They lived
down in the flats in this tiny apartment with just a kitchen, living room
and bathroom. It was just the two of them and it seemed like it’d always
been that way. Tracy’s mom would throw her head back when anyone
asked about Tracy’s father and say “My girl sprang from my chest like a
wildflower does in a meadow. Tracy came from seed in the wind.” I re-
member being so jealous of them wrapped up in their fluffy woman world
when I had to share my space with Dad’s and brothers and a mother who
could barely say the word pink. Everything in that place was frilly or had
fake fur on it. They even had silver spoons next to the toilet resting on
napkins with their names written on it in pink felt pen.
We’d sleep in the living room when I came over and her mom
would curl up on the kitchen floor. She’d always say she didn’t mind.
She’d say that a comfortable bed made it harder to get up and exercise.
She’d be up at 5:30 a.m. stretching on the carpet getting ready to run. I’d
watch her from the pull out couch with hangover eyes and she’d blabber
on reminding us how many calories was in each beer or shot of Tequila.
“You girls ever thought about speed. That’s a much better diversion for
young ladies trying to keep their figures.”
Tracy’s apartment sat in the middle of The Flats. A quarter block
up Leibrant from Nueve Amanacer Market. It was ghetto but back then
ghetto was cool. I’d go down there, trucking by the drug dealers and gang
members and get that feeling when you risk something precious, like when
you know you’re truly alive. So anyway, Tracy lived down there with her
skinny little mom. Tracy had red short hair and little black spots showing
through from the backs of her teeth. She wasn’t the smartest girl in the
world but she loved to party and her mom didn’t mind if we drank or
what time we came home, and back then a combo like that was golden.
Most of the time we wouldn’t party in the flats because it was all
Mexicans and people into harder drugs than we were into. Mostly we’d
take a bus up the mountain and party in Lompico with all the other white
trash kids but this one time it was raining really hard and the busses
wouldn’t go up the hill so Tracy thought we’d walk down to the Sandpiper
motel to shoulder tap off this lady she knew down there. The lady was this
Mexican chic, Ramona. She had a fat baby girl that was crawling all over
her and screaming. Ramona was cool with buying us beer but said we’d
have to chill for a minute and watch her kid while she did a little business
with some guys. Tracy was into it so we start hanging out in this motel
room watching T.V and listening to the baby scream.
These two gangster type Mexican guys come in and Ramona starts
talking to them in Spanish all pleading like and pointing at the kid then at
us. Meanwhile the kid is screaming up a storm and rolling its head around
on the bed. Tracy doesn’t seem to notice and I’m just sitting there waiting
for my beer but it’s starting to get to me. Ramona ends up making some
kind of deal with the guys and they all go in the bathroom together. Tracy
and I are sitting there forever till Tracy starts banging on the door and one
of the Mexican guys opens it and yells something at us in Spanish. I get a
glimpse of Ramona in there on her knees and she yells to shut the baby up
and it’ll go faster. Tracy doesn’t know what to do cuz she never had little
brothers or cousins or anything so I walk over and pick the kid up and
bounce it around on my hip and start running my finger around to see if
it’s diaper is full. I tell Tracy to find a diaper because the baby is covered in
diarrhea shit all the way up it’s t-shirt to near it’s neck.
Tracy starts going through the drawers but can’t find anything but
Ramona’s clothes and a few cartons of Marloboro’s. I decide to strip the
kid and just let it hang out naked for a while. I keep telling Tracy to find
something to use to wipe the kid up but she’s just standing there looking at
all the packs of cigarettes. So I start messing with the tabs on the diaper
but it’s real old and rips and shit gets all on the bed. I finally get the diaper
off and dump it into the nightstand drawer because there wasn’t a garbage
anywhere. I go to pull the t-shirt off the kid and it’s still screaming and
rolling it’s head around all jerky and I pull it’s arms above it’s head and see
all these bruises on it’s arms and legs like track marks and it starts screaming
weird like in little spurts and it’s little arms kept getting all stiff and
I’m freaking out at this point and yell for Tracy to turn off the T.V
because the noise was really getting to me and making it hard to think of
the right thing to do but Tracy is pissed again about having to wait for the
beer and is banging on the door and yelling for Ramona. I yell real loud at
Tracy and tell her to “Turn the fucking T.V off” and she does, all calm and
pissed with her eyes bugging out at me. The kid stopped screaming but
keeps twitching and making gurgling noises. Tracy starts yelling for
Ramona but all we hear is grunting and stuff from the bathroom. I end up
wiping the kid off with the bedspread but it starts squirting shit out again
and screaming in spurts. Tracy is really pissed now and starts stuffing
packs of cigarettes down her pants till she can’t hold anymore. Then she
starts shoving them in my clothes. I’m feeling bad about the kid and start
yelling at Ramona that her baby is sick and she needs to come out but
Tracy keeps telling me to be quiet and starts going through the rest of
Ramona’s stuff. Tracy picks up this jacket on the bed that one of the Mexican
guys dropped and starts going through the pockets. Meanwhile the kid is
gurgling and screaming and shitting in juicy spurts and the bathroom is all
quiet. Tracy shoves her hand in the pocket and screams and pulls her hand
out with this syringe stuck right into the end of her middle finger. “Mother
fucker, Motherfucker” she starts yelling and her face gets all white. She
stands there for a minute with the needle sticking up out of her hand and
then she reaches up all calm and pulls it out and throws it on the bed near
the baby. “You fucking nuts?” I say and push it off onto the floor. Tracy
stands there holding her finger with a drop of blood hanging onto the end
and says all quiet “I’m ready to go”. “What about the kid?” I ask and she
throws the jacket at me and I tie it up over the kids squirting ass and start
bouncing it on my hip but it keeps getting all stiff and arching it’s back and
I’m stuffed full of hard packs of Marlboros and Tracy has the door open
and keeps saying “come on come on.”
I start to follow Tracy out the door but she’s gets all pissed about
the kid and tells me I can’t take it with me because that would be kidnapping
and I’m all “I can’t leave it in there it’s sick or something,” and just then
one of the Mexican guys came out of the bathroom and Tracy grabs the
baby from me and runs over to him and kind of drops the baby into his
arms and he kind of just holds it loose like it’s a bag of something that
I stand there at the door looking at him there standing up but kind
of limp and droopy eyelids and the kid jerking around all funny with a
jacket as a diaper and I keep wondering what I should do but Tracy yells
“Adios” and slams the door behind us.
So we start walking out of there and it’s pouring rain and Tracy is
walking really fast and holding her finger and she keeps saying “that
fucking bitch that fuckin…” and I’m worried that they’re going to chase us
for stealing their cigarettes but Tracy turns to me and stops and the rain is
plastering her red hair down over her head like a skull cap and she brings
her finger up to her mouth with her other hand and starts sucking on it
and staring at me. “Let’s get some acid” she says. We’ve never done acid,
I want to say. We’re just stoners and drinkers, we’re only fourteen and the
world feels like it’s going crazy and acid doesn’t seem like the answer to
sick babies and moms on their knees in the bathroom with Mexican guys
but I just say “sure” like it’s nothing because I don’t know anything else to
do. And later tripping out with her in her little froofy apartment with her
mom stretching on the floor saying how good it feels to be completely empty
to know that you didn’t eat at all in a whole day and Tracy leans over and
lines up four cigarettes between my index finger and middle finger and
lights them all. Laying back with her smoking all those cigarettes at once
she stares off over her mom and says “don’t you feel like a king?” and I say
“sure” cuz I don’t know anything better to say.
