Issue #20 (2011) PDF - myweb - Long Island University
Issue #20 (2011) PDF - myweb - Long Island University
Issue #20 (2011) PDF - myweb - Long Island University
You also want an ePaper? Increase the reach of your titles
YUMPU automatically turns print PDFs into web optimized ePapers that Google loves.
a journal of writing
long island university
one university plaza
brooklyn NY 11201
Mary Kennan Herbert
Front cover. Air-brush Experiment. Collage, acrylic & air-brush. 10-3/4 in. x 14 in. 2007
Back cover. Untitled. Collage embedded in handmade paper. 2011
Downtown Brooklyn: A Journal of Writing is published by the English Department at the Brooklyn
Campus of Long Island University. We thank Provost Gale Stevens Haynes for the generous
financial support of her Office. Back-issues of the magazine are available in the Periodicals
Collection of the Salena Library at the Brooklyn Campus; in the Little Magazine Collection of
Memorial Library at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
See the appendix of this issue for contributors‘ biographical notes & for submission guidelines.
Long Island University encourages freedom of expression. However, the views expressed herein are
those of the authors & not of the editor, the English Department, or Long Island University.
Downtown Brooklyn is printed & bound by Thomson-Shore, Inc.
number twenty ISSN 1536-8475
© 2011 by Downtown Brooklyn: A Journal of Writing. All rights revert to authors upon publication.
a journal of writing
number twenty / 2011
Elspeth Woodcock Macdonald
Cynthia Maris Dantzic
Jon L. Peacock
Julián del Casal (trans. G. J. Racz)
Leslie Anne Rexach
Beatriz Alzate Rodriguez
Mary Kennan Herbert
P. J. Salber
Tejan Green Waszak
Eight Images by Constance Woo
bio notes & submission guidelines
BOURBON AND CHOCOLATE
Almost every night, there is a line outside of Downtown, the Lower East Side‘s newest addition to the
string of bars suffocating Avenue B. Painters, poets, and musicians mostly. She stands outside in
her cherry-red knee-length skirt and a lacy ivory sweater unbuttoned just enough to reveal the
inviting jet black corset ―hiding‖ underneath. Her cleavage attracts stares from both men and
women bustling by; some cast looks of desire or jealousy, others of disgust. She pretends not to
enjoy the attention, but she knows that inside she is flattered to be in the spotlight for even one
fleeting moment. She knew the type of attention her outfit would attract even before she put it on.
She teeters on 3-inch stiletto heels, which bring her to a total height of 5‘10, as she leans against
Downtown‘s outside wall smoking a cigarette. Her straw-blonde hair adheres in loose curls to her
highly-placed cheekbones, which she‘s received compliments about since the days of ballet recitals.
To her, those days seem too long gone.
She makes sure to use one of her heels to stomp out the ember of her cigarette once it has
reached its final resting place among a sea of dozens of others discarded butts. She gets sad when
she sees the piles of litter that define New York, her hometown, growing at the rate of well-nurtured
toddlers, but finds that she contributes to the problem. She tosses eleven cigarette butts a day on
average. The thought of not yet having a child of her own to watch grow is on her mind almost
After ten minutes of waiting on line, she reaches the bouncer. Her ear catches loud chatter
coming from inside. ―I can‘t wait to hear him play,‖ a rather shrill voice is chirping.
The older, muscular man stationed at the front door asks to see her identification. She often
still gets carded at bars and clubs; her smooth, milky skin resembles that of a porcelain china doll
and makes her look younger than her 29 years of age. He is genuine when he says, ―Enjoy your
night, Magdalena,‖ as he hands back her I.D. She hadn‘t heard him telling that to any of the other
women on the line before her.
She walks over to the bar and asks to see a wine list before ordering an overpriced glass of
Pinot Grigio. She sips the chilled wine at a quick, steady pace while observing the lounge itself,
taking in as many details as she can since it her first time at Downtown. There is a wooden stage of
about thirty feet in length to the left of the bar. A thick, black curtain is hanging, blocking threequarters
of the performance area. As she looks around, she sees many neon colored posters
covering nearly every space of the walls. Their loudness is apparent, as if she could hear them yelling
to her, ―no, come to this show. cover only $5. fuck their band‖ in attempts to out due one another.
The competition among musicians and artists to gain notoriety in an over-crowded city like New
York is ridiculous; so much talent is untapped as a result of discouragement from unattended shows.
The bricks of the walls, natural to the building long before Downtown opened, are covered and
One poster stands out to her from all the rest because it bears no color at all. Vertical black
and white stripes intended to resemble piano keys occupy the length of its 24 inch borders. She
squints to read ―Matthew Daniels‖ ―this Friday, April 2‖ ―Downtown‖ written in three centered lines
in very minimal golden block-lettering at the bottom of the poster. There is no picture of Matthew
Daniels, no allusion to the type of show his audience should expect.
The corners of Magdalena‘s lacquered lips curl into a smile of appreciation for Matthew‘s
soft-spoken and elusive advertisement. She pictures an older, dignified gentleman with a streak of
gray in his hair sitting behind an equally distinguished piano on which the black polish is so finished,
he can see his smiling reflection in it at all times. She finishes off her dwindling glass before she
realizes that it is April 2.
―Excuse me, bartender Can I get another Pinot Grigio And what time does Matthew
Daniels go on‖
―You still got about another fifteen minutes.‖
―Oh, alright. Thank you,‖ Magdalena answers politely. She is doing a good job of
concealing her anxiousness to discover who this mysterious Matthew Daniels is and what art he is
about to share with the world.
In the meantime, her eyes scan more posters. $15 cover to see Passion Falls, an ―eclectic
heavy metal explosion of alternative components.‖ She never could control the cloud of laughter
that escapes from deep within her belly when she finds something to be funny, and this time she
ends her rather loud outburst with a snort. At once she puts her hand up to her mouth and
straightens her back, which is naturally prone to a slouch. Embarrassed, she looks from side to side
in the hope that no one has heard what just happened. She thinks she is in the clear until a strong,
masculine voice startles her. It seems to come from every direction simultaneously, and has a raspy,
melodic quality that makes every word seem like it is starting off a song.
―That was quite embarrassing. I hope no one besides me heard that or they might make fun
―Excuse me‖ she replies meekly. She spins around in her barstool and is at eye level with
the chest of a medium-build man clad in a silky half-buttoned collared shirt and pinstriped pants.
His whole outfit is black, including the Nike Uptowns he wears on his feet. This man smells
familiar, like a fragranced bath soap she once picked up from a small store in Venice years ago, but
could never find again in the States. His sunny, cobalt eyes and playful smile make a stark
contradiction with his onyx shagged hair and dark clothing.
―I just mean that they should have stopped the music your snort was so loud. If that had
just happened to me, well, I wouldn‘t know what to do. Oh, no need to turn the color of your skirt
now.‖ He wears his grin from ear to ear, obviously amused by his flirtatious humor. Since grade
school, he had always been the type to tease the pretty girls.
Magdalena, enticed by his attempts at charming banter, responds with a quick flip of her hair
and, ―Oh, come on! You would be snorting too if you saw the ridiculous ad hanging over there for
a band called Passion Falls. It lacks any sense of an original identity. It‘s just trying to appeal to
everyone, no matter what musical genre they are into. Sell-outs. Take a look for yourself.‖
Her polished finger traces a line of sight for her new company to follow. He leans closer to
her, and she closes her eyes for a brief moment to focus all the power of her senses on inhaling his
scent. Her relaxation is broken by a brief burst of laughter followed by a snort.
―Oh man, that was great. I see what you mean, I couldn‘t help it,‖ he responds with the
same boyish smile plastered to his face. It doesn‘t make him look clownish at all; on the contrary,
his light-heartedness heightens Magdalena‘s attraction to him. ―How can one band be both ‗heavy
metal‘ and ‗alternative‘ at the same time And that poster! It‘s so bright and all-over-the-place. It‘s
nothing like the poster of the guy that‘s playing tonight.‖
―That‘s exactly what I was thinking that made me laugh so hard. I can‘t wait for this
Matthew Daniels guy to come on the stage. I‘m so curious about him.‖ She pauses for a moment.
―You just snorted to make me feel less embarrassed didn‘t you‖ She does not wait for his response
before adding, ―That was very sweet…ummm….‖
―Dan. You can call me Dan,‖ he says, extending his hand.
She puts down her glass and replaces it with his warm grasp. ―Well, you can call me Lena.‖
―Matthew Daniels is a pretty down to earth guy,‖ he says. ―I know him well. We were both
at Berkeley some years back. He‘s got a real gift for music, not like a lot of the acts out here
nowadays.‖ The lights dim and the crowded room falls silent except for a timid wave of mumbles
coming from the back of the lounge. The curtain rises to reveal a balding man in his 40s wearing a
Jim Morrison t-shirt standing at a microphone in front of a grand piano.
―It is my pleasure to welcome the very talented Matthew Daniels to Downtown this evening.‖
Putting his hands to his eyes like a visor, he scans the crowd. ―Where are ya, man‖ he asks. ―Oh,
there you are. Come on up here!‖
Magdalena turns her head from left to right trying to identify who the man on the stage was
talking to. Dan turns to her, asks her to wish him luck, and walks briskly to the stage amid an
eruption of applause from the crowd around them. Her mouth hangs open like a door off its
Dan plays the piano with ease and grace during his set. All nine of his songs seem to be
telling a story, although none of them have words. Some consist of soothing, melodic tones that
make Magdalena feel like she is in a canoe drifting in circles on a placid lake. Others are choppy
with escalating notes that cause her to become uncomfortable staying still on her stool. Her eyes
stay fixed on Dan, and every so often she catches him staring back at her.
After Dan finishes playing, most of the people in Downtown rush the stage to congratulate
him, but Magdalena remains in her seat by the bar. She enjoys watching him from afar, letting the
anticipation build up before their next encounter. It takes about ten minutes before Dan makes his
way over to Lena, his face wearing the same boyish grin from earlier when he first started talking to
―So, did Matthew Daniels turn out to be anything like what you expected‖
Out of breath, Magdalena pauses from kissing Dan. She feels as if all the blood from her
body is rushing to her head and the skin on her face is pink and hot to the touch. She looks at the
thin, crystal watch on her wrist.
―Oh my God! It‘s 1:30 in the morning. I have to go home and get ready for work
tomorrow‖ She grabs his face, pulls it in close to hers and whispers, ―We must have been making
out for at least an hour and a half. I haven‘t had this much fun kissing someone in years!‖ She takes
a tiny sip of his drink. ―And you taste so good, like a mix of bourbon and chocolate cake.‖
―Thank-you. This definitely wasn‘t how I thought my night would go. I planned on just
going home and throwing on my pajamas after my show. Not that I‘m complaining. This works
too,‖ he declares with a wink.
―Here, Dan. Write your number on this.‖ She takes a pen out of her handbag and puts it
down in front of him on a napkin.
―Are you sure you have to leave You can come back to my place if you want to.‖ He
moves his hands up and down the length of her back, pulling her into a tight embrace.
―Yes, I‘m sorry but I do. I promise I will call you sometime next week and we can set up a
time to meet again.‖ She takes the napkin with his number on it, and places it securely in her wallet.
―Sounds good to me. I‘ll help you catch a cab.‖ He walks her out of Downtown, flags down a
yellow taxi, and opens its back door for her. ―Lena, I‘ll be thinking of you until our paths cross
again.‖ He grabs her hand, and pulls it up to his soft lips.
He watches as the car drives further and further down the street until it becomes an
Magdalena slithers her key into her front door, turning it with precision in attempts to avoid making
any noise. She walks in and takes off her shoes without turning on the foyer light.
―Lena, I‘m so sorry.‖ A man in a matching blue pajama set runs down the stairs and grabs
her in his arms. He is in his early 30s with dead-pan eyes and an ashy buzz cut. ―I was so worried
about you. You left your cell phone here and I had no way of contacting you for hours.‖
When she does not respond, he continues, ―Ok, I can tell that you are still angry at me. It
scared me when you brought up the topic of us having a baby since we have only been married for
two years; you have to understand that. Come on honey, it‘s so late, and we should get some rest. I
promise we will discuss the topic more when you get home from work tomorrow over a nice dinner.
I‘ll take you to that little Italian bistro down the street you love so much.‖
He kisses her, and she tastes like a mix of bourbon and chocolate cake.
I DON’T LIKE
it doesn‘t seem to satisfy
straddle a sensitive fence
balance and juggle
look down in perpetual fear
at alligator filled moat
anxiously await approval
will they look back
will they respond in a chorus
will they bury themselves in
selfish states of simplistic
will I be healed--
I write blankly
coil behind a dark curtain
of closed eyelids
wait for some majestic painting
tapestry of skeleton
my bones woven cloth
can I be read
someone please tell me
what those images on the cave wall
that stain on my shirt
bleeds from left
vivid expression my emotions
its novel state
complex strands of thread
appeared one day
suddenly burdened with the task
to watch vigilantly
I want to do something
I want to do something
I want to explain
the taste of tomatoes
and the taste of your tongue
I want to lick the lines
of your hand
swallow the fortune
I‘m sorry I said those things
I apologize for my meandering
excuse me for spontaneous oral eruptions
pardon that verbal misgiving
forgive that last moment we were together
will I wander back
into useful language
should I tell friends
notes of encouragement
hoping that last salutation
will suffice for a sign off
or should I heroically
wave at ships
that have left the pier
succumb to previously
THE NEXT MORNING
The first thing she said
―Your dick is too big‖
How does one respond
to such a greeting
―Explain to me
What makes my dick
bigger than his
Are there classifications for dicks;
have, unbeknownst to me,
they been secretly measured
and catalogued by size,
mine listed somewhere
Possibly there are volumes
of Baron dicks
detailed and dated,
tracing my ancestral
Or consider the many
gym lockers I‘ve frequented
surrounded by an immeasurable
number of dicks
shapes and sizes
acting either shy and bashful
or boasting its proud
Maybe they are
no two are the same
the dick diversity
incredibly increasing daily.
Should I reach down
and cup the package
consider its mass
in proportion to
other ―too big‖ objects:
Or perhaps I should
resign myself to
her proclamation and
simply address my
seemingly uber-standard staff
like a friendly puppy dog
happily going for a walk
―Who‘s the big fella
Who‘s the big fella
You are, aren‘t you!
Yes, you are!‖
The craft show in the park guarantees it will rain this weekend; a dog dances on sun baked slate
sidewalks; water becomes a valuable commodity on days like this; let‘s arrange our children in order
by height; cower under a shroud of leaves.
The last conversation has been reduced to subdued discourse; a gardener collects an array of
cacophonous sounds; on an arid cheek a tear is stranded; her fever eclipsed one hundred last night;
the sound of beeping signals the end of an event; crowds head for tents at the sound of rumbling
I think I‘ll dress my child in stripes today; watch her skip over cracks and explain why pavement is
black; maybe she will pause and stare at my perplexed view; maybe she will stare at my perplexed
view and question its existence; may be she will stare at me and question my existence; maybe she
will stare and question whether my existence necessitates a perplexed view.
The rain falls tonight in seemingly straight lines; it is cold and wet; the lines of rain are cold and wet
and seemingly straight; if I stood in the rain I would stand straight and my arms would be stretched
out above me; they would reach the lines of rain; they would be cold and wet and they would reach
towards the lines in the sky.
Tonight discussion is pressed keys; letters are touched and caressed; can we discuss our possessions
in caressed moments of touched letters; can we sell them through description; can we sell our lives
in simple descriptive phrases; six feet tall—loves poetry—likes blue jeans—is old and fading; will
you spread your life body on my body like a classified ad on a naked newspaper.
I want to talk in lines; I want to be sharp ridges in desert sand shifting with the winds; ridges
explaining my shift; desert winds creating my lines; I want to be like the shifting lines on a desert;
permanent yet always in motion.
I had to kill them; it was the only way I could save the animals. And Colleen. Mrs Tate turned in her
sleep. Her long brown hair broke off in strands around her night cap; her dentures were sunk at the
bottom of a drinking glass on her nightstand. Mr. Tate was snoring louder than my heart – thank
god – because the sound of my organ thumping could have woken them both. I looked at Mrs.
Tate‘s throat. Even in the dark I knew; I‘d remembered enough to know where to cut her - where to
stick her so she‘d bleed out. I‘d learned how to do it so that she would not feel pain for long – the
blood loss and death would happen all at once. That‘s what Colleen told me. She would know
better than anybody, especially when it meant killing her parents.
I realize what I did, and what happened, but you gotta know there was more to this than just
Colleen gettin‘ beat, I mean it goes further. Mrs. Tate one time locked Colleen in the stable with
Moriah, the mare that just gave birth, because Colleen tried to skip town. That horse was already
going crazy and when Colleen tried to escape, the horse went wild and kicked Colleen in the face. If
you were wondering if Colleen was beautiful before the accident; she was, she still is to me. But I
never forgave them for what they did to her. For what they did to that mare. Mr. Tate went off and
killed that mare that day. All that animal wanted was for to be with her colt. That colt came from
inside of her. It‘s something that animals have that not all humans have I guess – the instinct to
protect each other. Humans are the strangest, most unkind animal, if you ask me. Sometimes we
don‘t protect each other the right way.
I guess, after the accident, I was the only one who knew the truth and who loved her face
still. The Tates never knew a thing and they‘d let me sleep over to not let it seem like they were
keepin‘ Colleen hid from the world. When I slept there, Colleen and I‘d sneak out in the middle of
the night to go out to the stables. Across that long yard, the smells of grass, shit and earth made you
feel carnal. There we‘d be, me and Colleen and the animals. Lookin‘ up at the big black night, we
envisioned ourselves ridin‘ off on our horses, just feelin‘ the wind under us and through our hair. I
wouldn‘t let her get cold and the horses, well they‘d just know where to go. They‘d want to escape
just as much as us.
We would stay out in the stables sometimes all night. I can remember the hay being itchy
and us throwing it around, rolling around in it, just feelin alive. Sometimes we‘d just talk all night,
not about other people. We‘d talk about us and the future, about how we were gonna get out of
Belmont just as soon as the year was over. Sometimes we‘d get high a little. Sometimes we‘d make
love or just fool around a bit. But even in these more intimate times, something was just never right.
Sometimes I‘d catch Colleen staring wide-eyed into the wooden roof, lookin‘ like she wanted to
scratch through the cielin‘. And if I ever asked her what was wrong, she‘d say ―nothin‖ or that she
was worried about a test in class. I knew it was just better to love her, to make her feel safe and to
not ask her any questions during those times. How stupid I was then.
In the morning, we‘d always be back in our beds in her bedroom, but I‘d be up just wanting
to be gone already. Once the Tates were up, the world came down over us like a storm with a whole
lotta banging and clamberin‘, shoutin‘ and awful cookin‘ smells. Mr. Tate liked his bacon lightly
fried, almost raw and he made Mrs. Tate cook everything from scratch. He got her to make hash
and biscuits, too, on Sundays, with over-easy eggs and sausage links they made on the farm. Outside,
the land felt dead, like the animals knew about their brothers and sisters layin‘ on plates in the
kitchen. I found my fists clenched at the end of these thoughts, my nails cuttin‘ into my palms.
That morning, a Friday it was, Good Friday, in fact, because we had off from school. Pastor
Malinate had more sway with the school board than the superintendent. Mr. Tate woke us up, comin
in to the bedroom, sayin that Colleen had to earn her keep around here, if she was goin to be the
only offspring he had. He nodded to me to join her in getting dressed. He was going to show us
something. Mr. Tate walked out of the room and Colleen grabbed me. She was sobbing and I knew.
I told her I would take care of it. I told her everythin‘ was gonna be ok. We dressed quick, put on
our jeans and sweatshirts and went downstairs. Mrs. Tate halted us at the back door, tellin‘ us to put
on galoshes. Through the screen door, I looked over the Tate property. It‘d rained the night before
and the fog concealed most of the land past the stables. Mr. Tate was already unlockin‘ the door to
the stables in the distance and his fat body moved inside. Our galoshes smushed the earth with sick
sounds. Colleen was shakin‘. Her stringed blonde hair fell flat over the side of her face, ripplin‘ over
the half-moon hoof scar on her cheek. She couldn‘t look away from the stables. I whispered that I
loved her, but it didn‘t change the fear in her eyes. We walked closer to the stables and heard the
pigs shufflin‘ and snortin‘ inside.
―Get on in here, you two.‖ Mr. Tate said from somewhere inside.
We walked in and down the line of horse stables. Some of them were stampin‘ their hooves;
the younger ones didn‘t know any better yet. Mandy, the youngest colt was layin‘ in her corner, like
usual. I was wishin‘ I had time to get her out – to get Colleen out, too – before the kill. The only
light we had was comin‘ in shards through the old wood walls. We kept walkin‘, the hay pressed flat
under our feet, the smell of manure and wet sod was coursin‘ through our nostrils, and the sounds
of Mr. Tate strugglin‘ with an old sow filled the thick air. She was squealin‘ and stompin‘ her hooves,
slidin‘ all around as Mr. Tate wrapped thick rope around her hind legs first and then tied them in
knots around her fronts.
―Don‘t jus‘ stan‘ there, Colly, get down here!‖ He said. ―Grab the blade.‖ He motioned with
his head to the next room, where we knew the tools were kept. Colleen didn‘t move, she just stood
there cold and wet clutchin‘ at her sweatshirt. Mr. Tate looked at her like he was gonna wrestle her
to the ground next if she didn‘t go. I remembered my promise to protect her. I went through the
shed door and looked over the tools, all rusted red and unclean, hangin‘ there like corpses. I grabbed
the machete and ran back.
―Colleen, yer good fer nothin‘‖ he said. ―Can‘t even do what yer pa tell ya. Can‘t even stuck
a pig like I tell ya.‖
He looked back at me over his shoulder with the sow under his beefy arm and I couldn‘t tell
which one was the pig.
―Earla.‖ He was wrestlin‘ with her still. ―That‘s a good girl. Give me the knife.‖
In my left hand, my nails were piercin‘ through my palm.
―Earla! Give it here!‖ he said, the fire in his eyes forced disobedient, hateful thoughts out of
my mind. I gave him the blade.
―Now, see Colleen.‖ He said, chokin‘ the pig under his arm and holdin‘ the blade in his left
Colleen wasn‘t lookin‘. She was closin‘ her eyes.