In a Wild Place, Alone Julia Alter
after Olav H. Hauge
I will barbwire the ones I love
out of my life, plant blackberries,
an impenetrable cord of them
in the front yard.
I will spend too much time
knocking on the door of the one
who does not love me.
The door will never open and I will sit
on his front porch whittling statues of him
from small logs stolen from the woodpile.
He will begin to use the backdoor to avoid my eyes.
In a wild place, alone, I will end up
with my notebook and my ink.
Making love potions to lift the curse
of silence from the mouth of the one I love.
I will write letters in my blood to draw the animal
of this love who is not hungry.
Lines of men will wait beyond the bramble with signs
around their necks: Attractive; Available; Future Surgeon.
But this won’t matter.
I will set up a shrine to the invisible one.
The myth of my beauty will pass from lip to lip
in the line beyond the blackberries.
Wants Children will tell Drives Lexus that my eyes are like shells
from a Cape Verdian beach and they will taste the salt
of my body on the air.
I will sit at the stove
on a purpleheart stool
adding frog eyes to a cauldron of broccoli,
begging the mystics and gods to give me back the gift of my heart.
And I will waste my life stirring above the stove,
and the myth outside in the line of suitors will be that my skin
is a skin softer than a baby rabbit.
And I will throw coins to the I Ching spirits.
Wash my hands and feet before entering the kitchen.
Walk backwards on the full moon.
And he will never love me enough.
Eulogy for Mister Fish Erica Lann-Clark
Mr. Fish, why did you leave us behind?
What heaven did you see hidden in the carpeting?
Were you tired of ever-present Mr. Gold
hovering, relentless, on your tail?
Were you sick to death
of the monotony–swim, feed,
let a little trail of feces fall,
while, nose to the rocks, you search
for morsels you might have missed,
knowing no hurry to find them.
No hurry, not ever, in your goldfish bowl.
Did you want a rush, the rush of the jump?
Did someone school you in electrons, how they jump their orbits,
become another element,
spin at greater speeds in new trails.
Did you want to show me
how to leap into the unknown?
Or, were you warning me
to stay in the confines of my paradigm,
lest I, like you, become stiff and dry.
You were an inch long, but for days I cried
a great wake of tears to follow you.
I wanted to eat all the cookies in the freezer.
I wanted to pull the blinds way down.
I wanted you to come back.
You were such a smart fish.
How come you leaped into oblivion?
I put your dried out body back in the water,
a desperate act.
Mr. Gold stood for a long time,
nose to your upended corpse.
“Look,” your little corpse said,
“look, and be wise.”
A Change of Worlds Ken Weisner
My words are like stars that never change.
—Sealth (Chief Seattle), 1855
Circumscribing your Christian tomb:
pillars, four blackened tree trunks,
run through on top
with rough 2 x 6 cross-pieces,
like a dock shouldering
two black canoes,
long as in a dream,
thin to slice the sky;
black scorched cedar shells.
In the chill morning dark,
a knock-knock of gourds—the shock
of grouse in the wood.
a rooster crows
over the span of dawn,
sounding exactly like a man
crying through the mist and ceremony
of the trees, fir, maple, spruce.
Here, in the gathering space,
your two canoes
haunt with royal scarlet & shock-
one at either end:
a chief’s markings,
farther than a human reach.
It’s just another dawn
at your tomb, Sealth,
a friend to the white man—
so it says on the inner, marble
monument as tall as I am.
When you were baptized Noah,
what happened to
the name on your tomb?
At eye level, an image in relief:
a cross inside a king’s crown.
Your wife lies next to you, your son,
fresh flowers strewn
across the gravel walk and grassy mound;
& other gatherings—new ashes,
Henry Smith wrote
his offering in English,
his fragile recollection:
the speech you gave
in Saquamish in 1855,
the year you signed away the land,
There is no death, you said,
only a change of worlds. First pierce of sun, held
When your children’s children back by great northern clouds.
think themselves alone You wrote a blessing,
in the field, the store, the shop, a curse, a fact. Never
upon the highway, alone. I squint hard to hear you
or in the silence of the pathless woods, in this place of light and shadow,
they will not be alone. wanting to count myself among
The white man will never be alone. those who listened. Diane Patracuola
Song at Sand Hill Bluff Marcy Alancraig
I. Cotoni, an Ohlone ghost
The day you brought winter back to the cove, my daughter, I was
drifting inside the song of the season. Spring had come again to Sand Hill
Bluff; a fragment of my spirit floated between mustard blooms. Part of me
lingered in a den where a mother bobcat panted as she birthed a kit, the
little one’s first breath echoing around us. Another portion drifted beside
a cricket, sounding his fragile wings to call a mate.
But then your Uncle Seal cried, an anguished squeal that called
the shards of my body back together. I took shape, a solid form born from
the fear in his song. And sped to the cliff edge, wondering what had harmed
my friend and relation. What, in this mating and birthing season, could fill
his mouth with such grief?
I didn’t know, my daughter, that it was actually your desolation
that brought me back. I couldn’t see the truth in that tune when I looked
down the face of the cliff. For there, under a spring sky, the cove had
suddenly grown frigid and wintered. A storm raged, swelling the waves,
turning them gray. I gasped to see hail pocking the faces of sand dollars.
The shells broke apart on frosted sand, scattering up the beach in a sweep
of muddy foam.
But there were no clouds in the sky. Why was it raining? Why,
when I lowered my head, did the poppies still bloom under my feet? To
the north, to the south, spring sang its proper song, the tumbling laugh of
the season. Why here, in this little scramble of rocks and water, so beloved
by our people, had time turned back to bite its tail? Seal cried again, diving
under a wave that crashed behind him. I watched ice diamonding the curl
and understood the reason he felt so afraid.
Seal surfaced, his snout pointing east, toward a shadow on the
trail in front of me. “It’s her,” he shouted. “One of your kinswomen. She’s
the one who is twisting time.”
I saw you then, a living descendent, holding winter tight against
your chest, strong arms beaded with sorrow. So much grief oozed from
your small body that the cove had turned to ice. You’d trapped the cold
season in the hard muscles of your legs, the cage of your ribs, a jaw that
squared defiantly against the afternoon’s sunlight. And daughter, I could
barely make out your heart, shriveled and edged, like a fragment of chert
I’d chipped off to shape a spearhead. It had hardened, firm as a piece of
flint that now struck ice to life instead of fire. Wherever you walked, the
blue-eyed grass beneath your feet shriveled, sang a dying song from cold.
Seal bleated as a swallowtail, still unused to its new wings, faltered
in the wind and brushed against you. The touch of your skin, a cold it was
never meant to know, brought death. I wept for so many eggs lost, larvae
taken before their season. Like the yarrow frosted at your feet, so many
seeds withered, unable to root.
You couldn’t know, of course, the destruction you were making.
Our people had lost that vision, taken from us by the brown-robed ones
carrying crosses, so many years ago. You couldn’t even see me, your
ancestor, standing right beside you on the cliff, my hand reaching to brush
your shoulder. “Listen to me,” I begged, hoping at least that your blood
But then I faltered, struck dumb by my own loss of the power of
our people. How could I explain to you, so separated from the old
knowledge after all these centuries, that you were not alone? Your heart,
daughter, was linked with all the species in this cove, everyone a member
of your family. I didn’t know why you were twisting time, but the capacity,
untrained and blind, was causing you to kill.
“You must stop,” I pleaded, knowing that you would not
understand me. I watched as my words skittered across ice, slipped along
the frozen rivers of your veins .
“No!” Seal shouted, unable to accept my failure. He glared at me,
then lifted his snout and began to sing.
II. Harbor Seal
I sang the shore. I sang the lift of the wave over my back, the
stroke of the sea, a fan of kelp clipping my flipper. I sang hunger, I sang
fish, moist morsels, a lust and lunge, snap of teeth, juice and bone and fin.
I sang the spring hunt, the feed, the smell of one warm evening. I sang the
sky, the ocean, the truth of these birthing days.
My music battled the human’s, Cotoni’s kinswoman, whose throat
made winter. I tried to shout past her cold music, to silence her icy tune.
But her voice was louder, she who sang steelhead back to life, wearily trying
to slither past me once again to spawn in Laguna Creek. She made mussels
tear from their rocks and starfish lose their arms. She sang lightening, she
sang shark bite, teeth and mouth and biting. She sang the great white’s
slash and blood, my brother’s last wave, his final breath and rotting pile of
I sobbed again for his loss, for the emptiness of his place in the surf
beside me. I cried for the comfort of his body against mine when we hauled
out on rocks to sleep. In my weeping, I let a swell carry me closer to the
bluff so that I saw the human better. And there, beneath the fury of her
storm, I heard something else.
A cry so high and faint that not even Cotoni could sense it. Small
and weak, a flutter of notes: the faded music of her flinty heart.
I swear by the sea, I swear by the sky, this is the truth of the story.
I quieted, I softened, I chanted a whispered harmony like it was summer
solstice day. And that heart listened, beyond the squalling of furious winter.
The human kept bellowing the winds of the cold season, but her heart
lifted up from her body and flew off like a bird.
I only meant to free it from ice, but that heart took flight, dove into
the clean kiss of water. It surfaced near me in the swell and looked boldly
into my eyes.
What else could I do but bow, but flip, but dive in shivering
welcome? It was clear to every being in the cove: this tiny muscle had
chosen me. So I shivered, delight flooding my body. I raised my head in a
loud and joyful song.
When Seal began to sing his new tune, the evening sharpened.
The sunset glistened with power, as if it had been torn from the face of
Sacred Time. Coyote sat back on his haunches and lifted an ear to listen.
Hummingbird stilled her flutter. Eagle plummeted from the sky and closed
Silence, the sound beneath sound, gripped the throat of the world.
As if I was a hunter again, I heard the breath of birth, the sigh of
dying. I felt the quiet which must flood our bones before we kill. Seal
smiled at me from the sleek cloak of the water. “Did you want to become
one with me again?” he asked. He was ready to give himself to feed our
I laughed at his offer, the joke soaking the silence between us.
Neither of us were sure anymore just how much “human” still walked in
my bones. Even during the quick days of my lifetime the division confused
me. I couldn’t feel what separated the man in me from the seal who swam.
You haven’t been taught this, daughter, but when our people
hunted, the stillness of Sacred Time drenched our spirits. Dressed in furs
or feathers, we would carefully move into the heart of the animal we sought.
When we felt one with the creature, we gave ourselves, dying under our
own spear or arrow. But unlike others in the tribe, when I woke again I
could still feel a beak in my face or hooves at the end of my limbs.
It was my own pelt I skinned afterward, lifting the hide free from
a white thrust of muscle. I thanked my own flesh as it sizzled fat into the
grateful fire. I became so confused that every night my dreams threaded
themselves with creation’s silence. I spent my days wrapped in the quiet
of the first stars.
The elders took my stillness as a gift and called me Cotoni Shape
Changer. How I hunted, they said, echoed the wisdom of Sacred Time.
Our people tell that whatever died then became another. Death walked in
a new coat on the shaggy hills. The tribe declared I had been born to make
flesh of this memory. The power of that age spoke through my crowded
They grew thick with the feathers and gills of those I hunted. I
couldn’t speak for the fur that lined my throat. The creatures I killed fed
my people a meat made rich with an ancient wisdom. But all the dying
grieved me. The sour taste snatched words from my mouth.
I became Cotoni, the Silent One. Cotoni, the Great Hunter. Cotoni,
whittled thin by quiet during the autumn of his arrowed life.
And then one day I truly died, taken from the tribe by the wind of
a bitter winter. Sobbing, they carried my body to burn beside the waves of
this narrow shore. I rose, ash and air, into the gusts of a December evening.
The wind carried me straight into the mouth of a song.
Surprised and gasping, I was swallowed into truth; I learned the
heart of my own story. For the first time, daughter, I heard the music beneath
the silence of Sacred Time. It springs from the joy of our Mother of Many
Waters. She beats melody into the world with her Body of Land.
I listened and understood the voices of Seal and Coyote, Eagle and
Hummingbird. Deer, Elk, Otter: the animals in me rushed out, singing to
her tunes. And I found words, pelting and sharp, that roared in the rain
Mother sent to comfort our people. After decades, I spoke finally, strong
and brittle as the wind.
My tribe bent their heads to the wet, pebbled sound of my small
wisdom. They leaned forward to catch the tune of my rusty voice. I watched
how the song, the storm, softened their lean faces; I could see it cup the
sweetness that curled at the nub of their grief. In that moment, Mother
revealed to me her greatest secret—at the heart of the world, the notes for
love and grief are the same.
Love and sorrow, silence and song: this is the beat of our Mother’s
music. This is the joy that Seal threw back his head to sing. And I listened,
traveling centuries toward you, the living descendent who squatted at the
edge of the cliff beside me. Your heart had flown; winter was melting from
between your fingers. I hesitantly placed my hand on your arm.
Your flesh was smooth and cold, like the rainstorm you carried.
Lines etched your face, wounds from the battle you had fought with time.
You looked empty, daughter, like a deer speared without the proper prayers,
unable to return to life. With your heart gone, I thought, you will fall from
the bluff and die.
“Give our daughter back her heart,” I called to Seal, playing with
the home of your spirit in the spring waves. The muscle, a dark spot in the
water, rested like a tease on his bobbing snout.
“She has to value it enough to ask,” he replied and flipped your
heart up into the arms of the evening. It laughed. I peered into the silence
of your face to see if you had heard.
Your eyes flickered, but still you said nothing. No smile cracked
the mask of your lips. Seal wanted joy, but you could not reach into yourself
to name it. I understood then that pleasure was a language that you no
“It’s no use,” I called to him. “You can’t change her. In the name
of our family, return the heart.”
Seal shook his head. “Listen to how it sings, here in the water.” I
heard the thin happy music as they dove together under a breaking wave.
“What she doesn’t know, she can’t miss.”
“But she will die,” I protested.
Seal shrugged. “I have died many times, leaving life to enter the
song of our Mother. Maybe that is what the human needs.”
“No!” For the first time since my own death, I couldn’t find the
words to explain to your uncle, the sea creature. I reached for my spear
and quickly stood. I, Cotoni, would hunt the heart, as I had hunted so
many others. Cotoni would snare the muscle and return it to your chest.
“And isn’t joy what you hunted all along, killing the laughing spirit
of another to feed your people?” Seal asked. “You were so skilled, you
prevented too many others from learning of the rapture in the hunt for
themselves.” He shook his head and your heart nestled close to him in the
dark water. “This human will starve until she learns how to throw her
spear accurately. For once, let this one stalk pleasure on her own.”
I rested my knife in the long grass of the cliff and faced the truth of
Seal’s wisdom. He was right. During my life time, I had clutched at the
delight of the hunt as tightly as you clutched your false winter. I had fed
the tribe but did not allow the cheer of the catch, the hidden music in it, to
feed me. Oh, how I ached to tell you: “Set your traps for joy. Feather your
arrows. Do not become so lost in the hunt that you forget how to eat.”