―Look, God damn you, Colly!‖ His anger was risin‘ in his throat, so much his voice was
crackin‘. ―Look at me!‖
Colly opened her eyes. Tears fell down her face and she was starin‘ straight at me. I was
lookin‘ back at her, promisin‘ to hold her gaze. Mr. Tate cursed under his heaving breath.
―It‟s ok‖ I mouthed to Colleen.
There was a snapping, an air-escapin‘ gurglin‘ sound. Mr. Tate sighed, tired. And then there
was just the rushin‘ out of her blood into a dry bucket, like a waterfall, and Colly and I were trapped
under it right then, stuck without air.
Mr. Tate beat her after that. He beat Colleen so bad that she didn‘t show for weeks at
school. The school would call her house, but Mrs. Tate just said that Colleen had the
mononucleosis. Said she wouldn‘t be in school for a month. Mr. Tate wouldn‘t let us see each
other, either. I‘d call the house, but at the sound of my voice, the Tates would hang up. I didn‘t
know when I would see her again and decided to just go there one night.
I road my bike there. Past Fischers farm and the lake. The cold air stung my ears and my
jacket whipped tight against my arms. It was for her, I thought, I had to ride for her. I had to make
sure she was alright. The lone streetlights gave me just enough light to get to her, but all around me
were shadows. Ahead of me, I could see the outline of their house, the black shutters on the dark
grey sidin‘ looked like eyes and the doorway was an opened, scared mouth, callin‘ me. I pedaled
I walked my bike around the back of the property and stared up at Colleen‘s window.
Behind me off in the distance the animals lay resting, the land was still and I was suddenly aware of
the fear beatin‘ in my ears. I searched around on the ground for a stick, or somethin‘ small to throw.
When I found one, I lifted my eyes up to her window to take aim.
Colleen was already there, starin‘ down at me in the dark. Her blonde hair looked white, the
ends waved in the cold breeze. Her skin looked blue in the dark and her eyes were now as black as
holes. She caught me so off guard, I fell back on the ground, into the soft wet earth. Catchin‘ my
breath, I got up, ran to the drainpipe and climbed my way up to her window. She grabbed my arms
and helped me into her room.
Seein‘ her now in the dark, she wasn‘t like I left her a month back. I could see violet circles
under her eyes, her arms were all spotted with bruises and scrapes. Colleen stood there just starin‘ at
me and I didn‘t know what to say. Nothin‘ would come out my mouth except a sob and I pulled her
into me, huggin‘ her close, smellin‘ her damp hair. Her arms wrapped around me, too, but with little
strength. This was not my Colleen anymore. They‘d hurt her real bad. She was changed and inside
me something changed, too. As I was holdin‘ her there, I swore I heard the rushin‘ out of blood,
only it was my own blood, hot as fire and coursin‘ through my veins.
I said her name. I asked her what I could do. I asked her what I could do to make her not
feel this way anymore. And that‘s when she said it. She took the words from inside my head and
made them real.
―Kill them,‖ she whispered. Her breath cut out in sharp points. I looked down at her hands
as I held them. One of her thumbnails was ripped off. My eyes met hers and I took my hand,
smoothin‘ back her white hair. My thumb edged along her cheek, feelin‘ the roughness of her scar
and I pulled her face to mine. Kissin‘ her right eye, I leaned into her ear.
―Alright,‖ I whispered back. My breath drew out, heavier, longer. ―Alright.‖
I had to kill them. In the dark, blood is black and thick and it swims in your mind with the
smell of salt. I didn‘t stay in the room there with them. I ran down the hall to Colleen‘s room, where
I told her to wait for me. As I burst through the door, the light was off, her suitcase was still on the
bed and the window was still open. Outside, behind the waving white curtains, I saw the stables, the
oaks were black staunch figures on both sides and the moon was shinin‘ directly overhead. I ran to
the window and looked out, just to be sure I understood what I was seein‘. The stable door was
I ran out her room, past the ghosts of Mr. and Mrs. Tate, flew down the stairs, through the
greasy kitchen and out the back door. My lungs heaved with sadness and fear at what I‘d just done
and I wanted to hold her so bad. My feet rustled through the grass, picking up pace as I drew closer
to the stables. I called her name and heard it come back at me in the wind. My breath caught in my
lungs and I stopped there in the threshold. The animals were stampin‘ and cryin‘ out to me, as I ran
past them, down the line of rattlin‘ boards, toward the slaughterhouse. I fell over somethin‘ in the
dark and felt my face fall into thick wetness on sharp hay that stabbed at me. When I opened my
eyes, there she was at my feet. A shard of moonlight was comin‘ through the wall, right there across
her cheek, on her half moon scar and her eye was lookin‘ at me.
GUESS WHO I CUT IN TWO LAST NIGHT
my best friend is to all-natural & naked as the day she was born as lead or mercury or cadmium is to
super-genius & sight for sore eyes is to home-cooked meal as howling wind is to good music for sex
& music to the ear is to deliquescence as codependent is to an embarrassment of witches &
pickpocket is to fictional cave monster as graduation with honors is to larger than life deep sea
creature & overflowing bathtub is to frantic whistling as benevolent rule is to rich farmland & cornfed
corporal is to the successful prosecution of arctic warfare as late night backrub is to the
recharging of dead batteries & the setting of a kitchen match to dry paper is to tickertape parade as
pay raise is to a night alone in the crow‘s nest & rock the boat is to hair grease as overplayed power
ballad is to lifeguard station & suntan lotion is to the impending argument as the old man‘s car horn
is to surprise company for dinner & spare the rod is to prison camp as good character & competitive
nature is to seaworthy vessel & duty upon same
NOW I’M REALLY BLUSHING & WITH GOOD REASON
how was your trip to the ancient barber shop you ask / I did not get to ride in the little car I
confess / much to my disappointment I add / but there was excitement enough when the shaky
old man withdrew his straight razor from a drawer / I invite you to accompany me to the new
supermarket in Red Hook / will it be an eye opening excursion you ask / I predict as follows /
not only will your eyes be opened but no matter how widely you open them you will still not believe
them / I‘ll wear a sassy little tank top you say / did I mention that the supermarket has no air
conditioning I ask / when I promise to punish myself for being so forward I say that I will hit
myself with a brick / my brick collection testifies to my enthusiastic appetite for pain I say / In
the car (safe & secure from all alarms) I quip as follows / the good thing about the gnashing of
academic teeth is that once they have worn their teeth down all the way then they are defenseless &
I can move in for the kill / upon arrival at the supermarket I am nervous / too scared to take you
in my arms among the vegetables / or the canned goods / or the fantastic array of dairy products
/ or the bread
NATURAL MOTION OF WIND
there are forms
a satisfaction that
borders of species
and belongs to
when i was young
i would pretend
i was an insect
roaming through the woods
i would wait
until after a storm
then brush the leaves
with my body
anticipating their response
in the woods one loses
a sense of time
beneath the stone
in the underbrush
one can see
BRAIN IN A JAR
we spoke for hours
under the coconut tree
on paper airplanes
I like to be
alone in the
of the iceberg
your capitalism is
it would make
from the infinite
of the mind
in my cottage
you light a candle
then hide in
as a child
I tried to capture
of its name
plays in my
in a long
I came searching
hoping to return
to the maple leaves
the scent of
the air made
A Place Where Trees Are Silent
it was one
of those moments
when you would
on the floor
next to your
I don‘t recall
the first time
trembling in the
when we sailed
Flies hovered over our heads
Knowingly consuming the
Miserable air above our existence
As they flew, they
Tickled my little
Starved pot belly
Stuffed with sugar water and hard candy
Covered in the remains
Of the pretend playground we longed for
Our world was made out of dry dirt
And an empty
Floor in the living room of the shack
That was my home.
Whenever it rained,
The four walls were
Overwhelmed with musical sounds
As the drops fell
Hard upon the metal roof
We were certain that we were
Being touched by the salty tears of God and
That was our chance to squeeze between the holes
Of the metal bars in the living room door
And escape our cage
To run around free
With the other have-nots
In the rain
Black coffee rain
With remnants of sweet sugar cane
and coconut water.
The world, as it rained,
With fearful adults who hide from
And shake with fear the fall of a drop upon
Their hard earned pesos
And their sacred untouchable flesh.
They would run and leave the world
And the streets
A quiet and open space for us little ones
To run around freely
And sing tunes that the grown-ups sing anonymously
To the rhythm of their calculated steps
Songs we knew not the meaning of
Merged with the rhythm of the rain
Taking with every drop
The dirt from my topless
And my chubby shoeless
Exposing the color of my skin once more.
As the afternoon rain stopped,
The joy ended,
The grown-ups came out
Resumed their lives
And we, the have-nots
Snuck back in
The same way we came out
Through the metal bars,
Until we were allowed back out
By those who governed
Every movement we made
Or until the rain
Came once again
And we could run free.
She‘s cool in my arms
Blankets and pillows and bed
Of my truck
Indigo sky, gold glitter
Cars, capillary roads
Earth so distant
Midnight colored sheet so close
Good to be this high
Trees, bushes, makeshift parking lot of dirt
Cookie cutter, movie scene,
Cynthia Maris Dantzic
A PALETTE OF HAIKU
Overnight, a wash of white.
Never too much snow.
Fat yellow circle
Up in the right-hand corner.
Every kid‘s drawn sun.
Taste of candied yams,
Of cantaloupe and carrots,
Just-squeezed orange juice.
Ruby, scarlet, rose,
Each uniquely red.
And soft-scented lavender,
A sense of purple.
A violet bouquet.
Sing me that song of
Purple mountain‘s majesty;
There‘s only one blue,
(Painters know it‘s true.)
Kermit tells children:
It‘s not easy being green.
Earth demands we try.
Coffee and chocolate,
These, the most comforting tastes,
Silent, frigid, vastly starred,
This moonless black night.
Turn off your night light.
Be enveloped in darkness.
Sink into cool black.
Julián del Casal
All dust and flies. A lead-tinged atmosphere
where echoing peals of rattling thunder sound
and clouds, like snow-white swans on muddy ground,
offset the ashen color of the air.
The sea becalms her aqua-green depths there.
Above her breast a bolt of lightning bound
for more ethereal climes where peace is found
emits its fire-red breath with jagged glare.
The sleepy tree nods off with drowsing eye.
A deep calm floats atop the lingering slack.
Swift seagulls rend the airways opposite.
A flash of lightning sparkles in the sky
and rain falls on the steaming earth‘s broad back
in bulging drops that crackle as they hit.
Trans. G. J. Racz
THINGS I LOVE
I love fine porcelain, bronze, crystal ware,
lush stained-glass windows wrought by master hands,
beflowered tapestries of golden strands
and bright Venetian moons beyond compare.
I love likewise Castilian ladies fair,
medieval lays from troubadour-rich lands,
Arabian steeds a-wing on foreign sands,
the lightness of a German ballad‘s air,
the rich piano‘s sonorous ivory keys,
the horn that resonates within the field,
pale olibanum‘s balsam redolence
and that gold, marble, sandalwood bed‘s ease
wherein pure virgin loveliness will yield
the bloodied flower of its innocence.
Trans. G. J. Racz
Within the Hebrew palace floats a wave
of sun-pierced perfume seeking the unknown
aloft through lattice ceilings, skyward flown,
or dissipating mid the spacious nave.
There Herod sits, his stony aspect grave,
with sunken chest and graying beard full-grown,
hieratic and erect upon the throne,
entranced as though by birdsongs that beslave.
Before him, clad in rich brocade emblazed
with precious gems of flaming radiancy
and moving to a bandore‘s stringed delight
twirls Salome in dance, her right hand raised
displaying, all refulgent in her glee,
a golden-pistilled lotus of pure white.
Trans. G. J. Racz
FOUND POEM: BEAUTY IS ART
Block chandeliers hung on walls
Sprouted, gilded sconces
Obscure edifices, lip smacking
Stone, pristine glass
Box, dragon topped pagodas
Stylized thicket bamboo
Shaped like the fall of Saigon
And king sized white house
Away from labor camp
With its breathtaking folly.
The terminal is cavernous, open, wide. I pick at my nail polish, chipping it slowly as I wait on a line
that snakes around for what seems like miles. Jim is off to the side. He thinks I won a three day
cruise to St. Thomas. That‘s what I told him. I proceed to the next available cruise specialist and
give my name, then hold my breath, hope the reservation has been lost, that there‘s been some
mistake and our cabin given away. But the young woman clicks away on the keyboard and
everything goes smoothly.
―Two beds,‖ I say as she processes my key card. ―I requested a cabin with two beds.‖
―All set,‖ she says, smiling. She slides our key cards across the table and looks off to the
distance ready for the next passenger. I see my last means of escape vanish.
From the moment Jim‘s hand touched mine and he sang my name, Layla, I began to have
doubts. His hand felt warm and strong compared to mine. I should have painted my nails a softer
color, not red.
We have more lines to stand in, one for pictures, for boarding, elevators, even luggage. No
one seems to mind this rush to wait. They know something wonderful is on the other side. I am in
no hurry either, though not for the same reasons. Once the ship pulls from its slip, it‘ll just be him
and me, two strangers adrift in a small cabin. We‘ve known each other for two years, meeting—
chatting—online. This is the first time we‘ve actually met. He‘s taller than I imagined and looks
older than his picture. His hair is two toned, white on the sides, reddish brown on top. His face
bears scars of long ago acne, making his skin thick, lumpy. He‘s wearing worn, cracked cowboy
boots with pointed toes and creative, curly stitching and as we wait he‘s typing furiously on his
Blackberry, reluctant to see the end of his service.
I booked the cheapest room, the inside cabin. Jim enters first, paving the way. There is no
room for us to stand side by side. The beds are narrow; I‘m sure his feet will hang off. I‘m relieved.
There‘s nothing one can do on these beds but keep from falling off.
I open drawers hidden in entertainment units and nightstands, inspect the closet, count
hangers and towels. The room is a tribute to efficiency and economy. There is little here that makes
it look like anything more than a room at the Y. I suppose if I were looking for romance, I‘d have
booked the cabin across the hall, the one with a window. Perhaps the Caribbean sun would lighten
the deep orange and beige bedspread, reveal the subtle stripes in the cream colored wallpaper, make
the room look bigger, even opulent. But there are some things that fare better in low light.
Jim grabs the remote and turns on the TV, switching channels, reading the TV program.
―They have some good movies on tonight,‖ he says. His accent comes from up north, New
York perhaps. There are lot of them in Ft. Lauderdale. Funny how his favorite possession seems to
be his boots, as though he jumped feet first into his new life.
―Seems silly,‖ I say ―to spend such a short cruise inside the room. You can watch movies at
His expression changes and he switches off the TV, tossing the remote onto the bed. He
inspects everything I‘ve already checked out. He opens drawers, closets, inventories the bathroom.
―There‘s only two bath towels,‖ he says. ―I usually use two.‖
The thought of him naked brings me back to reality. ―We can ask the steward for more,‖ I
say. When I thought of our time together, I imagined us by the pool, having drinks, listening to
music, dining, seeing shows. I always stopped short of thinking about the evenings. Washing under
my arms, flossing, peeing…who pictures herself doing that
―I think I‘ll check out the buffet,‖ I say reaching for my bag. ―Dinner is at 6:30. We can
meet in the dining room if you like.‖
―No, wait for me,‖ he says disappearing into the bathroom. The room is so small, so quiet, I
can hear him unzip. I wait outside the room where there‘s air.
By the buffet, I excuse myself, so nervous I nearly slip into the men‘s room. I change course
and head for the ladies room, making for the nearest stall. I sit rubbing my temples, pants bunched
around my ankles. Three days had hardly seemed like enough time to unwind when I booked this
cruise. Now, the time stretches ahead of me like eternity. No one goes on a three day cruise to
relax, I realize. They go to drink. Let loose. Get laid.
I wash my hands in the small, gilded bathroom, lathering well. There are germs everywhere
or so I‘m told. But then, getting sick might not be bad. I inspect my hands under the dryer. The
knuckles are large, ugly, the nails short, wide. I wish my fingers were long and slender like the rest of
my body but then my ass is so flat, I need silicone pads to give it some shape.
Jim is still waiting for me outside. I check his expression for annoyance but find none, and
we go into the buffet. There are food stations every few feet occupying the center of the floor.
Nothing has been overlooked. There are fresh salads, sandwiches, pizza, hot entrees, soups,
desserts, bread and fruit and yet, with all that, the air is remarkably sanitized, aroma free. All I can
smell is Jim‘s cologne masking his sweat. We walk around with our trays though we know we‘ll have
Chinese once we spot it. We‘ve been typing out our likes and dislikes for a long time, each chat a
test to determine whether we have more in common than not.
We find a table on our third lap around. Around us, no one can move once they‘ve finished
eating. They sit like beached whales, sucking their teeth. We‘re no better, filling our plates with rice,
noodles, spare ribs and chow mein. Somehow, we all seem to have switched to survival tactics. I
forget dinner is in a few hours. I stare at the view of the city and wonder what Jim is thinking but I
don‘t stop eating long enough to ask. Jim looks around at the tables, chewing wildly, lips softly
smacking. He licks his fingers after each rib.
―I‘m going outside,‖ I say when both my stomach and ears have had enough. ―Sit in the
sun.‖ I am sure he will hang back, finish his rice, want some time to himself but he follows me. A
waiter approaches as we lower ourselves into deck chairs. I order a Bloody Mary, Jim has a beer. I
look around at the partying that has already begun. Balloon bottomed glasses dot the small tables
next to deck chairs, their paper umbrellas shielding what remains of ice cubes. A few seasoned
cruisers have worn their bathing suits under their clothes. They strip down in front of our envy and
dive into the pool. Loud music begins to pour from recessed speakers and we have to shout our
―This should be fun,‖ he says as we wait for our drinks. ―Crowd looks lively.‖
―Nice of you to come,‖ I finally say.
―I‘m surprised you asked me.‖ He continues looking straight ahead. ―After so many
―Well, as I said, it is what it is.‖
―Really puts things in perspective, doesn‘t it‖ he asks moving his eyes in my direction.
―Make or break.‖
I fidget, trying to prevent the idea from rooting. I had not meant this to be seen that way,
had specifically said we didn‘t need to pretend to be a couple, that we could go our separate ways if
we wanted, connect at night when conversation would flow as it did on our evening chats. Our
drinks arrive. ―We‘re not out to prove anything,‖ I say.
Jim grunts as if I had dispelled some silly idea. ―Still, we can‘t go back to the way we were,‖
he says. ―No matter what happens.‖
I take a long sip, force a smile. ―What do you think will happen‖
He laughs. ―I don‘t know. Neither of us do, it seems. It‘s virgin territory.‖ He squints over
at me. I squint back. ―Imagine…virgins….at our age…‖
We have talked about sex in our nightly chats but not about doing it together. He‘s been
married twice. I told him I had been married, too. It‘s best to lie. People who have never married
are viewed suspiciously, like time bombs. He‘s told me some of the positions he‘s tried, that he likes
having sex in forbidden places. I imagine that‘s long in his past. Jim has had many lovers or so he‘s
said. I asked him to count once and he said it must have been over fifty and that was a conservative
number. I liked that he did not ask me. They were not worth mentioning.
―Did you bring a bathing suit‖ he asks sipping his beer. I think about the black one piece
rolled up in my carry on. I tried it on just yesterday and liked it even less than when I bought it.
They haven‘t made a suit yet that hides the imperfections as well as a computer screen, that lies as
well as my fingers typing on keys. ―They have hot tubs,‖ he says pointing to the one at the far end
of the deck.
―Aren‘t they breeding grounds for bacteria‖ I ask regretting it as soon as the words are out.
I sound like an old lady.
―You germophobic‖ Jim asks.
I shake my head. ―I work with people who are.‖
―Know what I like doing in hot tubs‖ he asks. ―Take my suit off. Let the bubbles
explore…it‘s what I imagine dentures must feel like when they‘re being cleaned. Ever try it‖
I watch the couple already easing into the hot tub. ―That‘s easier for a man,‖ I say.
―We‘ll go at night. When everyone is sleeping. You‘ll see.‖
I let the suggestion drop, pretend I haven‘t heard it. He puts down his empty glass and
adjusts the back of his chair so that he lies flat. I adjust mine slightly and close my eyes. Together,
we drift off.
Dressing for dinner is complicated in a small room. A man‘s sense of modesty differs from
a woman‘s. Jim thinks nothing of pulling off his pants, walking around in his underwear as he looks
for the right shirt. His briefs look uncomfortable. They ride up in the back, expose a hairy cheek. I
grab an outfit from the closet and duck into the bathroom, where I reach into my pants to free my
own underwear from where it‘s caught in my crack.
―Is my deodorant in there‖ he calls out.
I am ready to open the door and hand it to him when he comes in, shirtless. Luckily, I‘m still
dressed. Standing behind me because there‘s no room in front of the mirror, he raises an arm and
coats the hairs with a roll on. He doesn‘t leave when he‘s finished. Just stays watching me. I try to
draw a straight line with my eyeliner but my hand shakes. I watch him watching me. Does he see
what I see The curly hair that has no choice but to be kept shorter than I‘d like, the hands that can
only belong to a man, the hormone produced breasts and the phantom beard lurking beneath the
surface of my jaw that only I can see Can he tell that once I, too, was a man
―I love watching women put on their makeup,‖ he says when my gaze meets his in the
‗It‘s meant to be private,‖ I say, keeping it light. ―You‘re supposed to think we always look
―Don‘t let me stop you,‖ he says.
―There‘s not enough room in here for two,‖ I say, trying for coy. Jim drops the lid to the
toilet and has a seat, his face dangerously close to my artificial ass. He stares at it in a way that says
he‘s hoping to get more than I offered when I invited him on this trip. ―Really,‖ I say, ―you‘re
making me nervous.‖
―Didn‘t your husband ever watch you‖ he asks.
―No.‖ I search for something that‘s not in my cosmetic bag.
Jim rises, nodding. I lock the door after him and change clothes quickly, avoiding my
reflection in the mirror. I‘d rather imagine the way I look than see it for real. I take my time
finishing my makeup and brushing my teeth. From outside, I hear the TV. I stare at the toilet and
decide to risk it while he‘s distracted. In the middle of my flow, he lowers the volume, listening to
me pee. I reach over and turn on the bathroom faucet and the TV volume rises once more.
The dining room is wide and two stories tall. Our table is on the lower level and we follow a
waiter as he wends his way among round tables and square ones, here and there a lonely rectangle.