You shifted back on your heels at the cliff edge, and I tried to speak,
but I was silent. The words fluttered like a flock of winter geese, crowding
my nervous mouth. I made myself talk, but what emerged was a plea, not
the wisdom and strength of a story. “Play with Seal,” I finally begged.
“Let the Mother’s joy enter your song.”
And for a moment, I thought that perhaps you’d heard my true
meaning. You surged up beside me and opened your arms to the wind.
III. Maria Reyes
It was the strangest thing. When I stood, my feet anchored
themselves to the ground for the first time since Maggie’s death. I could
feel the soil under my heel. What I mean is that, finally, between my skin
and the earth was more than just my hightops. I had made contact; it wasn’t
just Mag’s voice that called as the grasses blew.
I could see again. Through the dusk, I noticed the burst of pink
mallow that dotted the cow pasture. Orange poppies flamed among the
green. Even the water beneath me had changed color. It wasn’t gray
anymore, had slipped into the turquoise of spring.
For six months I had been traveling the dark corridor of my loss. I
hadn’t even noticed when the season changed. As far as I was concerned,
the world was still in the middle of an El Nino winter. It was November
1st, the last time Maggie and I had walked down to this, our favorite cliff.
The first day of the eleventh month had been gray, huge waves swelling
the rocks below us with a storm.
“The sea is hungry,” Mag declared, loosening her parka. She
whipped her hat off so the spray could tangle her braid. “Such a forward
girl! She wants a lover so bad she’s just throwing herself at the land.” We
laughed and sped back home to act out the ocean’s desire. The next day, a
nail, a rock maybe—anyway, a sudden flat slammed Maggie’s life into a
rainy highway curve.
I heard her voice in every wind that howled around the house that
winter. The rain sheeted the fields with her words.
“All we have is right now. You know I never said I was willing to
make you any promises. We’ve had a damn good seventeen years. What
more do you want from me?”
“I want you right here,” I cried to the silence. “Forever. Maggie,
why did you leave me? Please come back,” I knelt on the earth and begged.
Each wave, every bird answered my sorrow. The whole world echoed her
So what kind of life is this, I thought, so beautiful and so empty?
We’re supposed to do all the work it takes to love just to have it snatched
I clenched my hands into my jacket pockets. “Listen,” I cried out
loud into the evening. “I want forever or I want nothing. Mags, what do
She answered with a breeze scraping the husks of last summer’s
cattails. A wave rattled the empty rocks on the shore.
Each evening I trudged to our favorite haunts, hoping she would
give me a different answer. I knew I wouldn’t get what I really wanted; it’s
not possible for the dead to return. But I’d forget sometimes, while my feet
dragged down the long hallway of our life together. The entire world
stretched into a tunnel, no windows, no guarantee of that supposed light
at the end.
Until today, until I came back to this cliff for the first time since
Maggie died and stood up into the wind and my foot scuffed the crust of a
living soil. It startled me. I actually felt the pulse of the earth under my
toes. All right, so maybe you’ll think I’m crazy but this is what happened.
At that moment, I looked out across the fields and I saw them breathe. Just
as I do, in the lonesome shade of early evening. It gave me such comfort.
The world sighed, almost as if, like me, it didn’t want the day to end.
And then I noticed the old Indian man standing quietly behind
me. Maybe I should have run but I didn’t. He looked so much like
Granddad that I guess that’s why I wasn’t more afraid. But the man was a
stranger, so I felt my chest clench at the potential danger. Then I thought,
“What’s the matter with you? Maggie’s dead. The worst has already
happened.” I shook my head and peered out to the ocean. “Nothing this
guy could do to you will ever hurt you like that again.”
And you know, I was right not to leave because the old man leaned
forward and whispered, “I’m proud of you, daughter.” At his words, I felt
my spine lift up as if I had actually done something worthy. There I was,
thin and worried with a ripped flannel shirt under my jacket. Nothing
was any different. I was still as cracked and hollow as Maggie’s favorite
mixing bowl. But the man spoke with a soft voice that was as firm as
granite and I believed him. He swept his arm out toward the water. “Do
you hear the sunset song?”
I did. A music that vibrated every cell of the cliff rose up into the
dusk. I’m telling the truth now. Rye grass, yarrow, even the ice plant opened
its heart and sang.
And for the first time since she died, it didn’t matter where Maggie
was because of the song that shimmered all around me. Each stalk, each
curl of wave played its own tune. I couldn’t help myself—something made
me sing with the lovely evening. The old man smiled. Before I knew it, my
mouth was shaping some kind of melody out of Maggie’s life.
I sang everything: all our years together, the fights, the surprises.
The love I thought I’d lost made notes from my bones.
For a moment, I had a wild hope that my song would bring Maggie
back to me. I’d look up and there she’d be on the path, plaid shirt and
brown sweater: Maggie, with her graying braid, sure-footed and strong.
But the path remained empty; it sang its own story. I understood then that
each of us is given only one song.
Only one song. The old man pointed to a seal and I heard it say,
“Listen!” One song: but whoever arranges the music never takes any notes
The seal lifted his head out of the water and tossed something at
me. “There’s your `forever’.” I felt as if some small rock had hit me in the
chest. Then he cocked his head and looked me in the eye. I swear that he
smiled. I heard his teasing voice, “What more can you want?”
I threw my arms out and yelled, “Everything!” And then I sank
down into the grasses and started weeping. I can’t explain what happened
except that, this time, there was something different in all those tears. Maybe
my ears could finally hear the music in them the way I’d heard the sunset.
Anyway, I was crying with the same force that I had wept all winter, but I
didn’t feel so alone.
For one thing, there was the old man who placed a firm hand on
my shoulder. He squeezed. When I looked up next, he had disappeared.
He was just plain gone.
But there was still the seal, a thick wedge in the darkening water. I
watched as he dove one final time and then swam away from me.
The stars sang me home along the scuffed trail. “Thanks for the
music. See you soon, Mags,” I promised as I let myself into the welcoming
Incognito Ryan G. Van Cleave
But how Bukowski’s Gibson-graveled voice growls
upon me in my erratic dreams, better
killing yourself than write some damn fool sonnet
–there’s no dot of philosophy in plugging
in words. Cookie-cutter flimflam, all of it.
To make one any good at all, you’d have to
shape it up, give it a woman’s fragile curves.
A poem like that’d be worth reading more than once.
Sam, my butcher-friend at the new Winn-Dixie,
(of course he suffers from Brady jokes) he says
No good to be haunted by dead poets, and
no good to listen to them neither. But the
evening quiet breaks, a plow parting old earth,
the Buk’s voice in my ears like a cold, salty sea.
Disappointments of the Mask Tilly Shaw
After a workshop in life-masks
I couldn’t find my face till all the others were taken–
I’d searched the different mouths and cheekbones,
strange shrouded eyes—not one could I see
myself in. It pained me not to recognize what
I looked like—all the greetings I’d been preparing
vanished mid-breath, self-embrace I’d hoped for,
late new beginning—instead found myself floating,
uncertain, in abeyance... Teacher said,
Persist, your face will feel right and fit you.
So I tried each on in succession like
blouses or shoes, found one that seemed possible,
returned to my seat. But the old woman next
to me instantly saw it was hers, thanked me
for bringing it. Dubious, I checked inside,
found her residue in the cheek and nose
pockets, her pancake make-up, not my
bared pores. Later located my missing face
alone on the table, unclaimed.