The noise is nearly deafening. Curtains are pulled back to reveal the setting sun and the scent of
flowers overpowers any smells that may be trying to escape from the kitchen. One is meant to savor
cruise ship food with the eyes rather than the nose. Silverware and glasses clink. Bodies press into
tight corners, hands reach out, people introduce themselves by saying where they‘re from. We have
a table to ourselves. No one will shake our hands, ask us where we‘re from, scratch their heads at
the thought of two strangers masquerading as a couple.
I run my hand over the tablecloth, white, pristine, unbelievably free of stains. I study my
napkin folded in the shape of a bishop‘s hat and carefully unwrap it, trying to learn how it was made.
There is a string quartet playing one of Vivaldi‘s seasons. No one seems to be listening.
―Quite a spectacle,‖ Jim says, opening the large menu. ―It‘ll be hard to go back to eating in
front of the TV.‖
Jim has said he lived in a large studio, about the only thing he can afford after the second
divorce. I haven‘t told him I own my mother‘s house now, inherited the money that allowed me to
have the surgery so I can live as a woman. Instead, I said I live in a one bedroom with just enough
to make ends meet. At one point, it was the truth. I have to be careful, remember what I‘ve told
I order a glass of red wine even though it doesn‘t go with the shrimps I‘m planning to have.
Jim settles on the oysters. He reaches for the bread and two round balls of butter.
―So what do you want to do tonight‖ he asks. ―How ‗bout that hot tub‖
―You go. I might do a little reading.‖
He makes a face. ―Seems silly to come on a cruise to read.‖
I give him two points for using my logic against me. ―I don‘t think I care to sit naked in a
hot tub unless I have a bar of soap.‖
―You have a one or two piece‖ he asks. ―Bathing suit.‖
―One.‖ Is he picturing me in it Is that what his look is about
But he says ―It‘ll be a bit more difficult. But not impossible. Trick is not to take the suit off
completely. Just have it down around your knees. This way, all you need to do is pull it up quick.
―It sounds disgusting.‖
―Ever try it‖
No, I want to say. I never sat naked in a hot tub, never been married, never lived my life
fully as a woman until I was nearly forty. But I haven‘t told him anything about myself that was the
absolute truth so far—why start now ―Don‘t know if I want to,‖ I say. ―Why do you‖
He shrugs. ―It makes me feel...free.‖
―I‘m not doing the hot tub thing,‖ I say.
―Okay, okay,‖ he says as if he only conceded that round.
The progress from course to course reminds me of walking underwater, slow and laborious.
We avoid each other‘s gaze, comment on the dining room, judge the people around us, guessing
what they do for a living. The conversation that flowed from keyboard to keyboard for two years in
the small hours of the morning doesn‘t translate well to this candlelit table with soft music in the
ackground. There are distractions here, his eyes studying me, the feel of his hand patting my knee,
the hope he has of seeing more than I‘m willing to show, my own ambivalence about wanting
affection without sex.
After dinner, Jim suggests one of the nightclubs for a drink. I take out a map of the ship
and we wander from the Rodeo Bar playing generic country-western to the disco Hot Stuff to the
Captain‘s Lounge with its drowsy piano music. Nothing grabs his attention and we make our way to
the quietest bar to be found, The Underground. It‘s located on windowless lower level, with black
walls and red velvet chairs. There is a low stage where a crew member is setting up a microphone
and some equipment. People stroll in without the exuberance of the crowd upstairs. They look
around furtively, as if afraid of running into someone they know. Everyone takes a seat toward the
back. The waiter no sooner brings our drinks than the emcee announces that most awful of
―Shall we leave‖ I ask.
Jim shakes his head. ―Let‘s watch.‖
The evening opens with a rendition of ―Feelings‖ by a guy who keeps his eyes closed. He
knows all the words but sings them a few beats ahead of time: the effect reminds me of a badly
dubbed foreign film. The man finishes with a flourish to some polite applause and struts back to his
seat, draping an arm around his wife.
―That was embarrassing,‖ I say.
―Takes courage,‖ Jim replies. ―Can you sing‖
I shake my head. ―You‖
The emcee asks for another volunteer. People look around, their expressions saying they‘re
here to see the show, not be it. Suddenly, Jim leans back and pushes himself up, heading toward the
stage. I reach for his arm but he‘s too quick and my fingers swipe at the air. He says something to
the technician then works at freeing the microphone from its stand. I hold my breath, praying he
doesn‘t sing the obvious but yes, there‘s the guitar lick from ―Layla‖ and I slide down in my chair.
Jim‘s voice is thick and he doesn‘t so much sing as talk. Without his reading glasses, he has
trouble reading the words and so resorts to saying what he thinks they are and mumbling through
the parts he doesn‘t. It would be an utter failure if he didn‘t always come back strong and on key
every time he sings my name. By the end of the song, a few in the audience have loosened up
enough to sing the refrain with him. He finishes to more applause than the ―Feelings‖ guy got and
makes his way back to our table with a look that says he‘s proud of himself. Before I can think of
something nice to say he picks up my hand and kisses it.
―I didn‘t know you like karaoke,‖ I say.
―Never tried it before,‖ he replies.
―Weren‘t you scared‖
―Sometimes that‘s a nice feeling.‖
On the way back to our cabin, Jim takes me by the hot tub. He wants me to feel the
bubbles, warm, round, popping around my fingers.
―See,‖ he says holding my hand beneath the swirling foam. ―Doesn‘t it feel nice Now
imagine that down below.‖ My nipples tingle instead. I feel nothing down below.
In the room, he gets out of his clothes quickly, draping shirt and pants over a chair. He says
he sleeps in his underwear. I pretend to take it in stride and step into the bathroom. I scrub my
face, brush my teeth again to the sound of the TV being cycled through the channels. I have yoga
pants and one of those oversized T-shirts to sleep in. I leave my bra on.
―There‘s a western on,‖ he says. ―We missed most of it. This is the end.‖ I crawl under the
sheets as Jim watches the last few minutes of ‗The Good, the Bad and the Ugly‘. The room is too
warm for this heavy cover and I‘m afraid somewhere in the night I‘ll throw it off in my sleep and
expose myself. Jim is stretched out on top of the covers, socks on. I watch the movie for awhile
but my eyes want to close. I turn off the light on my side and turn toward the wall so the light from
the TV doesn‘t bother me, so the only thing Jim sees is the back of my head. He finishes watching
the movie and switches it off and our little room is suddenly completely dark. I listen for Jim to get
under his covers but hear nothing. I imagine him sitting there, propped against his pillow waiting
for his eyes to adjust, get his night vision. I can‘t fall asleep knowing he‘s waiting for me to take
shape in the darkness. His breathing becomes noticeably irregular and I feel his foot reach over and
caress my ass through the blanket.
―Layla‖ he whispers. I shift my position and it stops, resuming a short time later. I shift
again; it stops. We keep this up for five minutes. Finally, he gets up and picks his way to the
bathroom where I hear the shower run.
I wake up sometime later with the room still pitch black. Jim has his hand on my thigh, his
fingers dangerously close to my crotch and he‘s shaking me gently He shows me his watch with the
illuminated face. It‘s ten o‘clock. Without the sun, I feel we have slept the entire day away. I
shower quickly, checking twice, three times that the door is locked. My elbows hit the wall around
me and I‘m still damp when I tug on my bathing suit covering it up with a pair of shorts and polo
shirt. He is ready and waiting on the bed with his book. He‘s wearing shorts, a T-shirt and his
―I forgot to bring beach shoes,‖ he says. ―Maybe we can go shopping when we make port
later.‖ He asks me to put his book, Lonesome Dove, in my tote, then gives me his wallet too.
On our walk to the buffet we note that the deck chairs are nearly all taken. Jim spots two on
the upper level, completely exposed to the sun, undesirable because they‘re a staircase away from the
―Betcha they‘ll be gone by the time we finish breakfast,‖ he says grabbing two towels and his
book from my tote. I watch as he runs up the stairs, the noise from his boots clamoring on the
metal resonating across the deck, calling attention to himself. He spreads a towel on each chair and
anchors one with his book. People by the pool snicker at the man in cowboy boots but Jim doesn‘t
seem embarrassed or show that he‘s noticed them. To me, he looks handsome and for the first time
I feel my nervousness ebb slightly at the sight of him making an effort—partly, at least—for my
We‘re just in time for the tail end of breakfast. We fill our plates with eggs, bacon, pancakes
and toast. The dining area is nearly empty and we have no trouble finding a table.
―I wonder what they do with all the leftover food,‖ I say as I unroll the silverware from its
―Recycle it,‖ he says taking a mouthful of eggs. ―I‘ll bet you‘ll find the scrambled eggs in the
fried rice this afternoon.‖
―They can‘t recycle everything,‖ I say. ―What must the waiters think of us, all the waste
Most look like Third Worlders.‖
Jim grunts. ―What do you care what strangers think Will you be seeing them again‖ I‘ve
always cared, I realize. And not just strangers. My own family, mother, sister. ―That‘s the nice
thing about going away,‖ he says. ―You can do anything you want and no one will be around next
week to remember.‖ He cleans the last bits of eggs and bacon from his plate and rises. His pancakes
are left, untouched.
―I‘ll meet you outside,‖ he says. ―I want to make sure no one takes those chairs.‖ He grabs
his mug and walks away. Within minutes, a young waiter—Vietnamese-- comes by and gathers up
Jim‘s plate of half eaten food. I take my time eating and wrap what‘s left of my toast in a napkin
before joining Jim.
He is stripped down to a Speedo, the slip of fabric straining to keep his bulge from shifting
right or left. His skin glistens with suntan oil filling the breeze with the scent of coconut. In the
sun, I can get a good look at his body. For a man nearing fifty, he‘s been able to hold on to the
outline of the body he had twenty years ago. Muscles that round out his shoulders and biceps are
held up it seems by veins close to the surface of his forearms. His chest is smooth, nearly hairless
and I can‘t resist running my finger over the few strands clinging to the middle. ―Tryin to grow
something there‖ I ask. I really want to warn him about skin cancer but refrain. He drains the last
of his coffee and pushes himself up.
―The hot tub beckons,‖ he says. He sees my look and chuckles. ―Don‘t worry. Nothing
lewd with people around. Tonight though….‖ he calls over his shoulder pointing a finger first at me
then the hot tub.
I watch as he makes his way down the stairs, admiring how his shoulder blades form a nice
hollow in the middle of his back, how small and compact his cheeks are. He eases himself into the
swirling foam and arranges himself on the seat. His expression relaxes as he leans his head back
draping his arms around the tub‘s perimeter, like a lovely martyr. The sun is strong and I fish
around my tote for my sunglasses. Every few seconds, a heavy drop of sweat plunges south toward
my groin but I‘m not ready to wear nothing but a bathing suit just yet. Even though I dreamed of
this my whole life, the day I‘d walk around in a woman‘s bathing suit, free of the bulge that I‘ve
been admiring on Jim, I still feel uncomfortable at the notion that something is definitely missing. I
eye the women in bikinis, whether they have the body for it or not and wonder when that day will
come for me. Caribbean music plays on the loudspeakers while bartenders set up for the afternoon
rush. Some men mill around nearby waiting to secure their perches.
Jim remains in the hot tub a good fifteen minutes before rising and slipping into the pool.
He lets out a little scream as the cold water hits his groin. A group of young girls giggle as he floats
by shooting a mouthful of water in the air like a whale. He looks at them in the same way I saw him
looking at my ass yesterday. If he notices the look of amused disgust on their faces, he shows no
sign. When he returns, he shakes his head at me like a dog adding pool water to the sweat that‘s
already soaked my clothes.
―Why don‘t you take a dip‖ Jim asks, settling into his lounge chair.
―Too many people in there,‖ I say. I have an urge to reach out and feel the cool water
rolling off his skin.
―No one in the hot tub.‖
―That‘s because it‘s 90 degrees. Only you want to boil yourself.‖
―It‘ll be nice tonight, with the cool breeze. We have to do it.‖
―You can. I‘ll watch.‖
His eyebrows furrow. ―I meant sex.‖ He twists around and reaches out, pulling open the
collar to my shirt. I flinch. ―What are you hiding‖ he asks.
―Nothing,‖ I say. ―Just think of everyone who has to use the hot tub.‖ He wears a blank
expression, as if the picture had never played out in his head. ―Sitting naked in a hot tub. Having
sex. What‘s the fascination with that‖
He smiles. ―You‘ll see.‖
He‘s like a dog with a bone. It is our topic of conversation throughout the day, following us
to the tourist shops in Charlotte Amalie, sliding onto the bar stool next to us for a drink, following
us to the dining room, making me regret ordering the boiled lobster. My attempt to stall by taking in
a show only works into his plan to sneak to the hot tub when everyone else is in bed. I tell him a
cruise ship is like New York City: it never sleeps. His eyes light up and I realize that‘s what makes it
fun for him. In the room he sits on my bed, threatens to pull off his clothes if I don‘t change into
my suit. I protest, tell him I‘m tired but he stands and begins to pull down his pants, humming the
theme song to ‗The Stripper‘. I realize it‘s easier to go along. We wrap ourselves in the thick
terrycloth robes that hang in the closet and slip into the sandals we bought that afternoon. It is
nearly 2 am when we reach the hot tub. I am relieved to see a net over it, the water calm and
transparent. Jim is undeterred. He figures out how to remove the netting and locates the switch to
turn on the whirlpool. The noise is loud and I am sure someone will come out, tell us we‘re
trespassing, order us to leave. But no one comes and Jim slips into the water.
―Come on,‖ he beckons with a smile. I can run but how far Sooner or later, I have to stop
and allow myself to be caught. I loosen the belt to my robe and lift it up as I step into the tub. With
my back toward Jim, I whip it off and drop into the water. My legs search for a spot his hasn‘t
claimed but his feet are everywhere. Our knees touch. ―Now,‖ he says, ―watch and learn.‖ I see his
arms disappear under the white foam and he arches back as he lifts his cheeks off the seat tugging to
the left, then right. Soon, I feel his suit touch my knees. I attempt to jerk my legs back but he has
my feet pinned under his. ―See how easy that was‖ he says. His arms emerge and spread out
against the tub‘s rim. ―Your turn.‖
―I‘m not doing that,‖ I say.
―Why‖ he asks. ―Got something I haven‘t seen before Just slide the straps off your
I can do at least that, I think, seeing that the only way to get back to the room is to give in a
little. I scoot down until my shoulders are under the foam and pull the straps off letting them hang
around my arms. My knee comes close to his groin and he slides forward causing me to push back.
I cross my arms over my chest hoping to create something there that resembles a larger cleavage.
―There,‖ I say and lean my head back, closing my eyes. We are quiet for awhile and I think he has
―Now just push the suit down to your waist,‖ he says. ―Feel the bubbles on your breasts.‖ I
decide to keep my eyes closed, pretend I‘m sleeping but then he moves forward and I realize he‘s
going to pull it down for me. My hands jerk up and I motion for him to stay put. I inch the suit
down on either side while trying to keep my arms crossed in front of me, preventing him from
seeing anything more than what I‘ve shown. ―Well‖ he whispers.
My nipples are erect. A thousand nerve endings have sprung to life and there‘s a stirring
down below that makes my knees squeeze together.
―Now just tug the thing off,‖ he says. ―Let your suit rest against my knee.‖
Beads of sweat gather on my forehead. There is an ache in my groin that signals the first
stirrings I‘ve had since this journey began. My entire body, in fact, screams to break loose. I arch
my back and pull it off, dragging the suit to my knees. It diverts Jim‘s attention. He smiles, his toes
loosen their hold on my feet and he slides a foot up the side of my calf.
―Now,‖ he says, ―was that so scary‖ Content, he closes his eyes and leans his head back. I
look up at the sky, at the constellations above my head. My legs inch open and the swirling water
massages places I have neglected for so long. The bubbles squeeze inside crevices, tickling,
popping, exhaling hot breath where none has ever been. I feel lightheaded. I close my eyes and
slide down so that only my shoulders are exposed. I breathe deeply, uncross my arms hold onto the
tub‘s rim and allow my breasts to bob beneath the water‘s surface. My toes lift off the tub floor and
nestle in between Jim‘s legs. I‘m amazed at how aroused he‘s become.
―There‘s a lot about me you don‘t know,‖ I say.
―Aren‘t you curious‖
He opens his eyes a crack. ―Maybe.‖ He lets his eyes close and his foot moves higher up my
I take a deep breath, let go of the tub and float.
TWO DUETS FOR TWO VOICES
I’m telling you, don’t forget
To remember who you were
To remember what it was
To remember what it is
To remember how it was
To remember what it went
To remember how it said
To remember how it sounded
To remember how it went
To remember what they did
To remember how it goes
To remember what it meant
To remember that‘s what she said
To remember what it aint
To remember who said what
To remember what said what
To remember who knew who
To remember who died then
To remember who all knew who
To remember what was what
To remember who didn‘t die
To remember who said what they said
To remember who didn‘t remember you
To remember who didn‘t want to know
To remember who tried to change you
To remember don‘t be a cliché here
To remember don‘t let this poem be 8 th grade desperation
To remember you‘re trying to do something with 8 th grade desperation
To remember maybe you can deconstruct 8 th grade desperation in a way the language poets would like
Or A Tonalists
To remember, once again, all together now, the more things change the more they stay the same
To remember most poets don‘t want to hear that
To remember most news publications have a rule for what not to say
The more things change the more they stay the same
To remember most people will forget you said earlier in this poem it was a sophisticated attempt to turn
around a cliché
Can it be encapsulated in Hey.
To remember maybe these lines need to be more of a mystery.
To remember somebody might be reading between the lines
To remember there‘s a poem in between the lines
To remember in between the lines is where everything happens
So why should I even write
I’m telling you, you gotta remember
Don‘t forget they didn‘t know
Don‘t forget what they said
Don‘t forget who knew that
Don‘t forget that‘s what they said
Don‘t forget that‘s what it is
Don‘t forget it‘s all there
Don‘t forget they said keep it moving
Don‘t forget she didn‘t die
Don‘t forget he‘s never there
Don‘t forget that‘s their stuff
Don‘t forget they‘re telling you is what they‘re telling you
Don‘t forget that‘s how it is
Don‘t forget that‘s how it said
Don‘t forget it‘s changed
Don‘t forget that‘s what it said
Don‘t forget they (k)new all along
Don‘t forget that‘s where it was
Don‘t forget I wasn‘t there
Don‘t forget that‘s the truth
Don‘t forget they never change
Don‘t forget he‘s not there
Don‘t forget she went there
Don‘t forget I was there
Don‘t forget there it was
Don‘t forget you just can‘t forget this
Don‘t forget it stopped at 2 am
Don‘t forget it didn‘t start
Don‘t forget it hasn‘t happened.
Don‘t forget whatever happened
Don‘t forget what it is.
Don‘t forget you have to remember their names ok
Don‘t forget you will remember them tomorrow
Don‘t forget she always remembers
Don‘t forget Rocio Durcal
Don‘t forget Cliff Burton
Don‘t forget no one rode the lightning.
Don‘t forget they are telling you for the 1,000,000 th time, IT IS WHAT IT IS OK
Don‘t forget the string around your finger that fell off yesterday
Don‘t forget Cliff ‗em all
Don‘t forget Randy Rhoads
Don‘t forget you lose people in a poem with proper names
Thus don‘t forget you gotta keep it universal
I realize you haven‘t traveled the universe
But I‘m expecting you to do this.
Remember that, ok
Mary Kennan Herbert
WALKING ACROSS THE PRINCETON CAMPUS
Dead guy, you knew it was a pleasure here. Green now,
but pretty too in the deep drifts of February. Allow
these images, mundane. The famed black squirrels
mark the place. Nassau Hall. Dead guys in there, still,
voices and the fluttering of leaves and bird song
like Whitman‘s thrush or other choruses, Tigertones
and the stone bench marked with names of the WWII
Class that did not make it back. Dead guys all, yet I
feel there is a good thing about it all. They‘d be happy
if they were here this sunny afternoon, like me
walking across this campus garnished with Ivy angels.
I feel at home among these reminders of scholars
and veterans. It‘s a university campus, not a graveyard,
but a memorial all the same, look at the stars–
bronze stars, plaques, bronze markers, stars,
and still more stars, reminding me of stars. . . .
MAKE ME TO HEAR
"Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones
which thou has broken may rejoice." – Psalms 51:8
No, broken bones won‘t kill me, but do
slow me down in my fast lane life. The Deity
said, "Listen up!" but I too often do
not. It‘s an acoustical universe, divinely
inspired. The Word. Aural literacy required.
Survival in the Black Hole, unseen, might be
under the sea. No sunlight below 656 feet.
Lord, I crawl like a crab, hoping to hear Thee,
the ping of your holy sonar. Thousands
of times I was admonished to pay attention.
Some translations say “crushed” bones.
I will be given a chance, among stars and stones
ALL MY HIDDEN PARTS
"Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts:
and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know
wisdom." – Psalms 51:6
Hidden inside this little velveteen door,
you can see my ticker. It keeps on working.
Amazing. All the other gears and pulleys
keep on trucking, but dependent on the core.
Under the thatch, that aging dome,
note the brain still firing like a pin ball
machine. No rhyme nor reason to it all,
ball bearings rolling comically home.
Behind guileless, misleading eyes
you will see pages of commandments
and a variety of sins hung out to dry,
on a clothesline designed to mesmerize.
DEGREE OF DARK SPACE FORTY FIVE ANGLED CONFUSE/REFUSE:
slap x///twenty-fourth letter///against ex///fifth letter plus twenty-fourth///current above
former/// vowel+consonant///repeated by equal amounts of apart///and a part
if x= divisor of curved implement//porcelain percentage to the fifth power/packaged by ziplocked
container of intricate integer///corpse of sixty-two inches climbing into wooden mouth///nails of
skin///straining prepositional fraction///where ex=mistake///error///oversight in calculations
and x=dry ice over blown glass///enclosing drunk lipstick///stained smoke rings/// take
ex///subtract e///affix striped face onto complicated equation omitting parenthetical
excuses///excusing unhygienic estimations///
smear shattered rubber from
moment of movement
leaning lending integer
minus one hour for
green particle of algebraic strand
sitting atop root of
shoulder divided by blade
ur counted 2 x
(m)e subdivided by
where percentage is minimalized by
enlarged compass of firm directions
end before beginning
conclusion before hypothesis
black tar trigonometry
curvy, voluptuous geometry
shape of angled knuckles surfing into
functioning as alternate for
mast(r) bait ng
slick back polynomial
complicated expression eluding
clash of theorems, where
ex becomes negative like
diagnosed distillation, deconstructing
smoothed out quadratic confusion
sharpen wood with .8 percent of lead
leading to sweetened substitute for ex
additional limbs, concentrated by
multiples of six i‟s
(i) (i) (i) (i) (i) (i)
forty-five angled compounded equations
BY THE LAKE
—with Richard, Fran and James
Lore has it that
ducks‘ quacks don‘t echo.
What we hear as echo is merely
the overlapping cacophony
as their flotilla paddles en masse
toward the bread we toss—all
except Richard, who walks ahead
along the bank, resting on each succeeding
A lone Long Island duck, the only
white feathers among clusters
of tawny brown and glistening green,
hops on the bank and marches
—as well as a duck can be said to march—
up to Richard, quacking orders to report
for K.P. duty. On the double.
A uniformed officer, the park ranger, rides
over to say ―Halt! You‘re breaking the law!
Don‘t you see the signs ‗NO Feeding
the Wildlife.‘‖ Wildlife These ducks
are tame, part of the neighborhood.
But we‘ve run out of bread anyway
and the ducks are drifting off,
their quacks echoing
in our overlapping laughter.
You always play yourself as tragic queen.
At every gathering you cast a pall,
show off your wounds and scars to one and all.
I believed you back when I was young and green.
The curtain rises on this present scene.
Your back‘s against the crumbling castle wall.
The guttersnipe in you knows how to brawl
when cornered—vents an ample spleen.
Your mask of tragedy begins to slip,
reveals the startled countenance behind.
The self-deluding plot starts to unwind.
Struggling to adjust your tilted crown,
clutching the train of your artfully tattered gown,
you sweep offstage. Be careful now. Don‘t trip.
SAPPHO TO THE MAIDENS
What did Sappho teach her girls,
except how to love —Ovid
At first were only Chaos, Earth and Love,
Love, the source of all that came to be,
most beloved of the gods,
longed for, shining, with wings of gold—
I, whom the Muses call sister,
who have drunk deep draughts of Hippocrene‘s
caressed Pegasus‘s silken mane,
danced with the Graces
among the roses of Pieria,
will teach you hymns in Love‘s praise.
So garland your soft curls
with sweet-scented violets that
charm the Graces to lift their rosy feet,
join us in joyful epithalamia—
sweet marriage songs
pleasing to Aphrodite—
for Song is Love‘s accomplice,
is it not
Yet for all their giddying fragrance,
Pieria‘s roses also have their thorns
whose piercings call up songs
of lamentation. You‘ll also learn
their pain flows from the same
fount as their power.
NO WINGS AND FINS AT ALL
Lovely Lady Lockheart is so so pretty in pink
But when you look real closely, she‘s not what you may think
Her eyes you cannot capture although they pierce your skin
Her teeth they hold no laughter although they surely grin
She‘s like a fallen solider or like a broken wing
Your arms you hold out for her, you long to hear her sing
She said ―if you are dying she needs a man alive‖
She claimed ―my car is loaded so take me for a ride‖
And out it poured away she soared upon a wooden stick
She cast her spell and down they fell like being slapped with bricks
She gathered all the Roasters because to waste is sin
And then she humbly rationed her wares again and again
Long lean legs, soft pink skin, watermelons, honey buns, rin tin tins
No Wings and fins and all, no wings and fins at all
Her eyes they drew me closer, her stench made me confused
So slowly I reached out to her to taste of her that dew
She laughed so hard and loud at me her deck began to deal
She took away my lipstick, she smoked my sex appeal
And then she looked me in the eye, my neck my ankle too
She said ―no one will want you when I am through with you‖
I never meant to harm her, I fixed her broken wings
She shook her perfect pinky and cautioned me one thing
No pigs no snails no puppy dog tails
No feet no rhyme no money no time
No wings and fins at all, no wings and fins at all
I took my hair and made a pack together we must stay
I placed a backpack on my back that‘s how I spent my day
My nights were long and full of sound
The morn I could not hear
Then off I go and to and fro to where I was not bound
I think I saw the Lady, it was like de ja vu
―You must be friends with Linda‖, ―That‘s Ms. Lockheart to you.‖
Her skin her wings her puppies things her sex and your appeal
No feet no rhyme no money no time
I think you know the deal
I always kept my head below my eyes they watch her trail
But then he crept up from behind and smacked me on the tail
Said I‘ve been looking for you so please tell me your name
I‘m Lovely Lady Lockheart the master of the game
If you were such a lady you‘d speak when spoken too
My collar‘s white my blood is blue don‘t think there‘s nothing new
He shook his perfect pointer and cautioned her one thing
You‘re like a broken record don‘t want to hear you sing
My nickels my dime my city my wine
I think I‘ll do just fine, I think I‘ll do just fine
I‘m glad to her I humbled to her I owe one thing
My heart it often grumbled yet walked a perfect ring
To all those that you gathered of all those that you boast
I bet they wish they‘d lathered I know you want me most
You may have took my stockings or borrowed diamond rings
But you will never ever know what true fulfillment brings.
the night becomes a hologram through which nothing appears coherent not even the idea
at 9:26 p.m. fall empties its pockets and a pile of postcards from beaches carrying
summer air falls in place of leaves. left to shuffle through them and recognize no one,
these examples from another time collide like shopping carts slamming into billboards
with wanting to transfer feeling from its inner locus to the popping sound and smoke
faint in the sky after fireworks in the cold. if there were time before the show for
another question to be resolved by just sitting before the drafty light coming in the city
window. take a moment and regard the mind‘s dappled shadows, the blank spaces
that make thinking bear the weight of some microscopic ribbon from one memory‘s
embedded desire to the next. would anyone believe that could be praise. another kind
of worship of where the person began as the heater comes on. a breath like that cannot
be feigned as in some in-flight movie knowing that in the kitchen a stove-flame‘s
purchase on air is not through. below the window it‘s a cannot canyon filling with
songs known for their anti-aging properties. the end of my eyelash touches
the back of my arm.
AND LATER I SPEAK
in a minute I close the book and pigeons circle
their shack on the roof across the street
as if some aftermath of something without a peak or a low point
were falling, the idea of which is sunlight the idea of which
is washed away now by this beat down below the stone and setting sun
in a minute there is memory, in a minute the sound of memory
and then after that some dent in the air where something
was and now isn‘t gone there is only music which is the sound
of memory an old drunk relative repeating stories from when landscapes were
static and grass began somewhere just beyond this kitchen table at 3 a.m.
there is only a comma after every later to indicate that after a hole
has been placed in the narrative you must follow the source of light
coming through that hole trembling like paper from smudged wind
called formless renting a smell of dead chickens or fresh bread
from the poultry market next door there is only some other language built
from other scaffolding looming in dark spaces between words made into referent,
that or that you see it too filling with itself and then with itself smothered
you see it brush itself off but what is it a minute later and I speak
into the phone and try to read the book at the same time I touch my hand to tile
on the wall in the bathroom with the phone to my ear and misplace words
it can‘t be other than this because the ruins of what was stretch between
the sidewalk and push their way back out green you see it too filling with itself,
that‘s what it is it can‘t be and isn‘t another thing I wanted
to include here is a smothered story but one where
the edges which we call the beginning and end are still apparent
like mud at either side of a pond
a how-to guide for floating the equation that builds this vision of tenuous plains
colored by clusters making sense sing songs each to herself in an effort to fracture
the sayings into a glowing opening left by stains on windows now gone I feel a
please dissolve this jig-saw commercial coming on know the paper-weighted
will falls through if any sun will wait long enough over the highway‘s leading
lights chewing the concrete I remember now how to render the number a storefront
writes backwards and in neon quivering in the stalled train of an ink stain I‘m
remembering where to put the keys sinking onto a table‘s familiar silence that undulates
inwards to this headache to verify the where and why of this once-dull wondering,
venture inside the fumbled paper yellowing where language bug-zaps every memory of
you can start anywhere
this body feels snow-melt
collaborate with caffeine jitters
at sunrise the dentist urges restraint
and of course people are being
damaged and the syntax used to present this
utilizes declarative arrangements of blame:
he blew himself and ten others up
you can start anywhere and the same
invisible characters follow they are
pumping insulation between skeletal
outlines of walls across the street
and the engines used to describe a building
are growing hoarse because this city
with its knobs levers and switches crawls
out anew from behind the eye
to lift its voice and shine its flashlight
on a minute growing thin and meek
asking our passages for more space
within which to hear birds
discussing radio waves
through the revolving door into a drugstore‘s heated music
for shampoo and juice and black beans I walk under slanted
mirrors in the aisles a woman with a man‘s voice sways
an aged purse and waits for her name to be called so she can
run to pay and pocket her pill bottles into the cold under
the train that passes spraying water down from steel and
rainforest wood when the drops touch the back of my
hands I want to say to a stranger walking the other direction
that this project of pulling daytime together by speaking
splits itself on smells of toothpaste and whiskey and when
we‘ll be anywhere depends on how she throws down
sunflower seeds and a soda can to cold pavement bent
under sirens inviting pigeons to gather and imitate how
day exits through narrow passages cut on windowpanes
deflecting sunlight‘s last glances but really I‘ve said nothing
No pronunciation of native names could stop bulldozers. There was no sense that anyone was doing
any wrong, just that changing was wearing her make up and eating less and less. Now as guitars from
Agadez chime in on daytime sunshine over tenement trees, I‘m looking through the crosshatched
grid of fire escape and box fan, red and white and colorless autumn light. A certain balance in
electric riffs delivered from the North African desert flying like sand in kinetic onslaught. Someone
threw me into the bushes outside the school because because. A field turning from green to red dirt,
then onwards to steel skeletons and conveyor belt insomnia. Then onwards, a reason to lash out, a
rash rising on memories. At night after homework I watched tornadoes on TV, convinced myself
that they would come unglued from that glass and spiral away with the house. Loose-leaf paper.
Write what you know. What you don‘t know too. A staircase zigzagging down from a highway.
Cornfields wove snakes into their folds and we ran through sometimes until there were none. Until
an aisle: hand soap, cheerios, cold milk perspiring in fluorescence, sponges, bleach, dog food, chips,
soda. The air tasted the same, or did it. Because he knew where to get them and I didn‘t, he put
cigarettes in the jacket that was hanging in my locker. On the old stone bridge over the swamp I
coughed and woke up the geese. The dog named Kevin snapped one of their necks with his jaws.
Virginia summer walked us and the grass towards dumpsters and what there was or wasn‘t to be
found, though we could always find it at home. If you had a car, you had a car. You‘ve probably
wrecked a car. It was enough to drive home and lie to the mechanics later. He had blood on his
dress shirt, so I lied to the cop and said we were going to the hospital, please let us go. The aisles
rattled and the lights went out, I got a tornado for my birthday. Big wanting was an elixir for not
knowing a thing about wanting, she took me to the barn, I slept in her bed. Shopping cart theft,
always a shopping cart in every clearing in the woods. Chains of airplanes in Brooklyn look like
lightning bugs in daytime clouds, which move in opposite directions, clouds, planes, bugs. The
Tuareg people staged an uprising in the year 2008, according to the notes on the CD case. This next
song is called Tenere Etran. The men cover their faces and ride horses and sing about independence
while the women dance and sing along from the crowd so loudly that the microphones pick them
up, them whose voices crash louder than the cymbals. In 2004 Aaron went to prison for three years,
the FBI had gotten involved. The night before he left, we smoked a joint on a dock over James
River rapids. In January I returned to the dock, wrote a poem and threw it in the water at 2 a.m. As
the parking lots began to crack, all my friends moved into old buildings by the university. I went
where there were no billboards. Aisles of radio hits, every look on every face an apology, a word
shattering into many or a word never uttered. A drop of coffee on my shirt, a yawn. Shopping or
shoplifting, two words. A house that was never finished on a hill by the river, by the highway
running through the sleep-breaths in the one room in the one house in the whole neighborhood
where someone lived. Prices of homes went down slowly. Our feet smelled like gasoline. At the top
of the hill next to the Burger King, you could see the Federal Reserve building ten miles away. Its
basement dives deep into the earth‘s rocks, maybe there are billions in there, maybe I can have five
dollars to buy enough gas to get back to the farm. The first half of the album is acoustic, the guitars
are not in standard tuning, a tuning I don‘t recognize, there is clapping, no drums. Between tracks, a
camel groans and someone shouts. Field recordings. Despite sub-prime everything, it is happening
again. Someone thinking straight about designing the angles of windows to be, to be looking out
onto Route 250, to be wearing a jacket in a heat wave, the last piece of land sold. Hand it over, admit
that you can‘t catch a storm cloud with a fishing net, everything more imminent than before. Jump
from hay bale to hay bale. Hum a tune. Tip a can. Secret cigarettes. Wait for John‘s name to show up
in the newspaper, for developers to ask for an apology. Come home. Steal beer from the fridge and
listen for the absence.
DINNER FOR TWO
Once she stepped out of Mariano‘s corner bodega, the aroma raging from her apartment wafted
onto the busy streets of 4 th Avenue. Vehicles of different color and design passed by the Sunday
afternoon streets, containing some folks eager to return to their homes before the football game‘s
coin toss, and some going out to George‘s World Famous for a late lunch after the twelve o‘clock
services. After mass she used to stop at the bakery for her favorite desserts, seven layer cookies or
―wainbow cookies‖ as she had called them as a child.
She could tell it was her sauce from the strong garlic and basil fusion tickling her olfactory
receptors. Angelica entered her building and the smell of the sauce became stronger as she climbed
the dilapidated, off-brown steps with the gold-plated edges that tried to give the shabby staircase a
furnished look. Her railroad apartment was on the third floor above Mariano‘s. When arriving at the
top of the stairs, she stood for a moment, gazing at the festive holiday wreath covered in candy
canes, red bows and miniature silver gift boxes on her apartment door. She then felt the life in her
chest increase a few heavy beats.
Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump!
This was nothing unordinary for the overweight woman of 72 years, 47 of which she
smoked Camel unfiltered. The thumps occurred every time she climbed a staircase—in her building,
at the R train stop on 36 th Street, Sundays at St. Mary‘s. Her once curvaceous body was now
occupied by a round potbelly acquired from uncountable bottles of Budweiser she had guzzled over
the past six years while sulking in her widow‘s depression.
As she was catching her breath before entering the apartment, her dark eyes met her darker
eyes in the foyer mirror opposing the wreath of primarily green and red. She noticed her salt and
pepper perm was thinning after each visit to the beauty parlor. Her gut was growing, this she was
sure of as she needed new shirts every few months lately—though really it was because her garments
would gather food and beer stains.
She removed the two forty-ounce Budweiser bottles from the black plastic bag; she put one
in the freezer and one in the fridge. Angelica turned towards the vintage O‘Keefe & Merritt stove
supporting the sauce pot that rested over the medium orange, though blue at the root gas flame. She
used the wooden spoon in her apron to turn the tomato sauce. With every turn she grazed the walls
of the stainless steel pot.
Tink! Tink! Tink! Tink!
Meatballs of veal/pork/beef mix and fennel-less sweet sausage floated in the tomato sauce.
She had a special recipe she had learned from her grandmother as a child: Chop and mince basil and
garlic, then let them simmer in olive oil for twenty minutes before using the mixture in the sauce.
Giraud always claimed never to have tasted a tomato sauce quite like Angelica‘s.
She removed the beer from the freezer and poured some into a goblet she loved. The goblet
was the glass Giraud had used to drink his beer from. ―Never drink from the bottle,‖ he would
always tell her.
From the cupboard she grabbed a pot slightly smaller than the one she used for the sauce.
Angelica filled it with water, set it on the stove and turned the flame on high. Linguine was her
choice of pasta for today. She began to set the table, placing out two napkins, two forks, two knives,
two wine glasses with ice water, the bread basket and the butter case. She cooked for two every
night. She ate for two every night. She missed him.
When I got home she was masturbating. I heard her moaning from the hallway. I could see her feet
because she left the door ajar. I wanted to push the door open so I could see her completely, then I
thought it was a better idea to peek through the door. The TV was on but I wasn‘t sure if she was
masturbating to a porn movie. Then I heard Audrey Hepburn‘s voice. She had been watching
Breakfast at Tiffany‟s. Whenever she felt moody, she watched that stupid movie. Her right foot kicked
a book in the bed and the book fell on the floor. She liked sleeping with books. She didn‘t
necessarily read them. She just liked sleeping with a bunch of books. She moaned deeper as Audrey
Hepburn sang Moon River at her fancy NYC apartment‘s window. I liked watching her touch herself.
She took deep breaths. She knew I was behind the door. I walked towards the kitchen avoiding her.
She had been watching Breakfast at Tiffany‟s and I knew trouble was coming. I hoped the orgasm
would help her calm down.
Why didn‘t she just watch a porn movie We had a porn DVD collection. That‘s how we
met, actually. We had attended this underground porn club a few years ago. I had heard about it
from a friend. We gathered in a small basement room on Friday nights at ten in Park Slope. The
crowd was made of losers who had nothing else to do on a Friday night. People coming in changed
every week except for regular members. They were mostly old and married people with children.
There weren‘t many women because they would feel uncomfortable in a dark basement with about
thirty men. What do you expect, eh The director of the Basement Project was a fat guy with lots of
hair on his face, arms, and even fingers. His name was Paul. He had strict rules. He even framed the
rules in big print and hung it on the wall. Rule number one: No masturbation allowed in the
basement. He occasionally turned the lights on to check on the audience to see if anyone was doing
something. He kicked a few men out who had been caught masturbating. Paul was short but very
strong. No one wanted to deal with him. Rule number two: Males are not allowed to approach the
female members. Rule number three: Members who violate the first two rules would be banned
from the club for good. Paul believed in porn movies like one believed in Buddhism, you know.
He liked me. I had been to his tiny apartment upstairs a few times and he had shown me his
collection of Playboy magazines. He picked an issue from his bookcase and handed it to me as if he
were honoring me with a royal crown. He told me to be careful as I turned the pages of the
February edition of nineteen eighty six. We looked at a half naked woman eating a cheese burger
leaning on a diner counter. Paul looked at the fake blond like a biologist looking at a rare butterfly.
He dragged his middle finger on her legs. I wasn‘t allowed to touch the page.
―This is art, ya know‖
I looked at the fake blonde‘s face. I wondered if her mother could recognize her in so much
make up. She only had a pair of blue jeans on and her back turned to the camera so we could only
see her butt and her right breast touching the arm that was holding the cheeseburger. Her pinkish
lips were half open. She had ketchup on her chin. I thought of her without makeup and breast
implants. I thought of her as a child. I pictured her in a light blue cotton dress running in the streets
of some suburban town.
―She is not that hot‖ I said sadly.
―I‘m talking about the photography,‖ he said seemingly frustrated at my shallowness. And I
felt so damn shallow.
Turning the pages we looked at couple of more pictures of women bending over on
couches, motorbikes, pool tables, etc. They were all different. They were all the same.
Then he told me about his rock band in college and played some Iron Maiden on his guitar.
―You got a woman‖ he said looking at the strings.
―I have many women,‖ I had said laughing and downed my beer.
I had looked at his face behind the bottom of the beer bottle that I was holding next to my
mouth. He wasn‘t laughing.
―Many women equals to no women. You‘ll end up lonely‖ he said seriously. He looked like
he pitied me. It was an awkward moment. He hadn‘t seemed like the type that would care. I had
never seen him with any women. Then he pulled out his wallet and shown me the pictures of his
fourteen years old girl and twelve years old son. He had been married for sixteen years. We didn't
talk much that night. I left his apartment after eight beers because he kindly told me his wife and
children would be back from their visit from the auntie‘s any time. He picked up the beer cans and
put them in a trash bag. Then he called for a cab for me and punched me in the shoulder for
goodbye. We were friends.
As I was listening to her feet touch the ground gently, I thought of the day we met. I had
been attending to the Basement Project meetings about a month or two perhaps when I saw her
sitting in the front row. She didn‘t talk to anyone and looked at the curtain as if someone in the
movie was getting hurt which was true, actually. Since Paul had strict rules about approaching the
female members I waited until the film was over to talk to her. She told me she was a writer and
doing her master‘s thesis on pornography. I told her I was a writer too. I had been writing screen
plays and working on a collection of short stories. ―Interesting,‖ she said with an uninterested voice.
We went to an Indian restaurant in the city on our first date. The place had a heavy curry
smell, of course. I wasn‘t a fan of spicy food but she had told me she liked Indian cuisine, so I took
her there. We talked about movies and books. She said Charles Bukowski‘s arrogance annoyed her
that was why she liked him. She worshiped Kafka. She had been working on a children‘s book. We
drank wine. She kept touching her hair which might mean she was bored or she liked me. I regretted
not reading the article in one of Paul‘s magazines about how to know that chicks like you by reading
their body language. Her blushed cheeks told me that she liked me then I remembered it was so hot
inside the restaurant and we were eating spicy food. She took off her scarf. Her neck was beautiful,
probably her most beautiful feature. She had olive complexion and dark blonde locks falling on her
shoulders. Her neck looked like unearthed treasure. It was hard to tell if she liked me. I was
spending my last fifty dollars on that dinner and I had spent all day cleaning my apartment. She
better fucking like me, I thought when she reached for naan and dipped it in the chicken masala.
Her funny accent sounded even funnier when she got drunk. It was hard to understand what
she was saying. She occasionally started a sentence in her native language and switched to English
by the end of the sentence.
―You will rescue me from my loneliness, right She said gulping the wine in her glass. She
didn‘t look at my face. She was staring at somewhere between the tandoori chicken and salad plates.
I hesitated for a moment. Was she talking to me or the tandoori chicken There was a pause.
―I think you should have more food.‖
She frowned and poured some more wine in her glass.
―I'll be worthy right Only when you realize the gem I am‖ she said stabbing a piece of
chicken. Her hand holding the fork was jittery.
―We are just having dinner, for God‘s sake!‖ Now, I was looking at the plates too. For a
moment, I thought of excusing myself to go to the bathroom, then asking for the check, and calling
for two cabs to go in different directions. That would be it. I don‘t need this. I can go home and jerk
off. What the fuck is wrong with women You take one out for dinner and the wedding bells start
ringing in their heads. If only some men had pussies, the world would have been a nicer place, I
thought. The restaurant was very hot. We had been sitting there for hours. My butt was hurting. The
spicy food was messing with my stomach. I knew it was my only chance to leave her at that
moment. I made a gesture at the waiter and asked for one more bottle of wine instead.