I’m writing this several days later, having
brought the mask home with me,
still feel bereft—or is it lonely?—
when I pass it in the living room, its
luminous whiteness staring up at the
ceiling, frail shell of myself.
Mary Guilfoyle Debra Spencer
it was like living inside a corpse, that house on Clay Street Frank our landlord
bought when the old man died, battered siding, mildewed contents coated
in ancient dust, he didn’t clean it just rented it out to us, dirty dishes still in
the sink, termite frass, crumbling plaster sifting down, I could stick my
finger through the wood splintered like old bone, moldy carpets, ribboned
wallpaper, all the floors tilted, no drawers stayed shut, we had to open the
slope-shouldered fridge with Greg’s screwdriver, had water fights in the
kitchen, once Margaret brought home day-old pies for us to throw, rain
dripped into the silverware drawer, Martha made dinner, Greg would say
come eat in the bosom of your family
but at two in the morning the smell of the old man’s skin would rise up
from the mattress through my thin sheets, what was I doing with my life, I
put my feet to the gritty floor through the brooding house, the subtle
breathing, out past the jasmine, lay down under the apricot tree, heard
drunks, drug dealers, Vietnam vets singing in the dark
or walked all hours along the levy alone, the smell of river mud, wild dill,
dry weeds, ducks, the sea, I had just gotten my bachelor’s degree, was
washing dishes for new freshmen, went to weekend parties on the west
side, poker games downtown, walked home alone along the levy way past
midnight, tequila buzz, a jackpot in my pocket, my hair long and loose,
saw the moon on the river, listened to the sea roar like a Dead concert, like
twenty thousand peace marchers, the smell of dill along the levy, the air
like brine, I walked to Jim’s above the rivermouth with nothing on under
my skirt to see what he’d do, watched ducks glide, seagulls with shellfish
flesh dangling from their beaks swoop above the roller coaster, pelicans
and sometimes stuck out my thumb if I got tired of walking, they took me
into their cars, offered me hits of weed, sips of beer, old clothes from the
back seat, bags of apples and tomatoes, what they thought of Nixon, Reagan,
Jesus, young girls who hitchhiked, weed should be legal, acid should be
legal, I should get on with my life, some said did I ever think I might
experiment with, no, oh well, they were women, men, big, little, long hair,
short hair, flash cars, coughing old jalopies, ex milk trucks, an old bus,
expounding their faith in God or the latest conspiracy theory, and did I
think his pants were too tight, just let me off here, I’d say, I can walk home
until the afternoon Greg reading the Sentinel over coffee before his shift,
Margaret baking bread, Martha typing her thesis in the kitchen, me trying
to write but choked by the smell of the house, the cabinets angled like Dr.
Caligari, the walls always damp, the faucet dripping, Margaret tipped out
her bread fresh from the oven, I gripped my pen, Martha typed her final
word, and Greg read to us about a girl’s severed head found by hikers in
the woods, too decomposed for immediate identification, only her long
hair still unchanged
On the Occasion of my Grandmother’s
Death Kim Scheiblauer
My two aunts,
still attired in navy and black,
portion out one piece of jewelry
for each granddaughter.
Because she was married three times
and our grandmother never let her forget it,
because it was her folks who took those cross-town calls
for butter-brickle ice cream at 10pm,
the ruby ring is awarded to my cousin.
My sister receives the sapphire ring.
It is her birthstone, one aunt says.
or at least the color of her birthstone, the other aunt adds.
I overhear my parents,
my father’s agitation, my mother’s low murmurs.
My father thinks I have been gypped,
is upset his sister-in-law wants
to keep the imitation Duncan Phyfe chairs,
deny him a share of the few dollars left.
I hold up the modest bevel of green jade,
smaller than my thumbnail,
let it hang from the chain.
Flecked with mineral,
framed by tiny, gold nuggets,
it cups the light.
In the jeweler’s box,
under the cotton pad,
I find a sheet of motel letterhead,
imprinted Anchorage, Alaska;
my grandfather, reporting to my grandmother
the progress of his union business,
dated the year of my birth.
Folded, and folded again,
it passes into my hands
as unknowingly as a message
smuggled from occupied territory.
A love note, my legacy.
Confession Vito Victor
Father, I cheat all the time.
“What do you mean by ‘cheating,’ my son?”
Cheating is swinging my arms and walking jauntily into class,
addressing the students as though I were the President of the United States.
Cheating is talking to my dog as though there were a complex
understanding between us. Getting from pets—from dogs or cats or horses
—that unalloyed fleshwarmth and wetnosing that I cannot get from people.
Oh, the uncritical devotion, the unconditional affection of animals! That’s
cheating, using them that way. Don’t you agree?
And prancing and whirling and flexing my muscles in front of the
mirror, alone with my music. Pretending to be a stag, an eagle, a virile
dancer-athlete-fucker. Saving these journal pages in dozens of binders,
and imagining some scholar of the future reading every word for important
clues to VV’s intellectual and spiritual development. Giving myself the
temporary illusion that my life is a big deal. Cheating, cheating.
It is cheating to write a poem in a narrow column when it could as
well be reformatted in paragraphs. It is cheating to use the word “ramify”
when all I mean is “branch.” But what about adding honey to the spaghetti
sauce? Waking up with coffee? Using a sunlamp? Makeup? Lipstick?
Perfume? Is art cheating? What about stories? Aren’t stories lies, or at
least fantasies? Is literature cheating?
Pretending to be a writer. Squeezing the dry rocks and gravel of
the world for “significance.” Hugging the curves on Highway 17, Vito the
racing driver. Pretending that my poverty is voluntary and principled,
that my political powerlessness is rebellion, that my lack of involvement
shows philosophic detachment, that my cynicism is based on unusual
intelligence rather than common laziness, that my sloppy dress and trashed-
out car reflect my spiritual values.
“Anything else, my son?”
Father, I do my boring job a little better than I have to, so that I can
say: this is mine, all mine, these buckets have to be filled just this way. Father,
this is embarrassing, sometimes in midsummer I lie on top of a mountain
in the blaze of high-altitude heat and let myself get fucked by the sun. A
cosmic fuck, father!
“Why, you’re not getting fucked by the sun, boy. You’re just beating
Oh, father, I grade the tests sternly and objectively, and then I change
some student’s grade when he complains, and bask in the glow of his
surprised gratitude. What a good guy that Mr. Victor is! When I’m in the
mood for some real cheating, I press a five dollar bill into a homeless wino’s
hand. Or I buy my wife some expensive flowers.
“Why? Do you cheat on her?”
I am faithful, father, but it is cheating to claim that my sexual
timidity and contentment are virtues. I cheat her all the time, really. I tire
myself out needlessly in the gym and then plead the need for rest. I put up
with her bad moods so that I can feel secretly sanctimonious. And isn’t it
cheating to be a father, and a son, to the same woman, who is your wife?
And what is NOT cheating? The world without imagination,
according to Wallace Stevens; the world without Ego, according to Buddha
and Co. The bald, wrinkled, aching facts.
OK. Here I am, an old man with a disorderly mind, doing as little
useful work as possible, living in fantasy. Cheating with pills, weed, booze,
massages, hot baths. Cheating all the time.
Dirty Little Drug Addicts Roxan McDonald
Angie’s been smoking pot
since she was ten, stealing cars
since ninth grade
Peter’s a junkie, he’d tell you
anything to get you to cough up
Amy started doing crank in
her big brother’s car when she
was twelve. Her teeth started
turning black when she was fifteen.