―I don‘t date writers‖ she said looking at an oil stain on the table cloth after another long
―Neither do I,‖ I said looking at the waiter who was approaching our table with a bottle of
wine. She looked at me for the first time after a while and burst into laughter then smiled at the
chicken tikka as if she knew something that the chicken didn‘t know.
Amidst it all the results are
within the noise and grave gashes. . .
Reasons will perish
It‘s time for canes and stones. . . !
Features sound out in chains and veils,
young seas rip.
Bared no more can the same be
for slanted and ―proper‖ tones.
PHOTOGRAPHS OF MIXED-MEDIA IMAGES
Artist’s Statement, April 2011
A committed detritivore, I use low-tech processes and quotidian materials meant for the trash bin:
pencil shavings, tea leaves, newspapers, comics, burlap scraps, pages from dilapidated children‘s
books, pictures from magazines.
Half of the works included in this issue date from the last seven months; the other half from the last
few years. For all of the works, I used a free-hand, impromptu approach, bypassing sketches, drafts
or measurements, as opposed to the methods I‘ve used in past years to produce artist‘s books, which
require careful calculations and crafting. Most of the pieces were executed as classroom exercises,
often taking a desultory path before completion. The image on the front cover, a spur-of-themoment
test of an air-brush and whatever images were at hand, was a piece of detritus meant to be
thrown away, which I recently found under a pile of scraps while foraging for paper. Some pieces
happened by accident, such as Item #3. Carried away by a Japanese punch, I recalled the line from
Keats, ―with beaded bubbles winking at the brim,‖ several weeks after finishing it. The ink and
manuscript piece (Item #5) materialized from an exercise on drawing lines as shapes and doodling
with a calligraphy pen. Items #6 and #7 were made from left-over scraps of Japanese papers and
inspired by the work of Rakuko Naito, who creates texture from folded paper.
These images appear on the following eight, unnumbered pages.
1. Landscape. Vintage floral stamens woven on burlap. Detail of original. 12 in. x 31 in. The
floral landscape is oriented horizontally; rotate the page 90 degrees to view. 2009
2. Paper Detritus. Discarded library catalog cards. 2-3/4 in. x 5 in. Postcard. 3-1/2 in. x 5-1/2 in.
Collage, pastels. 2009
3. Untitled. Tea bags, newspaper. Detail of original. 10-3/4 in. x 16-3/4 in. 2009
4. Untitled. Pencil shavings, rubber stamping on handmade paper. 8 in. x 12 in. 2010
5. Exercise on Line. Ink & collage on drawing paper. Detail of original. 12 in. x 18 in. 2010
6. Untitled. Tea paper on Japanese paper. Close-up of original. 8-3/4 in. x 13 in. 2010
7. Untitled. Ink, watercolor, various Japanese papers on handmade paper. 8-3/4 in. x 12 in. 2010
8. Quilt. Mixed media on muslin. Detail of original. 13-1/2 in. x 18 in. 2011
AVENUE VISION 1
At precisely 11:06 AM, a well-dressed man walks just past the no parking sign, turns to look back
and up at the brownstone building, shields his eyes from the sunlight with one hand, puts a small
camera to his eye with the other one, and snaps a picture. In my notebook I write, ―A well-dressed
man catches a river in his hand as if it were a baseball hurled from the other side of the street by a
young skateboarder behind the dumpster.‖ The man‘s camera in no way resembles a river, but I like
the idea of him, or anyone, catching a river in his hand. I‘d just read about Cayne‘s dad pouring her
ashes into the Mississippi. How he sobbed, standing by himself. The sun shined. A breeze blew. I
wanted to make a poem. And I had also been thinking of my baseball-fanatic-teacher- friend,
Durant. There‘s a cool little skater I see a lot who lives in the apartment building next door, but I‘ve
never seen him throw a baseball. Awkwardly parked by the curb, however, not far from where the
man is standing, camera in hand, there is a rusty, tortured looking, freighter-like, blue dumpster with
white capitol letters on its side that say, ―GUMA.‖ This dumpster is full of white and black framed
windowpanes, some broken, others intact, dropped there by Mexican laborers throughout the
morning as the sunlight began to filter over the rooftops and onto the avenue, as I awakened, made
coffee and grabbed my notebook and pen.
AVENUE VISION 2
On the roof across the street, beyond the prayer flags, in the glare of a bright light, a man in a suit
passionately takes hold of a woman in a long flowing dress while another man crouches and points a
camera at them from just beyond the light. Obviously having trouble getting the scene right, the
actors repeat their embrace over and over again, pausing between takes to laugh, converse, smoke,
stretch, and vainly attempt to keep the wind from destroying their manicured hairdos. The prayer
flags are flapping toward Manhattan, and the people walking on the avenue below have no idea of
the spectacle unfolding up above. Down there it‘s business as usual. Avoid eye contact. Keep to
yourself. An old man walks his dog. A young woman pushes a stroller. Cars line up in the street,
waiting for the light to change. Suddenly some guy shouts, ―Jesus Christ wrote the bible you fucking
asshole!‖ The light from the film set, gently reflecting off of the numerous rows of windows across
the street, moves as the couple continues embracing. Above all of this, tiny clouds the size of
rowboats hum westward, nearly glowing, as a jet in the distance lifts itself closer to the edge of
visibility, a light slowly fading, steadily dimming, inching, away. Fragmented constellations surface as
the night‘s darkness deepens into an opaque expanse while the couple, tiny ant-like dancers, finally
embraces in just the right way, before the bright lights are cut, and the trio film crew exits the roof,
leaving the wind and prayer flags quietly to themselves.
—for Steve Bailey
it‘s like this
the life of a stone has its own advantages
ants are unaffected
sun pounds down with indescribable force
wind shifts everything around
sand pollen sticks leaves
until the sky drops
and the rain comes
and the house floats away
as if space let loose its livestock
as if hammers were singing
to become rivers
leading into oceans
turning into space
the hawk as seen
from the kitchen window
tries to correct its botched attempt
at snatching the squirrel from the yard
but in the end that doesn‘t work
it underestimates the squirrel‘s
and its own inability to maneuver
amongst the limbs of crape myrtle
however, its talons match
the intricate yellow fractals
of the turtle‘s head and shell
as it steps and stops and blinks
in the grass
charting its course
tuned into the edges of shade
and song, buzzing numbers
of continental drifts
or the abandoned eggs in the mailbox
dear postal person
they say there‘s no rhyme
or reason to things
ut you sometimes have to wonder
which connects to our decision
to remove the nest and its two
unhatched eggs from the box
for whatever reason
the mother never returned
you may go back to putting
the mail in there now
thanks for your cooperation
we‘ve placed the eggs
on the window sill
they are beautifully speckled
and seem to have a plan
feel free to have a look
if you‘re so inclined
These poems appear together on page 70.
• where everything wakes and dies
• incapable god
• afraid to be woman
• preferences of a wallflower
where everything wakes and dies
sun opens mouth on split legs,
slowly illuminating paintings of blood
across inner thighs. this is where
everything wakes and dies.
my head is hung back
over the edge of the tub,
heavy with thoughts of how beautiful
her palms were
against the ugliness of mine.
my hands, my ugly ugly hands,
now caught red in murder
of my own womb.
molding over my egg, something grows
more relentlessly than cancer.
i am not big enough to hold it in,
but it stays. it clings to membranes,
like a babe's skull in mother's hip bone.
my birth canal faces the mouth
of a broken faucet which leaks a dirty color
gathering in a small flood to where
my blood travels, ever so precariously,
as this monster in my body erupts,
pushing life out.
silently, i watch the reflection of a fused ceiling fixture
where my present unfolds in slow motion;
remains of me lingering towards the open wound
of an inanimate object, ready to absolve their existence
because they cannot stand the decay
that is me.
here lies the silhouette of a stranger
crawled up on a park bench across from me.
his breath is searching within,
deep within that shriveled body
to fill something he cannot reach.
i am god,
unable to touch his forehead to tell him
it's going to be okay.
it is not going to be okay.
the sky is a black hole.
the ground is a war zone.
there isn't a place to escape.
frigid. he, i, and this night
he will wake before the sun rises
and prepare to waste another day
pretending to be whole.
and i will return another night
as an incapable god.
afraid to be woman
at the age of five she stands
like a man
bare chested and strong
in the river flowing
between undeveloped breasts
over the body of mother
sand runs through those tiny fingers
curved toward god- mercy-hungry for life
as pupils look into void
of what was once mother's eyes
it runs like blood
from a sparrow's skull
her chest must grow
not with breasts to feed
or above womb for home
but with muscles
so that she will cease to be
she will shave head
and never return to
preferences of a wallflower
i prefer to be depressed.
to live with the blinds turned down on my face.
i like the conversations of the radiator
with the lights dim.
the crackling of a news reporter's loneliness
on the radio.
the gloom that rain brings.
the gray of heavy clouds.
the fragility of my wrists.
the splitting soles of my sneakers.
the frizz limping on my head.
i like to think i'm almost dead.
and float above everyone,
watching a bud open,
the breath before a first kiss,
the tears of a proud mother,
the holiness of an intact home.
all the things i don't have.
i like to take it in
and die willfully.
sometimes i say it's my birthday.
sometimes once a month.
twice a month.
twice a week.
fourteen times a day last time and it wasn't even true.
i say it to different people so
it's not like they catch on or anything.
it's not a big deal.
i just want it to be my birthday,
because then maybe someone would pay attention to me and i…well nobody really does because…it
doesn't really matter if i'm there so…it's not like anybody notices.
i calculated it. i have a lot of time to do those things.
i'll be 436 years old the next time i tell you it's my birthday.
i usually don't bother the same person with my birthday again and again but.
i want to see if you can catch me.
if you'll ask me, ―lily wasn't it your birthday like a week ago don't you remember i brought you that
you didn't really bring me a cupcake.
you had about five of them mashed up in your bag from your birthday, so you could've. easily.
you don't even like cupcakes.
but you did say happy birthday. you did ask how it felt to be fifteen. this year i'm really going to be
sixteen but…it's the thought that counts. i'm a little person, so I can see why you though that i was
younger than you.
still, if you ever paid any attention to me you'd know i couldn't possibly be any of the ages that you
think i am. i feel closer to 436 than fifteen.
are you going to remember
are you going to realize i've done nothing but lie to you for every minute that i've known you, that
my name isn't even lily like i say i just really like that name. it's my sister's. she isn't using it anymore
and my name is stupid. and you know what it is. i told you it was lily later on. if you can remember
me before i started lying then you'll know.
i am not going to tell you.
i am testing you.
please study hard for this.
your school grades are total crap, but you somehow managed to pass my test. you caught me.
when i came up to your desk today and told you lies you didn't believe me. you said, ―lily, wasn't it
just your birthday there are only so many you can have in a year, you know‖
obviously it was really awkward. i'm sorry for flipping out like that. at least i didn't wet myself. i am
going to do that in front of you one day if you let me be with you.
i won't ask for more than fifteen minutes a day, and i will clean my own pee if i get nervous.
i will also learn about capitalization and proper grammar. because apparently you are one of those
mean people who will tell you when your their should be there or even they're. so i want to do
things like you want me to.
after all, you passed my test. i knew you were perfect and i want to be perfect too.
i did tell you a couple of truths you know.
i still want to know if you can find them.
and if you ever read this, i want to know which parts you think are lies.
it's pretty easy if you think about it.
i do wet myself. all the time. and writing the right way scares me so bad i hyperventilate.
maybe you could learn to love my random phobias
you weren't here today.
not at your desk.
not at anybody else's desk.
not even in another classroom.
i don't understand. it's school. you have to come here. you don't have to come to my house when i ask
and you don't answer, but who gave you a choice about here
where are you! please don't make me actually pay attention to the lesson, or to the popular girls
planning their weekend.
please don't make me realize how alone i am. i don't know how to talk to anyone except you.
you've come back.
i'm debating whether or not i would like to kill you.
i don't know. if i actually had a reputation it would be as the sweet girl. the quiet girl. and they always
say it's the quiet ones you have to watch out for. i really hate that. it isn't true.
so i guess i shouldn't prove it then, right
still. you cut school. you can't cut school. you have to get your grades up, go to college. they're only
low right now because you're not trying, i know you can do better.
who were you with when you did it anyway
if it's a girlfriend then i think that i will scream.
i have had your screen name memorized for months.
i don't know where that could possibly have come from but,
i like your brain.
if anybody thinks of anything that beats that, i will forget about you entirely.
i cannot believe i am lucky enough to know somebody with the screen name kidneyface.
maybe one day i'll talk to kidneyface with the screen name that you never asked for.
and i won't tell you that it's me.
last night i printed all your facebook pictures.
the one with you kissing your sister on her cute little nose.
the one where you're soaring down the ramp at the skatepark near the highway. the one taken soon
after where you're brandishing a cast on your arm, smiling.
the one with your sister in that baby-tee that says 'i love my boyfriend.' you know the one that only
sluts ever actually wear not to say bad things about your sister but.
good girls don't need to prove they're good.
i only printed that one because of your hand in the background.
and yes, i know she isn't really your sister.
your sister is in college. and she's much uglier than this perfect-looking girl.
but i want to be deluded.
fuck you for not answering my instant messages.
i have all the time in the world for this shit, but that doesn't mean that i like it.
i will only put up with your callousness for five more minutes
then i am going to the store.
even if you message me five minutes and one second later, it will be too late. i will be gone. i will be
eating poptarts. mint chocolate poptarts, and you cannot stop me.
it hasn't been five minutes yet. are you talking to her
you stayed away again today.
i sat at your desk while you were gone.
and told the girl with the purple hair and septum ring that today was my birthday.
she gave me an eraser.
it was shaped like a skull, which i feel like i should think is creepy. you have a shirt with a skull on it
that you wear sometimes. so it doesn't even matter that she cared about my birthday.
you'd better be back in school tomorrow. you'd better have a damn good excuse.
i didn't mean to do what i did last night, and i'm sorry.
i can see why you thought it was creepy.
you had every right to be absent, i just didn't know. i thought you were with your girlfriend.
she was absent yesterday, too. i was so focused on you, i didn't notice until i thought about it,
but she was.
turns out, it didn't matter. you didn't see each other, you were out for different reasons. she for a
cold and you for your aunt cassandra's funeral.
i'm sorry. i know you were close to her. i didn't mean to make things worse by scaring you.
i know how you feel, i mean it.
i know how it feels to lose someone you love.
i should probably explain that last thing.
it was my sister, lily. she was older than me by two years. now, she's younger than me, and the gap
between us is just going to get bigger as time goes on.
especially if i keep on having all these birthdays.
she was brilliant. perfect grades, scholarships coming out of her ears. when she sang it sounded like
something other than a trapped owl. the noses she drew looked like noses, and her capitalization was
flawless. she wasn't intimidated by first person pronouns.
she was beautiful. everybody loved her.
nobody even remembered what my name was.
if they did, you would have said something when i said my name was lily, right
it's not that i was jealous, not really.
okay, maybe a little, but lily actually paid attention to me. she braided my hair and corrected my
grammar, helped me hide my soiled sheets.
no one else did, but lily remembered my name. she called me by the whole thing every day.
abigail lucinda laudi. murmured in my ear like i was someone.
i wasn't expecting her to die.
she wasn't sick. she didn't do anything reckless. we were shocked when we heard that the driver was
turns out, he wasn't drunk. turns out, he was epileptic, and that was his very first seizure. nobody
knew until the autopsy.
both of them were dead before the car burst into flames. both of them died on impact. thank god,
i wish they'd both been drunk. maybe then she could have known what it was like to live before she
i don't know what living is, but i think that for lily, it might have been something like disobeying
mom and dad. not being perfect, for once.
for me, it's being noticed. loved. i don't think either one of us is ever going to live again.
i shouldn't be taking all this out on you. it's not your fault my sister died. it's not your fault you
remind me of the boy she died with.
what i'm doing is stalking. i shouldn't follow you home every day after school. i shouldn't scour the
internet for every mention of your name.
your family hangs up now when they hear my voice. you've blocked me on aim and you will not
return my pokes on facebook.
i want to stop. i'm trying to stop.
it isn't easy. i probably won't change. i just want you to know that i'm trying.
you didn't need to go as far as you did.
i was never going to hurt you. you knew that.
calling the police was cruel and pointless.
i'm sorry. i know you're afraid and i know you can't stand me, but did you really have to strike me
my parents will kill me. they won't understand. i've hardly said a word to them since lily died and
they'll think i'm crazy. they won't let me live with them anymore.
because they don't love me, and they will be ashamed of me. and you don't know how that feels.
i guess you will take out a restraining order.
i guess i will have to switch schools, if i don't wind up in jail. i hope i'll go to jail, because i don't
know what to do otherwise.
i hope you know you've ruined a small and useless life.
i hope you know i could have loved you.
i hope you're sorry, and i hope you know that today really is my birthday.
Elspeth Woodcock Macdonald
IN CLASS WITH THE NEW ONES
Mine is a long trajectory (her arm makes a great arc in the air)
Years since I left the ground.
Below, it‘s granular, undigested, missed.
Far above the earth,
I‘m used to the words I‘ve brought with me.
You‘re still close to the ground.
You can reach the new words.
Grab one and bounce back, or toss it, smuggle others.
It‘s sometimes difficult to see what you mean.
I squint. The colors are blurred.
If I try one of your words, I miss and fall.
Sentences are better, more to latch onto,
I dive for one and dangle. Rappel, rather.
Up here, a bird sings, I don‘t know its call.
Have to learn the birds before I hit earth: one
―When, when, when‖ another, ―Blue, blue, blue, white,‖
―Egret, egret, no regret, regret,‖ and ―steady, steady‖
And one cries, ―No, no, no, yes.‖
FOR MY THERAPIST
Is your birthday March 2nd, too
Are you a worrier
When not at work
Do you lose things
And wish you were better
Do you disappoint people
And think of all the things
you might have done
for your son or sons
Then, maybe, there is hope.
Do you feel me calling you
Don‘t tell. I want to be strong.
Thank you for the basket – for the bee sting.
The smell of flowers, the birdsong.
For sardines so delicious no balsamic vinegar is needed.
For olive oil. Mundane. But from you, delicious.
For ginger and lemon tea. For Tagore.
Why do you do this to me Why do you remind me
Do you rub your scented hands on the package,
So I will be unwrapping you
The muse asks, where did my muse go
Is this music or the world recorded
The world perceived without
the bending blade, the sickle of sight
Lonely for other instruments.
Does that tool feel the force of its hand on golden wheat at sunset
I don‘t. I don‘t. and I don‘t.
The muse asks, where did my muse go
Lies down and goes to sleep.
Thinks these sheets look like hospital sheets.
HALF PAST ZERO
no hard feelings i said but good times won't roll not tonight. antimacassars will cuss out your salon.
Narcissus is always there for you and your shrink to dissemble. kindly RSVP to worms of celebrity. a
bean a gorge a martinet. hope for help for a repressor. footprints of speed on a postage unpaid.
where did you stash it. niggardly in riot. ant-line of road-menders. once before:while a man sought
how to live. signal from a stand-up comic. hope for help for tuberoses and chickadees. to see this
city afresh & listen. with ink-stained sphincter. with hiccoughs . whatever note you've peeled from a
broken door. i don't want to make this crow suffer. i only want it to build a new tent for me. & for
jackass and pumper when they lean into a juicier hosanna. suppose he thinks he will be fair to what's
not him or his. all fabrications guaranteed. was that when he got maxed out slicksters to do his
bidding. a hairy ringmaster walking between sandbars. & a fence brews a future. whichever way you
go there is a clench to break. someone's looking at the sky in your right palm. moving ahead carrying
fishing poles the circus horse living in your spine. for they are not there among the crowd don't
know what's going to happen. crushable a smidgen of it. tests for cheesecloth on plinth.
BY THIS BUZZ
while we still have time. don't rush me between asparagus & bagel. a nomad at my door. to really
slight the conductor of that orchestra. paint a lake. own your oracle. bend & break a template. take a
moment & stuff it. if anybody needs me on the electrolane. find a home before a yellow leaf stylizes
a light. on one of its spin-offs:digging into pretzel. a robin swims from branch to branch. you seek
sanctuaries online. i will throw you off balance. an order different from exiting a sieve of
consequence. cowhide being sawn. halfthrust; substep; your immunity & insecurity. a hurricaned
pear. shorts & Botticelli butt. the gap between bonfire & correction. exactly what you were not
looking for. what you shouldn't have seen/heard. the tyranny of the topical. who schools who in the
shadow of a brown wastrel. the caterwauler's enroute to wherever.
DRIVING WITH ABSENT FRIENDS
Sometimes I ride through the night with friends
Who have gone away, in the cars we used to drive
All those years ago. Summer crickets in the trees or
Snowflakes on the windshield, we might as well
Be sailing on the far side of the galaxy, which was
A game we used to play, pretending our car was
The Enterprise, and all of us part of the crew.
Now they all have been beamed up to a place I
Can‘t go, a world where they no longer grow older,
Leaving a man with a gray beard and bald head,
Missing people he laughed with as a young man,
Never knowing at the time that this was the moment
On which a life could turn, a spoke around which
Memories would circle like leaves in an October wind.
WHEN I SAW RAYMOND CARVER READ
When I saw Raymond Carver read one lung was already gone.
He was so short of breath he could only read poems,
or very stories. Prior to this reading
I had just vaguely heard of him, but the next day
I ran into someone on campus and told him about it.
I saw something last night that changed my life!
I remember saying that. Those were the exact words I used.
Six months later he died. He was fifty years old.
He had described himself as a cigarette with a man attached to it,
but he changed my life, somehow, this brave man still reading
to a college audience in upstate New York,
with only one lung left and a few months to live.
Now I am older than Ray Carver was when he died.
I‘m almost nine years older, actually.
And one thing that has stuck with me, along with
all the rest of the memories of his reading,
has been the way that he had changed his life.
It must have been so strange finding himself
at that reading, wearing a suit in front of an audience,
knowing that he was gravely ill and that for all of
the goodness he had found in life, there was this joker
in the deck, that had popped up at the very worst time.
I, too, used to be a drinker. There are entire years I look back
on now and just shake my head. What on earth was I thinking
But it‘s only now, really, that I understand, or think I do,
what Carver meant by changing your life, the way that he did.
It‘s only now that I see that I was not leading my own life
back then, but rather, someone else‘s, someone wearing beer goggles,
every day all day, for years. Or maybe now I am the one living
someone else‘s life, the college professor teaching and writing poetry,
sober every day. Who knows Of course none of this stuff
about two lives is really true. It all happened. But it‘s just one life,
with a before and after, although it sure feels that way at times, like
two lives, and no matter how long I, or anyone else, goes without
a drink or toke or snort or cigarette, the joker is still going to pop
up when least expected, at a birthday party or wedding, the
face in the shadows nodding her head, indicating that it‘s time.
Jon L. Peacock
Ferry to the Mainland
―…We would like to once again welcome you to DFDS Seaways; the casino and duty-free store are
now open; DFDS Seaways is part of the DFDS Group of Companies…‖
―Cheers, my friends,‖ Jim says with a raise of his Newcastle beer, ―to the land we come
from, and to the land we go to!‖
―And cheers to Katherine!‖ adds Lissa, to the counter-clerk who helped us buy our tickets,
and we drink again.
―And cheers to DFDS!‖ L adds, hearing the loudspeaker repeat the name again and again,
and they drink to the ferryboat taking them to the mainland. L will later regret making this praise.
―Okay,‖ L says, ―we hit the duty-free for a flat of beer, and roam this ferry toward sin until
the wee hours, then hit up a movie and a sauna.‖ He looks around, walking backwards, and the
other three nod attentively. ―Anything else‖
―Quick,‖ Jim points at L, saying, ―What‘s life‖
L stumbles, turning around in a full circle before continuing. ―Life is experiencing things
until you die an‘ go to Hell.‖
―Ah-hah!‖ Jim exclaims, ―but you don‘t believe in Hell.‖
They buy a flat of beer, warm, and look in vain for ice. Restless, they walk around, not really
stopping as they pass the casinos that imitate Vegas with a lack of windows and lots of lights from
the flashing slot machines. All throughout the walk L thinks of Gelka, the girl they‘re going to see in
her hometown of Bonn, Germany. Gelka is the exchange student that L‘s friend Boy dated last year,
the only person anyone in the group knows living in Europe.
On the outer deck they watch the North Sea wage war with the wind, large waves lapping
the horizon and along their ship. Lissa and L return inside, wary of the wind, and wander through
―Lissa, what is life‖
―Friendships,‖ she answers.
L stops and turns to a model of the ferryboat they‘re on, large and ominous in its glass case,
etching the ship‘s modelwork in his mind, then leads Lissa through the leviathan. Their first stop is
the discothèque, but inside the dark cave are teenagers dancing to songs usually played at junior high
winter dances. The purple-dressed girl, wearing two ponytails, draws the most attention, and she
does a dance-walk with two spins and a sideways shimmy down the middle of the room with finger
guns shooting high, allowing the others to part for her as she goes. She‘s fifteen or thereabouts,
taller than most the boys in the room. The lights flash like a poorly prepared rave, and the DJ
decides to speed things up with the song, ―Time Warp.‖
L and Lissa‘s next stop is just as twisted as the last. Near an overpriced bar is a mock lounge,
with plush velvet and deep red tones offset by stage lights and bright costumes of a band playing
―Sweet Home Alabama.‖ They don‘t know the verses, and keep returning to the part that digs at
Neil Young, and the song drags on. As they repeat the chorus for the sixth time Lissa and L leave.
They arrive at the only full-service restaurant just as a man is pulling out the floor-pole
‗closed‘ sign. Lissa begs the man for a quick, take-away order of fries. He responds that they
wouldn‘t serve chips without fish, anyway, but no possibility on anything regardless, because it‘s ten
o‘clock, they must realize, and ten is when restaurants close out here, even on ships such as these.
The overnight ferry left in the late afternoon, and even though it set sail only four hours ago,
everything is already closing down. The man says that, possibly, for the next hour, the deli on the
bottom deck will have some food left. Lissa and L get there as two employees start closing the deli,
ut food is still on display, and Lissa takes one of the wrapped sandwiches. They only have tuna
sandwiches left, so L doesn‘t order anything.
―Do you consider Jim a companion‖
―Of course!‖ Lissa laughs. ―He‘s my husband!‖
―Yeah, but…‖ he looks at Lissa‘s sandwich wrapping twisted on the table. ―Can you tell him
everything, like everything…without reserve‖
―Well, L, honestly…no. I love Jamey with all my heart, with everything I am,‖ she looks
down at the wrapper, and L looks at her, ―and if anything were to happen to him I don‘t know how
badly I‘d break…but there are some things that I just can‟t tell him. Not because I think they‘re bad,
or because I want to hide anything from him, but it‘s more like criticisms, you know He is just so
sensitive, and sometimes the smallest things can really make him upset, and I never like to see him
upset – he takes it so badly.‖ L and Lissa laugh. ―I dunno…I‘m fine with it all, and I think he is
―Well…I have all these good female friends in my life, you know…all these friends
throughout the years, I‘ve always been so close to girls…Emily, and Scarlet, oh, and my sister and
my mom, and Kate Americanhorse, and…oh…I dunno, all these girls…Megan Bilbee back in high
school…but I‘ve never had a companion, you know I‘ve never been with a girl who I could share
everything with…to be a partner with.‖ He looks up at Lissa, her face now taut and stern. ―Is it
possible Something like that‖
―Oh L,‖ she looks away, watching as the shutters slowly curl down the deli window, ―I‘m
sure it is. Just because I can‘t spill my mind out to Jamey at every moment of the day doesn‘t mean
anything, and you have all those close female friends of yours, I‘m sure one of them would love to
listen to your darkness, just as I listen to Jamey…maybe that Kate Americanhorse girl.‖ She stands
up, snatching the twisted wrapper off the table and tossing it away, touching the metal shutters
before turning back to L. ―Let‘s go find the boys.‖
Lissa walks ahead, stopping short when she comes to another floor-pole sign. Do Not Enter,
it reads in English between what looks like Dutch and French. Forbidden Zone. They‘d just navigated
this area to get to the downstairs deli, but the sign is so foreboding they decide to turn around and
find a different way, becoming lost and running into two more ‗forbidden zone‘ signs before
returning back to the model ship where they‘d left Jim and Marshall.
Almost like clockwork, Marshall and Jim enter from the blazing winds of the outer deck,
looking at Lissa and L as if they were there all along, never missing a beat. Both their faces are
smiling and bright pink.
―Oh God, Jamey, I wanna get off this stupid ship,‖ Lissa says, going to Jim. When she gets
close to him she stops. ―Have you been crying‖
―Yeah,‖ he laughs, ―we both have.‖
―We‘ve been talking about everything back home,‖ chuckles Marshall.
―Fantastic,‖ Lissa says. ―But I wanna go to the room now.‖
On their way, Lissa explains the turn of events on the boat, and her point is emphasized with
another ‗forbidden zone‘ popping up seemingly without reason. Jim convinces the group to go to
the sauna and relax before bed, but when they get there they meet a man on a stool. He‘s half asleep,
and stands up when the four get close.
―Zorry,‖ he says with a hand raised to Jim‘s chest. ―Zuana‘z clozed.‖
―But,‖ Jim rubs a hand over his face, ―why You don‘t need anyone to be on duty for a
sauna to run…and you‘re here to guard it being closed Why!‖
―Zorry,‖ the man puts down his hand and sits upon the stool. Sitting there, his tired eyes
glaze down to the floor. The four look at him for a few seconds, then at one another.
―Well,‖ asks Jim, ―now what‖
―I‘m fucking going to bed,‖ responds Lissa, throwing her towel over her shoulder.
―Yeah, man,‖ Marshall looks at Jim and L, ―let‘s get some sleep for tomorrow.‖
―But,‖ Jim stammers, ―but I wanted to see the movie…Lissa, the movie…Marshall…L…the
The glass doors to the sauna, which is still on, are densely fogged. The guard sits on his
stool, his eyes dart here and there, but he never looks up.
―Oh fine, Jamey, let‘s stay up for the movie…when does it start‖
Jim startles L, dazed watching the guard, as he lifts L‘s wrist to look at his watch.
―Forget it, dudes,‖ Marshall looks at Lissa, ―I‘m goin‘ ‗a sleep.‖
―Fine Jamey, you win.‖ Lissa starts to walk away, then turns around. ―Come on, boys, let‘s
go back to the room and let Marshall sleep while we wait for the movie.‖
Marshall lies down while the other three stand in the cramped quarters to drink left-over coffee and
swigs from L‘s flask to stay awake. They leave him back in the dark room, arriving at the makeshift
lobby thirty minutes before the one am starting time, long after everything else has shuttered and
closed. The few people still walking around look scared, and all seem to avoid contact as Jim, Lissa,
and L pass by. They wait in the lobby for forty minutes while hearing another movie play in another
room, until Jim finds someone to ask about their movie. A man, in a red vest, doesn‘t quite know
what Jim talks about until he suddenly pops straight and uses both hands to grab his open vest.
―We was thinking to cancel that one, it is so late, you know.‖
―Oh my God man,‖ Jim pleads. ―Please let us watch this movie – we‘ve stayed up much
longer than we wanted just to see this movie, please for the love of God, let us watch this movie.‖
The man moves away from Jim, then comes back and says yes, they will be showing the
movie after all. They enter a small, unlit room and are the only ones there, making themselves
comfortable in the fold-up chairs. The movie starts with a couple of clicks, and the red vested
employee yawns as he sits behind the projector at the back of the room. The screen is roughly ten
foot by ten, and the image slips on and off its edges as it waves to the ship‘s movement. The movie,
V for Vendetta, is full of post-American anarchy, and with all the chaos and the violence and the
waving screen they watch the flag of happy destruction, of zealous vengeance, of beating against the
Well after three they finish the movie and make their way back to the dark, cramped room
with Marshall snoring. Lissa and L lie on their respective bunks, and Jim suits up with a coat and his
music. He tells the other two quietly he‘s going to fight the night for a while. Lissa kisses him
goodbye, and he‘s gone.
―Marshall‘s asleep, L. What is it‖
―Nothing, really. ‗Night.‖
L lies in the dark, hearing Marshall beneath him, staring at the darkness of the close quarters,
hearing each beat, breath, each motion of the other two. The room gets brighter and brighter, and L
sees everything in the darkness, staring at the ceiling, staring and trying to close his eyes without
―What is it‖ L can hear voices asking, different pitches and inflections, over and over.
―What is it Fear, or laziness What is it for you‖
―What is it‖
―They don‘t like you…‖
―What stops you‖
―They never like you…‖
―…Fear of harm, laziness in comfort, fear of loss, laziness in stability…‖
The room gets brighter, and L sees everything in the darkness. He sees a napkin on the shelf
beside his bunk, the table below. He sees the light switch, sees the lamp by his bunk, and turns it on.
He steps down with the napkin in hand, and on the table he scribbles some words:
I‟ve haywired my brain to be out when I‟m done
when the day is all over, no more to be won
I‟ve poisoned myself as much as I care
so no thoughts will spill out, no more than I dare
I‟ve programmed my life right down to the end
so I have control, this mind shall not bend
I‟ve stapled my soul up on that dark wall
and shown it to none, and shown it to all
I‟ve drank „til I‟m drunk & drank until dawn
„til nothing is left, until I am gone.
L dresses. He turns off the light, takes his key and several beers, and gently shuts the door.
He walks through the ‗forbidden zones‘ like a ghost in the night, roaming the empty hallways,
sensing others asleep in their rooms, confined to their quarters, closed away from any paradise of
this fifteen-hour cruise, broken from happiness like some cruel, twisted joke. He passes the inner
walls like a gust of wind until there‘s no place inside for Jim to hide, then L searches outside.
The strength of the nighttime North Sea is stronger than in daylight, and black and black are
sometimes broken by the white waves crashing and the lights in the distance, other boats that float
in the nothingness. It‘s the outer darkness that L‘s Mormon mother warned him of, constantly
pulling and pushing victims out, never to return. On the starboard side the sea pulls L down, and the
wind intensifies and rips him up even harder. He firmly holds onto a line with both hands, clinging
to his bag of beer, and at one point his feet start to slip from the ground. The winds are so strong, L
starts to fear for his life, realizing just now he‘s no longer in his bunk. But after the strongest wind
there‘s a calm that sits as L stretches his way from the cable to the helm of the deck.
Jim is at the front of the boat, with a rainproof hood over his head. L is very close before
Jim notices, and as Jim looks up there‘s a sight of terror without recognition in his face, but this
quickly turns to a smile and L sits down. The two try to talk at first, but their words are swept out to
sea quicker than can be heard, and they resort to silent contemplation. Occasionally they point out a
distant light, or raise their hands above their heads, but mainly they allow the bumpy night to carry
off their quiet conversation. They stand at the same time and together make their way through the
high winds. Through the entrance door‘s window they see the back of a man somewhat lying down.
He‘s clothed, but his pants are shoved past his hairy butt, two female legs springing from each side
of him, and before turning away they both see him do a pumping motion. Jim and L move back
several feet, not looking at each other.
―I think that was,‖ Jim yells out, staring at the dark sea, ―that was the worst sight I‘ve ever
L doesn‘t respond.
Minutes pass. They hold the rails and look out. Together they move back to the doorway,
passing it without stopping, and look in to see the man and a girl sitting together, fully clothed. Jim
and L step back and go inside.
It‘s almost five in the morning when the last light is extinguished, and at seven a loud voice
begins calling for people to gather their belongings and prepare to dock, as the ferryboat will be
docking in the next two hours. This continues in four consecutive languages at fifteen-minute
intervals for the full two hours, with a loud siren sounding thirty minutes before the ship docks.
Nothing can be turned down, or silenced, and the cramped room smells of stale, sweaty socks, and
Lissa begins to cry.
This is their welcome to the mainland of Europe.
Get an armored vehicle
To protect your skin
Will it keep you safe from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Will it save you from life‘s humiliations
Will it save you from the torments of love
Will it bullet-proof your heart and soul
To make you impervious to the disasters of the world
If not, why not
You know what you can do
You can shove that armored vehicle right up your ass.
GEESE NO MORE
They killed the geese in Prospect Park
One day they were there
And the next day they were gone.
They were a danger to human life
Sucked into a jet engine
They could cause a crash
They were euthanized to protect all of us would-be travelers
From sudden accidental death.
Well, if someone has to go
It might as well be the geese
Leslie Anne Rexach
They say hell is best for its company
Who shall I interview for next month‘s piece
Pages left alone
No words to fill the void
What stories shall I tell
Should I write about this drink
Dripping in sin
Raising questions about a religion that does not exist
I‘d much rather be in hell
Burn the pages of my death magazine
Sin into cinders
Never to look back to the interviews I did with myself
Even if I lose my job
I continue to do as I wish until my subscription expires
Beatriz Alzate Rodriguez
A STORY OF A LIFE SAVED
That place had a name, but I couldn‘t pronounce it at the time, and now I can‘t remember what it
sounded like. I know a few facts. Such as, it was on the Pacific Coast of Colombia, about five miles
from the Ecuadorian border. I suppose I can Google it now, but I don‘t want to. I want to
remember it as nameless place.
It was the summer of 1975, which was the summer after my twelfth birthday, when my sister
and I were in Cali, Colombia, my father‘s birthplace. It would be less than ten years before the world
heard about the Cali Cartel and about five years before I knew what cocaine was. My father had
taken us there to visit his family, my mother stayed behind in New York. He was happy, the
happiest my sister, Rosa and I had ever seen him. It was the first time he had seen his family in
twenty years. To two girls from New York, Cali was only what our father had told us it was -a
beautiful city set in a tropical valley, a virtual paradise. As we were growing up, he told us stories of
Cali. He told us how the city of Cali was a place where everyday was Christmas, just as his father
must have told him that the streets of New York were paved with gold.
We met aunts, uncles, and many cousins, who previously we had only known as faces in
black and white photos in the family album. We were supposed to be especially excited to meet our
uncle, the great doctor, who had been a visiting professor of Medicine at Oxford and soon to be at
Harvard. It was him, who my father used as an example. Study hard so you can be a doctor like your uncle,
my father would say. My uncle the great pride of the family the one for whom my father dropped
out of elementary school to help support. He would hitch rides with truckers, who paid him to talk
enough to keep them awake as they drove all night on treacherous mountain roads. When my father
was old enough, or rather tall enough to reach the pedals he became a driver himself. He did this to
pay for his brothers, and sisters, private school education so they could become members of
We enjoyed our time in the city visiting the country club and seeing the colonial churches
filled with their Spanish splendor. One day at the country club my father and his brother sat
together drinking coffee at a poolside table, while we splashed around in the pool. They looked very
much alike they shared the same long nose and black wavy hair, features my sister had as well. I
resembled more my mother. It was some time that day, my father‘s brother, the great doctor, asked
if he could take my sister and me along on his vacation. My father gave him permission.
―Your uncle invited you to go with him to the beach.‖ My father said, before he left Cali to
get back to work driving a truck in New York.
―How far is the beach‖ I said.
―Past the selva,‖ he said. I looked at my sister and her at me. Neither of us understood. My
knowledge of Spanish was limited. I was able to follow most conversations if they weren‘t speaking
fast. I understood everyday words in Spanish, but selva was not one of them.
―What‘s that‖ I said.
―The jungle,‖ he said. My father went on to explain that we would have to take a plane over
the mountains to get there and when we return we would spend the rest of the summer with our
aunts and cousins in Cali as originally planned.
A couple of days later we left on a twin propeller plane. The plane rattled and shook all as
we passed dangerously close to the top of several mountains. We were grateful when we finally
landed on a dirt runaway on the edge of a town. They called it a town. I didn‘t know what it to call
it. The entire place was nothing more than a few wooden buildings along side the dirt road. It was
my first dirt road town, which was quite a shock to a young city kid like me. It was more of a shock
when my uncle added four or was it five more kids to our group. I can‘t remember now. He didn‘t
mention them on the trip from the city; in fact, he hadn‘t said much of anything to us. My uncle‘s
wife was with us as well as a friend of his who was a dentist. His wife‘s name I don‘t care to
remember, and she didn‘t deserve to be called aunt and as for the dentist, I will call him Angelo, for
he would be my angel.
A short dark skinned man wearing cutoff shorts and a loose fitting t-shirt that at one time
must have been white took us all to a short pier where several large motorboats were tied. He was
scary to me at twelve, because his skin was so leathery and his expression blank. I stared at him and
wondered what was out there to make him look that way. The humidity was intense. My clothes
were stuck to me already, so if I got wet in the boat it wouldn‘t matter. In fact, I hoped that I would
get wet. It would have been a relief from the heat. I was looking forward to the beach. The pier
was at the edge of a river, which in city terms must have been at least three or four blocks wide.
―Are we getting on those boats‖ My sister asked our uncle. She started to cry. She was
afraid of boats, or was it the water
―Yes, yes,‖ he said waving her to go get in, as he turned to supervise the loading of the
boats. His wife went with him leaving us with Angelo. Angelo was about thirty something years old,
he had fair skin with dark hair that he wore with slightly longer sideburns and a mustache. He
wasn‘t that much taller than my sister who was five feet seven inches tall, but he was thinner than
my uncle who had a few inches of a spare tire hanging over his waist. His wife was overweight as
―I help you,‖ Angelo said.
―It‘s not that she can‘t get in, she‘s afraid.‖ I said and stepped down into the boat.
―Oh, no worry, Safe- good boat,‖ Angelo said in his broken English attempting to soothe
―You gotta get in, you can‘t stay here. Who you gonna stay with.‖ I said.
With a little bit more coaxing, plus the fact that there was no staying behind, she got in and
sat next to me. Our group filled two boats, the cutoff shorts man got in with us and another similar
looking man wearing similar looking clothes climbed into the other boat to drive. Angelo and a
couple of the children sat at the other end of the boat we were in. The river was the most beautiful
thing I had seen up until that day. I had never seen so many trees or smelled air so fresh-full of the
scent of the grasses, leaves and the river water. We had left cars and their exhaust far behind. There
was nothing but trees of enormous height and width lining the banks of the river. Occasionally
other boats, some smaller, would pass us. The people on board stared at us city people with our
brightly colored clothes and our suitcases and supplies packed up high in the boats. My suitcase
especially must have been a curiosity I had a pink plastic suitcase, which was suited for a twelve year
old, but not for the jungle. As we continued on the river, it began to narrow. Our boats passed
several small shacks built on stilts directly on the waters edge. There were naked children swimming
and women wearing what only looked like nightgowns or housedresses looking out at them and at
I don‘t know how long we were out on the river; no one kept track of the time. I heard the
boatman talking to my uncle again. He said we would be stopping soon. We had started to see
many more shacks built closer together. The boatmen pulled the boats up to a few wooden planks
sticking out of the riverbank next to a house. Where‘s the beach Maybe my uncle didn‘t tell my
father the truth. Maybe we weren‘t going to the beach at all.
In this village, we would spend the night I heard them say. My uncle didn‘t mention this,
either. We could all have been led to our deaths in this dark and putrid place. We had no clue to
what was going on. My uncle and his wife offered us no consolation, no explanation as to where we
were actually going or why we had stopped.
Thankfully, the house we stayed in was on solid land behind a row of shack houses. We
were shown to some mattress thrown on the wooden floor, where my uncle told us we had to sleep.
He didn‘t speak to us, but to the group of children. We were treated like deaf mutes because we
didn‘t speak Spanish. We could have tried, but didn‘t. In Cali, we had no reason to everyone spoke
English to us. I suppose now that they were having a good time practicing their English. My uncle
spoke near perfect English with a thick accent, but when he spoke to us, he usually spoke to us in
Spanish, expecting us to understand. Most of what was said we were able to understand. That‘s
how I overheard a dusty looking man-wearing cast off clothing and no shoes telling my uncle that
we had to wait for high tide. The men from the boat stayed outside, they must have slept in the
boats. Our suitcases were still on the boat. We had to sleep in our clothes and we had no
toothbrushes. It‘s funny what you remember, toothbrushes seemed important. My mother would
have cursed them all out. It was very important to her that we slept on clean sheets and brushed our
teeth. There were no sheets at all and no bathroom to brush our teeth in even if we had our
toothbrushes. There was only a toilet bowl, which didn‘t flush. Everything went straight down into
the ground or maybe the river I wasn‘t sure. We didn‘t like it. My sister complained to me and me
to her, but what could we do. We were too young, tired and afraid to say anything even if they
understood our English or tried to speak Spanish. The other kids around us were having a great time
playing on the mattresses. From what I could hear, they had been here before.