You probably see them all the time
You probably walked past them on
your way in here
You probably wrinkled your nose
up at their thick cloud of cigarette smoke
They’ve probably offended you
with their cursing and disrespect
They’ve probably stolen from you,
lied to you, begged money from you
You’ve probably avoided them
turned the corner, crossed the street,
stood up at city council to discuss
Emily’s got a face like an angel
and a body as skinny as a twig
she’s got a foul mouth and
a temper the size of Texas
Megan’s got hair like a blanket
of chocolate and skin the color
of early morning coffee
she cuts on herself when
the pressure gets to be too much
Jeff is sixteen and fierce
he’s strong and brave
and no one fucks with his friends
if he can help it
Tara cries at the drop of a hat
cries for people she doesn’t even
know. She’s golden and soft and
and can barely walk around with
her big heart of glass
You ask me all the time how
I put up with them
how I go to work everyday
and face their attitudes, their disrespect
I wonder how you don’t
I wonder how you can look
at children and not see that
they are just a megaphone for
problems that reach deaf ears
Meagan can’t count how many
foster homes she’s had, can’t remember
anyone touching without an agenda
Amy’s mom is a drunk who’d
trade her arm for a bottle her
daughter for a warm bed
Jeff’s dad left him cool stereo system
after he blew his brains out
in the front seat of their family car
Tara’s mom is a junky
who keeps it together just
long enough to pay the rent
and kiss her daughter goodnight
I wonder how you can look at
them and not see that each and everyone
has a story that would make you cry
that each one has a solution as simple
as someone looking at them long enough
to see only the best
I wonder when you are clean and warm
and you know the way
How you can not show it to these
kids that are nothing
The Ruby Ring Carol See-Wood
For years I wondered where the ring was. Now this morning, while
cleaning out my father’s top dresser drawer almost a year since he died, I
come across it. He’d placed it in a manila envelope, sealed it, folded it,
then wrote “ruby ring” on it.
I open the envelope and the ring falls into my hand. It feels heavy
and the bright red stone glints in the dim light of his dusty bedroom. I
haven’t seen it in so long. My father always wore it. My grandparents
gave it to him when he graduated from college in 1931. Amazing then in
the Depression that they would have had money for something like a ruby
ring, but they must have been proud of him.
I run my finger over the split gold band where the doctor must
have had to saw it off. I can hear our voices of long ago in the air around
me, his teasing, mine angry.
“It’s time to get up,” he said.
I grunted and pulled the pillow over my head, shutting him out.
He always thought it was funny waking me up like that on Saturday
mornings when we had to go somewhere.
He pulled the pillow off my head and sang loudly in my ear to the
tune of reveille, “It’s time to get up, it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up in
“Go away,” I said.
He tickled me in the ribs and I pushed him away. It was blessedly
quiet for a moment and I thought he had truly gone away. Then I felt a
drop of water on my face.
I ignored it.
Then another drop. Drip, drop. Drip, drop.
I looked up. He was holding an aluminum sauce pan filled with
water over my head. I glared at him. “If you don’t leave me alone, I’m
going to hurt you!”
“You’d better get up now,” he said softly, “before I dump this whole
pan of water on you.”
“Leave me alone!” I screamed. I leapt out of bed and charged him,
pushed him toward the door, all the while he was laughing and laughing.
He couldn’t stop laughing.
“I’m not kidding,” I said. “Just get out of here!” I shoved him as
hard as I could until he was out in the hall, but he stuck his hand back in
the doorjamb and for a moment I saw it, just his hand, nothing else, there
in the doorjamb as if it was disembodied. I could have stopped myself, but
I wanted to hurt him. I wanted him to know I could hurt him. I took hold
of the door and slammed it as hard as I could on his hand and I heard him
yell on the other side.
I was afraid to open the door and look at what I’d done. Afraid to
look at his hand. Afraid to look at his face. I’d never done anything like
that in my life. I’d never hurt anyone and now I had hurt my father, my
best friend really. But I had warned him, hadn’t I? It wasn’t my fault if he
didn’t believe me. I’d told him. I went and sat frozen on the edge of my
bed waiting for him to come barreling into my room, waiting for the
Surprisingly, he didn’t come into my room. I heard him walk down
the hall to the kitchen, heard my mother’s voice, then his. They left without
a word to me. I watched through the window as they backed the car out of
the driveway into the street. I sat that whole long Saturday morning
wondering what happened.
My father came back a few hours later with his finger splinted.
Since it was his right hand and he was right-handed, he couldn’t do much.
He worked as a traveling salesman and since he couldn’t drive for at least
three weeks while his finger healed he couldn’t work and since he couldn’t
work he lost money.
I never said I was sorry even though I was. And he never said a
word about it to me. Never yelled or hit me like any reasonable father
would. When my mother returned from the hospital with him she tried to
yell at me, but he stopped her. And that was that. Except once much later
when we were playing gin rummy I happened to notice he wasn’t wearing
his ruby ring and I asked him where it was. And he told me then that the
doctor had cut it off when he hurt his hand. That’s how he said it: “when
I hurt my hand.” I looked away, then the game went on and the moment
was over. But I always wondered about the ring and why he never had it
repaired, never wore it again.
Now here it is. It’s turned up in my life again and I don’t know
what to do with it. Maybe I’ll take it to a jeweler, get it repaired. Maybe
even wear it. But then again how could I? And so because I don’t know
what else to do, I return it in the same envelope, take it home with me,
place it in my own top dresser drawer.
Little Lady and The Angels T. C. Marshall
I thought I should be a lady, so I kept quiet while they listened to
the radio. It was President Roosevelt talking about war. Gramma and
Grampa weren’t saying anything about Roosevelt’s foolishness that day;
they were listening. I couldn’t really listen ‘cause I didn’t understand. It
was Sunday after church, time for us to drive to Marysville for a chicken
dinner in our Sunday best. I was wearing my blue velvet dress. I remember
because I sat there making patterns in the nap, rubbing my fingers in its
shine to trace a darker blue where I reversed it. I had chosen to sit in the
chair by the window to look at the shine on my patent leather shoes. I
remember turning them this way and that to make little glints of light
flash off their black surface while Gramma and Grampa Summers listened
to the President. I guess I knew it was history; I knew it was war, but I
didn’t know what war would mean to me.
Gramma worried about Uncle Riley signing up. Grampa said we
all had to do our part. He was repeating the President’s words without
saying anything unkind about them at all. I knew to smile when he
grumbled in his usual disagreement with our President or made a rude
joke about “a chicken on every pot”; it was my way of siding with Grampa
without understanding. That day, I understood that I should not smile.
That Sunday, I understood that we would not be going out for a fried
chicken dinner; we’d be eating at home without my friend Katy or any
guests. My shoes and my dress could only amuse me for so long, but I
kept at it—looking at the shine and the patterns, closing my eyes to see
the spot of light that shone off my shoes as it faded away into my brain. I
looked for the velvet nap patterns there, too, but they didn’t stay after I
closed my eyes. With my eyes closed, my ears were more open: I could
hear the President’s voice with its familiar tone and rhythms. He was not
from Ohio; he was from New York. He could not say “Uh-high-uh” like
we could and did. He was saying “Ha-why-yuh” and talking about “Pearl
Harbor” which would have sounded beautiful if it were not about war.
We had been attacked. I had learned in school that Hawaii was far from
our farm village of Richwood, but still I was tempted to imagine enemy
forces occupying our town. It turned out that the war was subtler than
Life would be different from then on—full of what I felt as
“inconveniences” like lack of sugar and fresh fruit, as well as other more
noble sacrifices. Even this far from Japan or Germany, we would practice
blackouts to prepare for an invasion or bombing. We were, after all, the
breadbasket of the nation, and Richwood was near a railroad line where
cars from Detroit and food from Chicago would travel. Eventually, troops
trained in Chicago traveled on that line, too. I would see them, and
sometimes soldiers or sailors would give up seats for us when I traveled
with my sister to see our mother and Tom in Toledo or Aunt Eva on
Michigan Avenue in Chicago itself.
Bonny and I were already used to life being different. Our Daddy
had died two years before, and we had come to live with our mother’s
parents while she went away to find a new life. We ended up staying with
them far longer than we expected. The war maybe had something to do
with that. Mother and her forbidden cigarettes had left. I got to move out
of the room with my sister and into a small room of my own. Bonny was
up in her room that day, Sunday, December 7th. I was being a little lady
and sitting quietly with Gramma and Grampa while they listened and
worried over this latest news from the radio. Hitler was one thing; being
attacked was another.
I knew that much, but it was hard to think about anything else.
We were used to our life; we had adjusted to it as it was. There were reliable
pleasures in it that even the war shouldn’t be able to disturb. The things I
liked best were movies and skating and playing paperdolls with my
friends. My bicycle was part of my fun, too, but my rollerskates were more
important, so I didn’t mind when I popped a tire and the war wouldn’t let
me get another innertube. I was filling my bike tire with air at the Phillips
station, and somehow I didn’t know to stop—so it popped. The boys who
were working there laughed, but they told me then that rubber was hard
to come by. Metal was too, but my skates were mine already and they
wouldn’t pop. I wore them as often as I could—especially on Friday nights.
I wore them so often I might have worn them out if they were made of
weaker stuff, but it was my shoe leather that got worn out with toe-stops
and twirls and the pressure of the clamps that fit over the edge of the soles
at the sides.
I’d clamp them on and key them tight, and I’d go skating into
town with my friends on a Friday night because that’s when the adults
had dances in the summertime. Just a couple of blocks away from our
house, they’d clear the whole street and set up chairs on the sidewalks
and play the victrola through speakers to make a streetdance. Katy and I,
along with Joan and Janice and Marsha and Mary, would skate into town
and around and around watching the young men set things up. Then we’d
skate home for supper. Remembering to get a little more ladylike as I
approached the house, I’d slow down and let the sweat evaporate from
“Oh, you’re all aglow,” Gramma would say. To her, it was only
horses that could “sweat” while men “perspired” and women would
“glow.” I would laugh and set my skates just inside the door to wait for
when I’d need them again after supper. I went upstairs to freshen up for
the table. The old high-ceilinged bathroom was cool on an early summer
evening, and the tap water was too—though I wondered how it could
stay cool in its tall wooden tower exposed to the sun where Grampa said
the water had to come from to get “gravity flow.” I patted my face dry,
and hung the towel just so—ladylike, because now for awhile at home I
could be almost “elegant.”
That was a word I saw quite often in Photoplay when I was reading
about my moviestars. I was lucky enough to get my movie magazines for
free at Gramma Cole’s drugstore. I worked there sometimes, helping out
as a sodajerk, doing my part. My daddy had worked there, too, but he
didn’t get along very well with his mother so we moved to Findlay where
he caught pneumonia and died. Daddy was buried in the cemetery at the
bend in the road down towards Magnetic Springs, a little ways down past
where Katy lived in the boarding house her mother ran. She had to go all
the way down there to have her supper before the dance. Ladylike was
different there, with no indoor plumbing or running water. She had a tough
life and called me one of her angels when I’d invite her to supper or to
help me cut out dresses for my paperdolls from the pictures in the “Simple-
City” catalogue as she called it.
When Daddy was buried, they talked about angels coming to take
him home. Later, they told me he was my guardian angel. Some of my
friends said no, he couldn’t be ‘cause we were related. I guess they thought
angels worked like marriage or something. Mother was out looking for
her angel. She called me one sometimes, too.
Katy had other angels in her tough life. At her mother’s boarding
house, there was a man who bet on horses. When he won, he’d buy Katy
things. She said it was for luck, and I guess she felt lucky. He bought her a
bike when she’d been dreaming of one. Another time, he bought her a
diamond ring. That wasn’t as weird as it sounds; diamonds were her
birthstone, and this was a tiny one set in a thin gold band. He gave it to
her with a birthday card bought at Gramma Cole’s that said “for my little
angel.” Sometimes Katy really didn’t want to go back there after our
afternoon’s skating and she would say, “Be an angel,” like a lady in a
movie asking a man to get her coat. I knew what she meant, and I would
get her an invitation to supper at our house. If she had to go home, it was
a long skate down and back; and that could really make you glow.
Sometimes, though, Katy wouldn’t even ask; she knew she had to
go help serve supper at home. I felt sorry for her, having to serve people
who were a little like lost souls. Besides the race-course man, there was a
guy who did odd jobs around town and an old “lady” who wore hats in
her room like she was waiting to go to a party or church. It was like she
was playing at being “ladylike.” It was interesting to visit there, to use the
outhouse and the pump and to see these odd people. Still, I didn’t mind
going home and being a “little lady” myself for awhile.
It wasn’t so bad to be alone for a spell. I could freshen up a lot
easier. I could relax in my room for a few minutes before supper. I could
sit by the three little windows looking out at the street and turn the pages
of a magazine that showed the stars in elegant dress in elegant homes or
hotel lobbies with wallpaper like I had in my room—powder blue with
little pink roses and a satiny stripe every few inches. I could sit at my little
escritoire desk and think about writing a letter to the addresses they gave
for the stars or about getting love letters someday. I could admire the neat
way I kept my hairbrush and handmirror and my little jewelry box on top
of my dresser, arranged just so—so ladylike. Alone in my room, I could
imagine a life for myself that might happen someday.
The movies helped. I went to almost every one that came to town.
For a nickel, you could see love unfold against all odds for the lady and
her gentleman. It was about sacrifices and maintaining your style, waiting
and being devoted, saying the right thing and hearing that you were
adored. I knew it was all play-acting, but that’s what I liked about it; I
guess. There were true stories of love, too, in Photoplay and the other
magazines. It was exhilarating: the stories, the photos, the idea of love,
and the love itself. The movies and the magazines showed all of that so a
ten-year-old girl could feel it, too.
When Gramma rang the little silver dinner bell, I came down the
stairs like an actress. She liked the way I behaved myself at table, but it
didn’t last long after I put my skates on again for the evening. Then, it was
back downtown to watch the dancers and the crowd. Gramma Cole would
be there, gossiping with the older ladies. Uncle Riley would have brought
the chairs out of the funeral home for them to sit in on the sidewalk.
Gramma and Grampa Summers didn’t go in for such things, so I was free
to be my childish skating self with Katy and the girls. We’d roll the streets
till our feet tingled and then stop awhile to watch the dancing couples.
We’d form couples, girl and girl, and flail around to act like we were
dancing before we knew how, laughing at it all and wishing for the day
when boys could ask us and we would know how. There was popcorn to
buy and eat, too, and soda fountain drinks and sundaes either at Gramma
Cole’s or (better yet) where the young kids went up the street at Cheesy’s.