I think I slept that night. My sister didn‘t. She was afraid of the bugs. So, was I, but I hid it
well. My uncle and his wife woke us up while it was still dark outside. We were rushed outside and
back onto the boats. Some women gave us a few bananas, mangos and some other fruit that I still
can‘t identify. My uncle and the others started putting on long sleeve shirts. Rosa and I didn‘t have
any. We didn‘t bring long sleeves on summer vacation. My uncle‘s wife passed us a can of insect
repellent. This would be the only time she offered us insect repellent during the trip. I guess I
should have been grateful to her for even thinking to share her supply with us. Once everyone
settled in the boats, we left. I looked up at the sky and what I saw took the title of the most
beautiful sight that I have ever seen. The only place where I have seen a night sky like that again
was at the Hayden Planetarium. The stars were so bright we didn‘t need lights on the boat. I sat
there in silence trying to remember it forever ignoring the mosquitoes pinching my arms. I think I
succeeded in remembering it forever because I still not only see it as clear as if it was in high
definition but I can feel the humidity and smell the air, which reeked with the dank wet smell of the
jungle around us.
As we continued, it became darker as the canopy of trees closed in on us and the river
became only a few feet wide on either side of us. The roots of the trees scraped the sides of the
boat. It became so dark we couldn‘t see the other boat. The boatmen finally turned on flashlights
to light the way. We heard a splashing sound ahead of us. My uncle said it was a snake falling in the
water. The other kids started laughing. Rosa was going to cry but just sat there huddled up. We
continued then suddenly something fell on our feet. Rosa screamed and I jumped back on the boat
bench. Everyone including my uncle laughed hysterically.
―It‘s not real.‖ I said as the boatman picked it up laughing. Angelo had laughed, but stopped
when he saw we didn‘t enjoy the joke.
One of those nasty kids my uncle seemed to like so much threw a rubber snake at us, and it
appeared he was in on it. I was afraid as well, but I remembered what my father had taught us about
dogs. Once they smell fear they attack, and Rosa had shown fear when she cried getting on the
boat. This would be the first of many torments we suffered at the hands of those other children
over the next fourteen days. After the laughter settled down it was quiet except for the sound of the
clicking and humming of insects coming out of the jungle, which blended into the sound of the
We stopped; the boats would go no more. The boatmen started to talk too fast I couldn‘t
understand them. The next thing I knew they were getting out of the boats and into the water.
They started to push the boats. They boats wouldn‘t move, next my uncle and the dentist got out to
help them push. Still the boats wouldn‘t move they were too heavy. The water was only a foot or
so deep. Now we all had to get out. I didn‘t want to step in that dark muddy water but I didn‘t
have a choice. Rosa didn‘t cry, but froze up. One of the boatmen attempted to pick her up but he
was slightly smaller than she was. The dentist gave her his hand.
―Come, please, no snakes-no snakes.‖ Angelo said and she stepped out under her own
power. Our uncle offered her no help at all.
The water was slimy and the bottom was muddy. I thought I would sink. We all had to
push the boats about six feet or so. The boats had been stuck on a tree root. We got back in, the
boatmen started to row. The river gradually widened again and the yellowish glow of daylight broke
through the treetops as the canopy spread. Then the trees and the riverbanks disappeared
altogether. We were out in open water. I know now that it was the Pacific Ocean. I was scared the
boat was too small and we seemed to be going out further. There was no one to look to for
reassurance that we weren‘t going be lost out there.
―Where‘s the land‖ I said looking at Rosa.
She didn‘t say anything. Suddenly we changed direction. I could see palm trees, and then a
beach finally appeared. The beach stretched out for maybe a mile or two dotted with palm trees.
Waves were rocking the boats now. The boatmen turned the boats into the direction of the waves
and let the waves bring the boats onto the beach. When we were near enough, they jumped out and
pushed the boats firmly into the sand.
We gathered our stuff as the boatmen were leaving us on the beach. My sister and I each
picked up our one suitcase and followed them. My uncle still hadn‘t spoken more than a few words
to us. It was Angelo, who started a conversation with us in English.
―I make some work on the teeth for the people here.‖ He said. ―You girls can help me, if
―We like,‖ Rosa said and I nodded.
As we approached the house we would stay in we passed a few smaller structures all high on
stilts constructed of unpainted wood and some tin roofing materials. Our house for the next two
weeks was clearly the best in the village. It was all wood and at least twice as wide as the other
houses with a wrap around porch.
Once inside we were shown a room with two sets of bunk beds and a single bed, no other
furniture. The beds were nothing more than a mattress over wooden slats in a rectangular frame. I
claimed the single bed. My sister took the lower bunk next to me. Two of the other children that
had joined us on the river were also girls. We figured out later that they were also sisters, took the
Everybody went to the beach. The other girls were both olive skinned, dark haired, thin,
and obviously younger than Rosa was. The shorter one was probably closer to my age but she wore
a bra and I didn‘t. I was fair skinned and chubby. I remember what I wore very well- a two-piece
navy blue polka dotted bathing suit my mother had picked out for me. The top was more of a
blouse in a baby doll cut. The two girls were pointing and laughing at me. My sister didn‘t notice.
She was too busy snapping pictures of palm trees with her Kodak 110 instamatic camera. I played
the deaf mute and walked into the water. Coney Island was the only beach that I had been to up
until then. The water was nothing like Coney Island‘s dark green dirty water. It was clean and clear.
The waves were high, at least twice my height. They probably seemed taller than they really were,
because I didn‘t know how to swim and was afraid of them.
We were all in the water now. I was trying to play with my sister the games we played at our
neighborhood public pool, but the waves were just too high and they were coming one right after
another. I managed to hold my breath and let the waves pass over me. But one caught me off guard
and knocked me down. I felt the sand with my hands as the wave rolled me under the water. I
struggled to my feet and carefully waded out of the water before the next wave could reach me. I sat
and watched the others have a good time. As I sat, I thought of my mother sitting out on our
apartment buildings stoop talking to neighbors or reading a book completely unaware of where we
were or what could happen to us out here. My uncle‘s wife, who was really too fat for her bikini
came out of the water laughing with my uncle running right behind her. They paused as she
adjusted her bikini then they passed right by me and said nothing as if I wasn‘t there.
I knew then that I hated her. Later that year in the fall, I would overhear my parents talking.
I knew my aunts didn‘t like my uncle‘s wife but I didn‘t know why. My father told my mother that
she took my uncle out dancing, while his mother, my grandmother who I never met was dying from
cancer. Gold-digger, social climber was what the called her. As a result, neither of my father‘s sisters
spoke to either of them. I wouldn‘t fully understand what type of man would leave the side of his
dying mother for a woman for many years. But on that beach, I blamed her, for all the hardships my
sister and I endured so far, but didn‘t know there were more to come.
That evening in the house, we had dinner of fresh fish. The fish were served whole with
their heads still on. I can‘t remember if my sister ate it but I didn‘t, and still wouldn‘t, not with its
head still on and the eyes looking up at me. I must have eaten some rice or fruit and vegetables,
because after dinner we took our plates out to the back porch, which was part of the kitchen. There
my uncle‘s wife and the village woman who had cooked the meal were sitting. The woman was
washing dishes in a bucket. My uncle‘s wife watched us as Rosa and I tried to put our plates in the
―Tomorrow night, you two will wash all the dishes.‖ She said.
―Why‖ My sister said boldly.
―If you eat, you wash the dishes.‖ My uncle‘s wife said.
I played deaf mute again and didn‘t look at her. I looked at Rosa and her at me. We never
washed dishes at home, and I wouldn‘t wash dishes until I was sixteen at my college dormitory. And
my sister, well she‘s fifty now and uses paper plates whenever she can. We didn‘t cry. Rosa didn‘t
because she had already cried enough, and me I don‘t know why, perhaps I was too dehydrated
from the heat of the day or too dried up from all the saltwater still on my skin to have any tears. I
didn‘t eat any more dinners and I lost almost twenty pounds in those fourteen days.
The rest of the night was just as bad if not worse. It wasn‘t bad enough that we were
expected to work for food and there was no electricity and no running water. We were allowed only
enough rainwater from the collection barrels to rinse the sand off our hair and feet when we came in
from the beach. Frustrated and for the lack of anything else to do I had gone to bed early. As I lay
on the hard bumpy bed, I became aware that there were birds flying around the wood rafters.
Where my sister was at that moment, I fail to recollect. I do remember the other children were all
together in the boy‘s room playing some games that they had brought with them and we weren‘t
invited to. I ran to the front porch where the adults were drinking enjoying the evening breeze.
―Ah, there are birds or something flying around in the room.‖ I said.
They laughed and he and Angelo went to the room with me.
―They are murciélagos.‖ My uncle said. I didn‘t understand the word in Spanish and they
didn‘t know the word in English. By then I had seen for myself that they weren‘t birds, but bats
when I saw one hanging from its feet. I stood there shocked with my mouth open.
―They‘re bats.‖ I said. ―Do they bite‖
My uncle laughed. ―No, they are harmless. They are more scared of you, than you are of
them. It‘s nothing.‖ He said and returned to the porch.
―You‘re not gonna kill them.‖ I said, but he had already left.
Angelo stayed back realizing that I was afraid to go to bed with them flying around.
―Can you chase them out or something‖ I said turning to Angelo for help, because my
―They will go soon, they not like people. Come, when they go, you go sleep.‖ He said
offering me comfort. Something my own uncle didn‘t stop to do for my sister or me on any
occasion so far on this trip.
We went back out to the porch where they were taking shots of Aguadiente, the Colombian
drink of choice. My sister was there. She had just heard about the bats and wasn‘t going in either.
―Drink," my uncle said holding out a glass with a shots worth of liquor in it. ―Drink and you
will not have a problem sleeping tonight.‖
Angelo old him no, my uncle‘s wife didn‘t say a thing. I had drunk beer at my Holy
Communion party and snuck a few shots of Johnny Walker Red from the bottle given to my father
from his company as his Christmas bonus. So, I took a shot and it surprised them when I didn‘t
choke or spit it out. We slept that night and every one of the fourteen nights with the sheets
wrapped around us as if we were mummies.
The next day we woke up and ate some breakfast of bananas and coconut water. I think
there was something else, but didn‘t want to dirty a dish. My uncle had laid out a couple of pills for
each of us. I asked him what they were for, and he said malaria and yellow fever. We had been
vaccinated before we left New York, but for what for I wasn‘t sure. He was a doctor so we took
them. He gave us more pills throughout the trip, but I don‘t remember how many or how often.
However many we took the great doctor must have miscalculated on my dosage because that winter
I came down with malaria in the middle of December. My father knew what I had when I broke out
in fever, extreme chills and shakes that felt as if my heart was shaking out of my chest, but he had to
convince the New York City doctors to prescribe Quinine for me. My father also said that I was
lucky that the insects didn‘t lay eggs under my skin. I burned with fever and my teeth chattered from
the chills. As my mother covered me with every blanket in the house and then with every winter
coat to try to keep me warm, she cursed out the great doctor with curses so wild and descriptions so
vivid that even the best linguists at Harvard would be hard pressed to define them
Angelo came out of his room and asked us again if we would help him. We agreed and
accompanied him over to the next house a hundred or so yards away. It had a large front porch but
was just one large room in the inside. Even at twelve, I was able to guess that it had been some type
of medical office at one point because of the cabinets and cots that were there. There were a several
large windows holes. They were holes because there were no glass windows anywhere in this village.
These windows had shutters, as did the ones in the house we were staying, but many of the houses
had none. There were people sitting and squatting already on the porch and in front of the house.
They wore western cast off clothes, most too big with faded colors and out of place slogans. Some
wore sandals but most were barefoot. They shared a common look, they all had skin tanned in a
perfect Coppertone hue with reddish straight hair, years later I would realize that, that hair color was
the result of sun bleaching. The people all greeted us with blessing and waves.
Angelo set up on a large table. He spread out his stainless steel medical tools and produced
several jars of rubbing alcohol and little liquid filled plastic cartridges he placed near some large
dental syringes. He moved an ordinary wood chair by the window and called the first patient in.
The man sat in the chair, Angelo told my sister to stand behind him while he examined his
mouth. Angelo asked him his age and if he could get to town for more dental work. The man said
yes and Angelo proceeded to fill several cavities with temporary fillings, as Rosa held the man‘s head
steady with both her hands and her elbows pressed against her stomach. My job was to wash the
dental tools. I did this by holding them out over the window ledge and pouring rainwater on them.
Then I immersed the tools in a bucket of alcohol for a minute making them ready for the next
patient. Whenever I would get a chance, I would wipe some alcohol on the insect bites on my arms
This went on patient after patient. The only difference was that if the patient said no, that
they would not be able to go to town for more dental treatment, Angelo would pull out the damaged
teeth. This is when Rosa and I learned to insert the plastic cartridge containing Novocain into a
syringe. We took turns holding the patients heads and I remember one man who was very happy to
lose his four upper front teeth.
This was a charity Angelo did for the people of the village, strange my uncle, the great
doctor, did none. He spent all day hidden away with his wife in some place at the beach.
The people brought food and even glass bottles of hot Coca-Cola. For this my sister and I
were grateful because we got first pick and were able to eat just enough that we weren‘t hungry and
didn‘t have to eat at the house. We helped every day Angelo opened up. He kept working even after
he ran out of Novocain cartridges. The people didn‘t mind having their teeth pulled with no
anesthetic. It‘s funny. I don‘t remember hearing any of the patients screaming out from the pain.
Every day after work Rosa and I went to the beach. It was the only way we could really wash
all the blood from our hands and sometimes our t –shirts and besides we didn‘t have anything else
to do. Rosa took pictures, saving her film for only the very special shots. In two years she became
the photographer for her high school yearbook using a Leica camera my father‘s other older brother
the merchant marine, sent us. He sent us gifts from all over the world- musical dolls from Japan
dressed in kimonos and binoculars from Germany were among the best. Its funny our uncle, the
doctor being as rich as he was never sent us a thing, not even a Christmas card. On the beach, I
collected exotic tropical seashells in an empty Novocain cartridge box I kept. Later that summer, in
Cali my aunt helped me properly wash the sand from them and she gave me pretty wooden cigar
boxes to keep them.
It was on one such afternoon that we were on the beach. We were in the water, Rosa left to
go back to the house. I don‘t remember why. Since the first day, we never really went down to the
beach with any of the others. The beach was long and the shore curved at many places creating
several different places they could go. We always went in a basic straight line from the house down
to the water. I never stayed out by myself. I didn‘t want to be alone, not that I was afraid, but I just
didn‘t want to be alone. Ever since that first day I stayed away from going in too far when the
waves were high, but that day there were no large waves. I waded in until the water reached my
armpits. I splashed around a bit wetting my hair as I gradually felt the pull of the water trying to
drag me in deeper. I tried to walk. The water pulled me back. I took a couple of steps. The water
pulled me back again. The force of the water made it impossible for me to move. My feet were
sinking into the sand. I was stuck. I was afraid to lift one leg to take a step for fear that I would lose
my balance and be dragged out into the water. So, there I stood with my feet about ankle deep in
the sand. I didn‘t scream. Who would hear me The crabs on the sand or maybe the cow over on
the horizon I panicked on the inside. I froze on the outside. I had remembered a scene from an
old Tarzan movie in which some dumb woman is trapped in quick sand and Tarzan tells her not to
struggle because struggling only makes a person sink and die faster.
The water was very strong and the effort to hold myself up was making me tired. I was
about to give up and try to move when I saw Angelo walking down towards the water. I thought I
was hallucinating, had I prayed in my desperation. I can‘t remember, but I probably did. He did
appear Christ like with his seventies long hair and his mustache and beard that had grown out on
this vacation. I had doubts that it was really him.
―Angelo,‖ I called out. ―I‘m stuck; I can‘t move the water is pulling me in.‖
He carefully waded in the water and very easily grabbed both my hands and pulled me out.
When I reached the dry sand, I cried. I don‘t think I was strong enough to get out of the water by
myself. To this day, I am convinced that I would have drowned if he hadn‘t come to the beach when
During the remaining days of our trip to the beach, Rosa and I survived the sun, the insect
bites and the other children putting three-inch dead beetles under our pillows.
Once back in Cali our aunts saw us, they were horrified to see our burnt and peeling skin
and all the weight I had lost. We had been out in the sun for fourteen days without any sunscreen at
all. That night when I showered for the first time in fourteen days and put on a proper nightgown
on to sleep my aunt saw my legs, which were covered in bug bites, some old and scabbed over and
some fresh still bleeding from where I had scratched. The bite marks were of different sizes and
colors, red to purplish black. I remember that on my right leg I counted twenty-seven in a line as if
the mosquitoes had a dinner party in which I was the main course. She hurriedly called my other
aunt. I doubted that they called my father in New York, because in 1975 my family only made an
international phone call if someone had died. My other aunt came over and they cleaned them and
covered the worst ones with band aides. My sister hadn‘t been bitten as much as I had been, but
Later that fall my uncle and his wife sent my father a nasty letter telling them how lazy and
sloppy we were. I guess they were talking about the fact that we didn‘t wash dishes and then refused
to take a rainwater shower on the back porch the day we were leaving to return to the city. What
was the point We weren‘t allowed to shower for fourteen days. What was one more day and we
weren‘t about to go naked in the back of the house. The other children had played enough pranks
on us we weren‘t going to take any chances. On the other hand, maybe they were talking about all
the blood spots my mosquito bites left on their sheets. My mother cursed them out and my father
too for leaving us with him.
I was angry, hurt and embarrassed, so started to write a letter to my uncle to tell him what a
bad uncle he was and maybe use some of my mother‘s curses, as well. I was going to ask, why did
he take two city kids out to the jungle, not watch us, tell us about riptides or make sure we ate and
had protection from the bugs and the sun. My hand was shaking as I wrote the first few angry words
on the page.
SO MANY THINGS
―You ever heard of Necrotizing Fasciitis‖ Kat asked me over the Coke-bottle bong. I hadn‘t.
―That's flesh eating bacteria. It literally eats your flesh, eats you alive. I mean, that's some
science fiction shit. But it's real. I heard about this girl our age, had a cut on her foot and caught it
dancing barefoot in the grass at a wedding.‖
I ran my finger along the rim of my water glass and began to tune her out.
―– had to remove the whole leg. She didn‘t even have time to call her parents. And she was
one of the lucky ones. Get that shit on your face or stomach and you‘re screwed.‖
―What‘s it called‖
―Necrotizing Fasciitis. God, just the name. And, I mean, that‘s a rare one, but just that it‘s out
there.‖ She let out a smoky breath. ―Just talking about it.‖
―My heart feels funny. Do you ever get that, those heart pains I get worried I‘m having a
―You won‘t, you‘re way too young for that. I mean, people our age don‘t really get heart
―I guess not,‖ she said, croaking to hold the smoke inside. ―But it‘s possible. There are just
so many things. I‘m always shocked something doesn‘t happen.‖ The cloud poured from her lips,
settling between us like fog.
―When I was in college,‖ I said, taking the bong from her, ―the end of my senior year, I
started to get these arm pains.‖
―What kind of arm pains‖
―It was like electricity running down my arm.‖ I listened to the bubbles breaking in the
reservoir as I sucked.
―Sometimes I would have to stop what I was doing and just concentrate on breathing until
they went away. Everyone was getting fed up with me always panicking that I was having a stroke or
something. So, I went to the doctor and she did a whole exam and told me I was fine.‖
―Oh.‖ She gestured for me to pass.
―But of course I wasn‘t convinced. I was sure she had missed something. So I went to
another doctor to get a second opinion. My boyfriend thought I was crazy. He told me he thought I
wasn‘t that kind of girl.‖
―My friend‘s boyfriend broke up with her when she thought she had breast cancer. She
wouldn‘t go to the doctor because she was too afraid of the diagnosis and he got sick of trying to
make her go so he left. Then it turned out she actually did have a lump. A benign lump. But she had
to have it removed and he came to visit her and all he could say was ‗I told you you didn‘t have
cancer.‘ Can you believe that‖
―No. I mean, no, he didn‘t break up with me. I think he was kind of relieved actually –that I
was that kind of girl. It was all very amusing to him.‖
―Huh, yea,‖ she said without exhaling.
―So, I got the second opinion and this time I had her do a full neurological work up and
everything. She said I could even order cat scans if I wanted but I thought maybe that was taking it
―Oh, I would‘ve had the cat scans. The x-rays, EKGs, anything they could think of.‖ Kat
took the empty lighter into the kitchen alcove.
―You know what she said it was Stress pains.‖
―Well, of course you‘re stressed,‖ she yelled from behind a cabinet. ―You‘re having a stroke
for God‘s sake!‖
―The muscles in my neck were so tight from stress that they were pinching my ulnar nerve
and that was the pain in my arms. Nerve pain. It‘s really a terrible pain, I don‘t know how these
Lupus people live with it.‖
―Oh, I know. Lupus is horrible.‖ She sat down and lit up. ―They say it can come on at any
age, a flare up, like Crohn‘s Disease. Jesus, don‘t even get me started on Crohn‘s!‖
―Or schizophrenia,‖ I added. ―That doesn‘t start till your twenties, and then just like that.
Like a switch in your brain. One minute you‘re normal –‖
―You‘d tell me if I was crazy right Because they say crazy people never know they‘re crazy.‖
―Of course I‘d tell you.‖ I buried my face in a tube of smoke.
―Good. I would tell you too.‖
_ _ _
Once the bong was kicked I slipped into the hallway and bumped into Kat‘s neighbor who
smiled at me from behind his wire-rimmed glasses.
―I‘m Joe,‖ he said in the elevator, but I already knew his name. Kat had told me about him.
―I know,‖ I said.
He smiled like he‘d missed the joke.
We said goodbye at the door but then we both turned right. I sped up to create some
distance. It was awkward for a few blocks until he ran up next to me.
―Are you front following me‖ He asked.
―You‘re front following me. It‘s when you follow someone who‘s behind you so it doesn‘t
―How do you follow someone who‘s behind you‖
―You just sense where they are, body heat and motion and stuff.‖
―What if they turn‖
―A good front follower can anticipate a turn.‖
―Is this something you do on a regular basis‖
―I don‘t do it. I just know about it. You were the one doing it.‖
―Well, I‘ve never heard of it so I doubt I was doing it. I didn‘t even know you were behind
me,‖ I lied.