That was a candy store run by the Chiesa family who didn’t seem to mind
the foolish mispronunciation of their name. If I came back down the block
from there, it always seemed that Gramma Cole would be sitting in a chair
waiting to scowl at me. I’d blush; it’s hard to be ladylike on skates after an
ice-cream sundae bought with Grampa Summers’ money going to the
When I’d get home to him on a night like that, he’d be sitting up
in the parlor waiting. I’d take off my skates and feel the blurry tingle, and
step into the house and answer “plenty after ten” when he asked what
time it was. It was a way of not lying and not having to tell the truth. It
was also like a little joke that I could hold onto until I could tell my friends
so we could giggle about it the next day. Grampa couldn’t see the clock or
hear me clearly, so I thought he never knew and the joke was on him. But
when the town clock struck eleven while I was snuggling into bed, I
worried that he’d hear it. Those warm summer evenings, I’d let the window
hang open like I was waiting for an eloping partner to show up like an
angel to take me away.
Winter days had different fun in them, but it was still a blurry
tingle. There was ice-skating, which I never liked as much as summertime
free-rolling through the town. If you fell down in winter, it was on cold
ice; and if there was laughter, it was the kind that hurt. In winter clothes,
it was easier to look elegant but harder to do things. There was a pond at
the old quarry pit that I never much liked, summer or winter. The other
kids would swim there in the summertime, but I never learned; it scared
me too much somehow. That was where we’d skate in winter, too, but I
never got too far into that either; there was dark cold water under the ice,
and I couldn’t quite forget that.
That Sunday, December 7th, was a sunny day with snow on the
ground. It was sharply cold when I went outside, the kind of day where
your breath almost hurts, the kind of day that can really make you feel
alive. I went to the little bit of a hill in our yard where it sloped down
under that window I’d been sitting in, and I stood there for a minute with
my arms stretched out to the sides. I closed my eyes and let myself look
inside at the deep dark opposite of the snow’s brightness in there, just for
a dizzy moment before I let myself fall backward. I knew to stick my bottom
out just a little, so my head would land last and softly, safely. My
outstretched arms knew what they were supposed to do, too. They swept
up and down like wings flying, and I made an angel in the snow. It was
not going to be much fun alone, but I sat up carefully and stood up to turn
and admire my angel. Gramma was looking out that window above me.
At first, sternly, like I was not being a lady; but then she smiled briefly,
and for a moment I saw a tear in her eye as her lips shaped the word
“child” and she shook her head slightly. Then, she turned back towards
the warm kitchen to go make us a chicken dinner at home.
returning Stan Rushworth
The old man was in his early seventies, to guess, but it was hard to tell
because he was so strong, in such good shape. His hips were wide, legs
stocky, his bare brown feet wide and muscled, like his hands were whether
resting or working. His forearms rippled when he shined black combat
boots, and his whole body radiated strength and life, black eyes sparkling
when he joked, which was often. And when he was serious, which was
also often, because we were in the beginning stages of a long war, his eyes
grew deep, reaching out with re-assurance. He understood loss and pain,
and a gaze from him went a long way toward allaying fears, of which we
had many, underneath the bravado we all carried on our faces like armor.
We were smart-asses, quick with the jibe, the come-back, the insult, the
scorn, the easy laughter; we were soldiers and we were nineteen, teenag-
ers in uniforms with high caliber weapons. The old man shined shoes and
took our uniforms to be cleaned, scrubbed on a block of stone by the vil-
lage well by hand, dried on a line between the trees, folded neatly and
returned fresh and rough, smelling of crude soap. He did everything that
needed doing, and he counseled too, placing his powerful hand on a young
soldier’s arm when needed to quiet the boy’s spirit. His smile turned up
gently from the corners of his broad mouth. He was already a grandfather
when the second world war invaded his island, and he had taken his whole
family into the caves of the northern jungle to live. He had carried grand-
children and bedding on his back, climbed the rocks carefully, and weekly
slipped down into the Japanese and American camps to steal or beg for
food to feed hidden families. The war was not their fight, but to survive
was. It’s still like that, all over the world.
The night was warm and black, made luminous by more stars than I had
ever imagined. We were closer to space so near the equator, where the
stars and planets were magnified by the heat of the air, by the moisture
that lay close to the skin, like an invisible hand always stroking. Walking
the road that crested the hill above the camp, I could see both sides of the
island, the East China Sea on one side and the Pacific on the other, both of
them huge rolling black bodies of life under the stars, which shone from
horizon to horizon, so many, so bright, so intense they lit the earth below
them without a moon, without street lights, everything sparkling with light.
The old man walked fifty yards ahead of me. I could tell it was him by his
strong and steady gait, the walk of someone who knew this ground like
the skin of his own hand. I matched his pace, and watched his dark figure
appear and disappear in the night, always appearing again striding an
unchanging rhythm. I breathed in the warm night air. Beauty was all
The truck was suddenly loud behind me, coming up from the main highway
far below and reaching the crest road. The white headlights flayed out in a
fan shape around me, reaching the old man in the distance dimly, casting
my long shadow before me on the thin ribbon of black asphalt. The fan
shape was steady at first, then it suddenly veered and I spun to see the
truck bearing down on me. I leaped into the ditch to the side of the road as
the big wheels threw gravel over me and a mob of voices yelled out “faggot”
at the top of their lungs, in the voice that calls to God to say “I am stupid. I
am completely and utterly stupid and if you had an ounce of mercy in you,
you’d end my miserable life.” I quickly jumped to my feet in the ditch
bottom and called out in vain to the old man, as the fan of headlights lit his
back and the truck’s big engine roared.
The old man flew in an ugly arc over the ditch to land on his back in the
darkness. The headlights were already receding as the driver pulled back
off the shoulder, and the old man’s flying form was like that of a shadow
that suddenly vanishes, and you wonder what it was. The steel bumper
hit him squarely in the stomach as he was turning to face the truck in
surprise, and he had no chance to leap aside. The scream “fucking gook”
echoed out of the truck and across the field toward the north end of the
island where the caves were, as the dim red taillights disappeared downhill
toward the camp. Soon it was silent again, and I could only hear the sound
of my feet running through the gravel, onto the asphalt, back to the gravel
again, then into the soft grass of the ditch and the field where he lay.
His eyes were staring into the universe of stars, his body torn open and
smelling of freshly exposed life. There was still light in his eyes as I kneeled
in the moisture next to him. There had been a warm rain earlier, damp in
the soil. He stared into me and past me, and I didn’t know if he could see
me, but it didn’t matter, because in less than a moment he was gone, and
his eyes clouded over and became dull, not even reflecting the starlight,
but absorbing it into their own infinite space. I touched his hand, still
warm, no longer strong.
The Military Police said they would never be found, that justice would not
be served, but I already knew that, and the old man became one of a
thousand stories over the next twenty-one months. Young men killed and
were killed, went across the channel to become ghosts, some coming back,
most never seen again. Politicians lied about it, newspapers buried more
and more truth for them, and people back home wandered in illusion for
what seemed like forever. Some mothers were proud of their children’s
deaths, and some mourned for the rest of their lives. Some men returned
to die slow deaths, others to be killed by memory, still others to spend their
We’re here again now, and the strangers wrap themselves in flags to hide
their motives. The old man’s eyes still pull in all the light there is.
Broken Clock Helen Beeson
I’ve got wind chime baggage bullshit kickin
around draggin me down
and the second hand is stuck in the same position
running over an altered rendition
in my head
I’d go to bed
for his personalized smile
just give me a while
I’d fall in love
just place him above
and my photo art
is shoved into my heart
because the rain wiped out the sun Imelda Jimenez
but hey hon
you still give me emotional contrast
I’d be fast
it’d hurt like hell
but oh well
this girl’s fell
still thinking about your face
and the second hand is still in the same goddamn place
ticking along with my heart
not going anywhere
only falling apart