He laughed a bit too hard.―Where are you headed this evening‖
―The grocery store,‖ I admitted.
―So, you‘re a liar‖
He laughed again. His throat exposed looked like a dancer‘s spine.
We walked down the aisles together in silence. I felt like I should be making conversation
but I was buzzed and wanted to concentrate on my grocery list. I could hear a florescent bulb
flickering and I started to wish Joe hadn‘t come.
―Yum pickles,‖ he said. He was examining everything I put in my cart. It was weird.
―I prefer Oreos,‖ he said when he saw me considering a package of Chips Ahoy. He didn‘t
seem to be doing much shopping.
―You don‘t seem to be doing much shopping,‖ I said.
―No, just had to pick up a couple of things.‖ He reached for a pack of Charmin and grinned.
In the cereal aisle I read the nutrition facts on a box of Smart Start. He came up behind me
and read over my shoulder. I wished he would just grab my tits or something but he had his hands
ehind his back like a school teacher.
―Pan-to-then-ate. Hmm. Riboflavin. That sounds good.‖ He opened a box of Lucky Charms
and began eating the marshmallows.
―What are you doing‖
―What‖ His mouth was full of blue moons.
―You haven‘t bought those yet. You opened them.‖
―So I‘m gonna buy them. They‘re as good as bought.‖
―What if you change your mind‖
―Well.‖ He swallowed. ―I no longer have that option, do I‖
We rang up our groceries in different lines. When he caught up with me at the door he took
my bags. Once we got outside it looked like he was struggling, so I took one back.
―Now what‖ He asked.
―I need to get these groceries home.‖
―Okay, mine can wait.‖
We stood there for a minute staring at each other.
―Come on,‖ I said finally and he followed me home.
In the kitchen I put away the milk and other perishables. He could practically touch me from
where he stood in the doorway. His hand kept brushing mine, but I continued with my task.
Eventually he squeezed himself in behind me. He massaged my hips. His breath was on my neck. I
was trying to decide what to do so I just stared at the cup of yogurt in my hand. His arms tightened
―This is back hugging,‖ he said. I turned around and kissed him so he‘d shut up. He lifted
my shirt off but gave up on my bra. My back was cold from the open refrigerator.
―The bedroom‖ He asked turning and walking me backwards.
―First door.‖ He smiled against my mouth.
We didn‘t go for very long but I came so it was okay. Afterwards we lay on my comforter
with most of our clothes still on. I looked over at his bare stomach. He was pale and skinny, but in a
good way. He slipped his arm out from under my back and pulled off the condom.
―You got any toilet paper or tissues‖ he yelled from the bathroom.
―In the grocery bags, in the kitchen.‖ He hobbled out from the bathroom with his jeans
around his ankles. He was smiling and panting, hopping back and forth on his feet until he reached
the bedroom door. I was still laughing when he came back with the toilet paper and cleaned himself
It was four in the morning when I woke up. Joe was sleeping face down on the mattress, one
arm hooked over my throat. I couldn‘t breathe. I sat up. My chest hurt. I tried to breathe but it was
too shallow. I sounded like I was about to sneeze but the sneeze wouldn‘t come out. I held my
breath. I told myself I was going to breathe in slowly. The air would come. I inhaled carefully
through my nostrils. My heart beat felt funny though. I went to the computer and typed in ―funny
heart beat + shallow breathing.‖ 10,000 hits all mentioning heart arrhythmia.
―Again‖ I heard from the darkness of the bed. ―What are you doing over there‖
―Just checking something.‖
―Nothing. Just something.‖
―What could you possibly need to check at four in the morning with a half-naked man in
I heard him jump off the bed and hobble towards me. Then I saw his blue body in the light
of the computer screen. I clicked away from the heart attack page.
―Aw, come on. I wanna know. What was it Were you checking how many convicted
pedophiles live in your neighborhood‖
―That‘s what I do when I can‘t sleep.‖
―Well, that‘s strange.‖
―Okay, so you were looking at porn. It‘s okay, I can take it.‖
―It wasn‘t porn.‖
―It was something really freaky wasn‘t it‖
―What No, it was nothing like that.‖ I was short of breath again.
―Nothing to be embarrassed about. I like freaks. What was it Bondage Erotic
asphyxiation Come on tell me. I promise you won‘t surprise me. Old men fucking teenage girls
I really couldn‘t breathe now. ―Joe. Stop it.‖ He kept listing things. ―I can‘t. Breathe.‖
―I can‘t. Breathe.‖
―I can‘t!‖ I sucked in a ragged breath.
―There you go. You‘re alright.‖ He patted my back.
―No, I‘m not. I think. I‘m having a heart attack.‖
I was beginning to hate his laugh.
―Okay, you aren‘t having a heart attack. Just relax.‖
―I can‘t! Don‘t you understand‖
―Just calm down. You‘re fine.‖ He lowered his voice. ―Come back to bed.‖
―I‘m having a heart attack and you. Want to have sex You should be. Calling an ambulance.
―If you have the energy to fight with me then you aren‘t having a heart attack.‖
―Man, are you. Gonna feel bad. At my funeral.‖
―Forget it, okay Just go back to bed, Joe.‖
He slid on the mattress and bunched my pillow under his head. I waited for him to fall
asleep before turning back to the computer screen. Then, knowing she‘d be awake, I ―G-chatted‖
Me: I think I‟m having a heart attack.
Kat: What are your symptoms
Me: Short of breath, chest pain, etc
Kat: Left arm pain
Me: Not yet.
Kat: Time frame
Me: 15mins may b
Kat: Any progression of symptoms
Me: I don‟t know. don‟t think so. The chest pain has been pretty constant. Breathing was bad for awhile but
seems more normal now.
I was careful not to mention Joe.
Kat: Let‟s see. Could be an arrhythmia. Maybe you have a murmur, or Mitro-valve Prolapse.
Me: Don‟t think so. I was thinking heart attack.
Kat: Maybe you should go 2 ER
Me: I dunno. I might just be freaking myself out.
Kat: Up to you.
Might not wanna risk it tho.
Me: Yea, I think I‟m okay now. Chest feels better.
Me: May b I‟ll feel better if I lie down
Kat: Could b
What if something happens while you‟re sleeping
Me: Yea, I dunno. Don‟t wanna go 2 ER so late.
Kat: up to you. Just worry about you being alone.
Me: I‟m ok. Thanks. Gonna try to sleep. Call u soon.
I shut my computer and got back in bed. When I turned on my side, Joe pressed his boner
into the small of my back.
―I‘m alright. Kind of tired though.‖
―No more heart attack‖ He was kissing my neck.
―Nope. All over now. It was something though: sirens, doctors, they hit me with those
shock paddles. You slept through it.‖
―I‘m a heavy sleeper.‖ He was pulling my shorts down with one hand. I was on the verge of
pushing him away but instead I lifted my hips.
Julie, Ben and Sarah are playing Wild Girls for the last time with their cousin Catherine. Since they
don‘t know it‘s the last time, they play it as always, with no beginning or end.
Wild Girls are girls without parents who live apart from society, swing on a large rope across
a swamp (a dog leash tied to the monkey bars) in order to escape lion attacks, and eat mostly pine
cones stewed in water.
Julie, being the oldest, is the leader of the Wild Girls. She calls herself Lakota and her job is
lookout and leading expeditions. During lookout, while the other girls do chores or make food, Julie
sits in the top of the oak trees and spies on approaching enemies. Catherine, Fraggle, is responsible
for scavenging for food and cooking. She is the head chef and tells Ben and Sarah what to add to the
Ben makes everyone call him Connie. Though his father tells him that he might as well move
to Vegas and wear leopard-print leggings, he insists on the name. He is usually not allowed to play
because Wild Girls live apart from men and their influences. But when Catherine needs an extra hand
she hires him as a dishwasher in exchange for letting him swing on the rope. Sarah, known in the
tree house as Billy, finds this particularly frustrating. ―Wild Girls are not supposed to help men.
When have men ever helped Wild Girls‖
―It‘s okay,‖ Julie calls from her perch. ―Ben is Connie today. He‘s gonna give us a hand and
then go back to his people. And anyway if they mount an attack we can always use him as a
Julie jumps down from her lookout to get a drink of water. She doesn‘t notice Catherine
running after her.
She finds Aunt Norah in the kitchen and asks for a glass. Then she watches her aunt as she
attempts to pour the water. Her fingers seem too soft and Julie is not surprised when she drops the
glass. Bending down to pick up the pieces, Aunt Norah slices her finger open. Julie slides from her
bar stool to help her clean up. Norah grabs her niece by the wrist forcefully. "Do not touch this!" she
shouts. Her breath stings and Julie has to hold back the tears forming at the corners of her eyes.
Catherine is sitting at the table with a coloring book.
Aunt Norah stands up and steadies herself against the breakfast bar. She holds her bloody
finger in the air like she‘s going to say something profound. A red drop falls onto the counter.
Catherine does not look up from her book. She is making a dark blue dog and has colored it in so
precisely that it looks like paint. "Catherine," Julie whispers, but her cousin doesn‘t respond. Julie
stares at the red dot on the counter, afraid to move her eyes.
―You girls go outside," Aunt Norah says to the ceiling. She is swaying slightly as Julie looks
up at her. Neither of the girls moves. Aunt Norah starts for the kitchen door and without looking
back says, "Now!" Catherine jumps up from her chair, taking the blue crayon with her into the yard.
Julie stands there staring at the blood soaking into the countertop as the screen door and the
bedroom door above her slam shut. She can't find a napkin so she wipes the red dot away with the
edge of a paper plate. Outside she finds Catherine in the tree house, writing her name in blue on the
"Wild Girls don't have crayons," Julie says and Catherine immediately throws the crayon away
and begins stirring the pot of soggy pine cones. "I caught a baby mountain cat today," says
Catherine. "So we'll have meat tonight too.‖
"A baby" says Julie and squints at Catherine.
"Normally I wouldn't kill a baby, but we have to get our protein. And besides, it looked like
the mother abandoned it. It wouldn't have survived alone."
"Might have to close the shutters tonight." Julie says, looking out the tree house window.
Then she hears the crash: a sound like glass shattering followed by a deep noise that reminds her of
her father at Grandpa Mac‘s funeral. Catherine looks up and then flicks something off the edge of
the tree house. Ben and Sarah continue picking strawberries.
―Did you hear that‖ Julie says. Catherine doesn‘t answer. Julie climbs down the ladder
which is almost entirely missing except for two rungs. ―What about dinner‖ Catherine yells after
her, but she is already at the screen door.
When she reaches the top of the stairs she hesitates. She holds her breath, afraid to make a
noise. For a moment, Julie looks at her hand on the banister and lets her vision blur. She wishes she
had glasses made of kaleidoscopes, so things could look hazy forever.
Aunt Norah is on the bathmat, sobbing, holding a bloody hand in the air. The shards of
glass from the mirror surround her like small, angular lakes.
Julie dials nine-one-one and explains to the operator that her aunt has had an accident with
the bathroom mirror. After replacing the receiver, she steps behind the curtains and watches the
yard. Catherine is burying something in the dirt as Ben and Sarah dance behind her. After patting
down the mound, Catherine remains on her knees and bows her head for a moment before
returning to the game.
TEN TO LIFE
The sun slipped through the bars of his window, across the room and over Jamel‘s bed, burning
through the veil of sleep. Jamel opened his eyes, He couldn‘t believe it—he was finally ten. He
threw off his covers and sat up in bed. His sister Dawn slept in the twin bed next to his. She
turned, and he thought she was awake, perhaps ready to start the celebration. But she was still
asleep, her thumb stuck between her upturned lips, a trickle of dried spit on each side of her mouth.
He thought about waking her up but decided against it. He needed this time to think about his day
and the plans for his life. He sat for a moment and decided he should get up and face the world—
like a man. It was already 9:00 AM, and he heard his mother in the kitchen.
―Happy birthday, J,‖ his mother said without turning around from the stove. She was in her
housedress, which meant she was tired or had lady issues. If she was in a good mood, she would
have on shorts that were a little too tight if you asked him, but she looked good. Worry kept her
―You remembered. Thank you,‖ he said, pulling the wrapping paper off an action figure that
sat at his place at the table.
―Do I remember I was there. You want some pancakes and bacon for your birthday‖
―Yeah, and some Lucky Charms, too,‖ Jamel said, making the action figure dance.
―Oh, Mike ate them last night. I‘m sorry, Baby.‖
Did she say Mike ate his Lucky Charms ―The whole damn box‖
―Watch your mouth. You only ten, not a hundred. That is when you can curse in my
Add that to the list of items he was going to kick Mike‗s ass about in another year or two.
Ugly, big, stink feet, taking my Mamma money, sleeping on my couch when I come home from
school so we can‘t play Nintendo; need to get the fuck out of my house, Mike.
His mother placed in front of him a plate with two strips of crispy bacon, next to two
banana pancakes drowned in syrup and a glass of Mountain Dew. Jamel got up and hugged her at
the stove. ―Thanks for keeping me. Thanks for my birthday breakfast.‖
―What you know about me keeping you Just eat,‖ she said, patting him on his head.
He knew from his mother‘s sister, Alma, that his mother had made an important decision last
year, one that involved crying for days before and after. Alma had come to stay with them the week
of the decision and had confided to Jamel, which had made him feel like the man of the house.
For a while his mamma spent more time with Jamel and Dawn when they came home from
school, making special dinners and not going to play cards or across the avenue to the bar. Jamel
liked that Mike wasn‘t there pretending to be in charge. Jamel didn‘t understand the whole story
until his friend Ray told him that he heard that Jamel‘s mother had got rid of the baby, and Jamel
asked, ―Like giving it up for adoption‖ and Ray called him stupid and said, ―No, she killed it. But
it really wasn‘t a real baby, not really.‖ Jamel still didn‘t understand how it could be a baby but not a
real baby, but he knew she stopped throwing up and was her old self again a few weeks later. Ray
said a couple of girls he messed with had done it, but Jamel knew he was lying. Ray lied about so
Dawn shuffled out to the kitchen and plopped into a chair. She was two years younger than
Jamel, but he knew he would have to tell her what day today was, and she still wouldn‘t understand
the importance of this day. She would like the cake, though. His mother made the best cakes; her
secret was she used two cans of frosting. The social worker had explained to him that Dawn was
developmentally delayed. The neighborhood kids called her Retardo, and his grandmother called
her a crack baby.
He had been counting down to this day for 365 days, marking off a calendar his mother got
from the dry cleaner that featured Asian women. His mother had yelled at him when he took it out
―What you want to look at those Chinese women all year for
―I just want the calendar,‖ he had said, retrieving it from the trash like it was buried treasure.
It was last year, on this date, August 11, when he saw his Uncle Kev and his crew in the
playground. Kev was his dead father‘s youngest brother. He was with a group of guys all wearing
the same uniform—white wife beaters and baggy jeans. From a distance, as they loped across the
playground, pants in various stages of gravity-defying freefall, they looked like a gang of toddlers in
too-big outfits, The pavement seemed to exhale heat, and the wind held its breath, and everything
seemed tense, tight, and about to combust.
Jamel ran over to the gang. Breathing heavily, he fell in step with his uncle‘s clique. He
walked with them a good while before they realized they had a stowaway.
―Yo, little man thinks he down with us,‖ a short, tatted guy said, circling Jamel.
―That there‘s my nephew. Jamel, what you want‖ Kev asked, appearing in a parting of the
―Nuthin‘. I‘m just hanging with you,‖ he said, trying to strike a determined pose.
―I see that, but where you s‘posed to be‖ Kev asked, anger rising in his voice.
―Come on, Uncle Kev. It‘s my birthday.‖
―Happy Birthday. How old are you‖
―Tell you what; come back when you‘re ten.‖ Kev‘s friends fell out laughing.
Jamel felt the anger rise inside his head, and for a moment the world went all red. Then he
felt a pounding in his head, not rhythmic like the neighbor‘s salsa music but a four-one-three-fivetwo
syncopation that made him feel wobbly and confused. It was a minute that seemed longer to
him, but when the air began to fill his concave chest again, and he opened his eyes, his uncle was
standing there holding a twenty-dollar bill.
―You want it or not Go get some candy or something.‖
Jamel grabbed the bill and stuffed it in his pocket. ―Thanks,‖ he said, whirling around and at
the same time running to catch the red light right before it blinked green. Jamel dashed in front of a
car, causing the driver to brake suddenly and swear out the window, but Jamel was already running
toward his friends on the basketball court. He would not tell them about his money; he did not
want to end up buying everyone something, nor did he want them to think that he had it like that.
There would be a fight. Someone‘s feelings were always hurt, and there was always a fight. Jamal
put his hand in this pocket and held the money in his fist.
He felt proud of his uncle and the fact that he had money and friends and respect in the
neighborhood. That was a year ago. Since then Jamel had made a point of running into Kev as much
as possible. Kev would give him a little money or send him to the store and reward him, so it didn‘t
seem like he was begging. He reminded Kev last week that today was his birthday, and Kev
promised to take him shopping today. Now that he was ten, he would have to start taking life more
seriously. He had to make sure his mother and Dawn were taken care of. He needed to talk to Kev
about a job after school or something like that. He heard the knocking at the door when he slipped
his polo shirt over his head. As his head emerged from the dark softness of the well-worn cotton,
he heard his Uncle Kev‘s voice. He ran out into the living room and forgot himself when he
wrapped his arms around Kev‘s torso and hugged him. He loved how Uncle Kev smelled. He
smelled like he looked—expensive and strong.
―You remembered,‖ Jamel said, his voice cracking a little.
Kev pushed him off. ―Of course, I remembered.‖
Dawn ambled over, smiling, dragging a wild haired doll. ―Hi, Cutie,‖ Kev said, patting her
―Where you taking him‖ Jamel‘s mother asked, smoothing her housedress.
―I got a big day planned. We getting some gear at the mall, then over to my mom‘s house in
Jersey. Couple of girls is going to bring my kids to the crib. We gonna barbecue. Can J stay over‖
Jamel was jumping up and down with excitement.
―Sure, if he wants to,‖ Jamel‘s mother said.
―Yeah, I want to,‖ Jamel said nodding his head vigorously. Jamel ran out of the room and
came back with his new action figure, his toothbrush and a clean T-shirt and briefs. He put them all
in a plastic Key Food bag.
―Jamel, you look so much like Jason, Man. Don‘t he‖ Kev asked, pulling Jamel into a
headlock and turning his face up for his mother to inspect.
―Spittin‘ image. Didn‘t need to go on Maury about him,‖ Jamel‘s mother laughed, smiling
down at Dawn, who was twisting her housedress. ―I just want him to grow up and be a good man.
No jail, no drugs. No disrespect, but you know what I mean‖
―I feel you. I‘m not gonna let these streets get J,‖ Kevin said.
―Can we go I have been waiting for like, forever,‖ Jamel said, turning the knob, opening
―Don‘t I get a kiss goodbye‖ Jamel‘s mother asked, now holding Dawn in her arms. He
kissed his mother and Dawn.
Before going out the door, Jamel turned. ―Don‘t worry, Mamma. I‘ll remember to bring
you some barbecue.‖
P. J. Salber
COIN FOR CS
You be yourself and I‘ll be me,
although like heads and tails in silver we
share one coin: love‘s perfect circled currency.
Let‘s spend ourselves while others count
and hoard some counterfeited love,
who, seeing our expenses mount
tell us, in common sense, to save.
Our newly-minted love instead
grows greater in its being spent.
And if this gentle commerce should deface
our high relief to drabbest commonplace,
we‘ll keep a private value and a grace
and know that our two hearts
like two sides of a coin can never be apart.
Two Sonnets: Epithalamia for August First
Morning brings a wind shift.
Adrift, the long ship hulls an open sea
run out between the gull-white cliffs.
You waken from a girlhood reverie and
pale; the moon has filled and fallen
beyond cold arcs of ocean.
In oaken planks, the salt spume carves
runes to Freya‘s honor.
Kinfolk, waving, line the black wharves
even as the sail fills, boasting
loudly the bridegroom‘s name.
Amidships, turn your Viking eyes away:
nothing in the fair wind or following sea
distracts you from the happiness to be.
Merchants bright with foreign treasure
implore the saints protect their venture
coursing the Atlantic run.
Hope is a warehouse in the Spanish sun.
A hurricane impossible to measure
engulfs the fragile arts of men;
loud prayers are offered up again.
So, different prayers are answered to the same effect;
a splice-bent sailor‘s plea to save his neck
leaves less to God‘s discretion than the gold
caulked within this galleon‘s hold.
Echoes of the sea-swept cries
dim the memory of her eyes,
―O save me just to see them once again!‖
A VACATION WITHOUT STRAWS
Ted C. was young. She was old. He had had to find a way to get rid of her. The flames reflected as
tiny suns across his brow. He poked at the hardened dung with his fishing rod. He loved the
wilderness, its majesty. He once spotted a coyote with a fish in its jaws, up to its neck in the brook.
A FINAL ORDER
The bodies were propped up to look like they were playing cards. He needed the appearance of
Three months prior, he had noticed a leak. The gas line connected to the adjacent Winnebago.
Ted C. was a good and faithful writer. He documented ―the good parts‖ every day on his laptop:
toothpick in his mouth, a pitcher of lemon water at hand. His X button, ever since he loaned the
computer to his son, would stick.
A FLICK OF A BLUNT
Ted had a penchant for extravagance when showing lovers around the Big Apple. Helen R.
supposed Ted to be richer than he was and married him, during his glory days, in a small Roman
Catholic ceremony in Brooklyn. Picture him now, outside of the chapel.
Hot over heavy. A side of boredom and nonsense.
Charlie told him about the five acres up north. Ted was welcome to go alone or with his wife. The
padlocked gate was a red herring for a gravel pathway half a mile up. Ted did not hunt, nor had he
ever fired a gun.
Smoke orbited the circumference of Ted‘s head. He opened his laptop and set to writing. He paused
to watch a series of X‘s skate across the screen.
DOVES AND MARTYRS
Cast of characters
FRITZ KINZELMAN: A heavy-set Caucasian male in his mid-fifties. He wears a worn plaid shirt
and rubber boots.
DR. EMAMI ABED: A fit Indian male in his mid-fifties. He wears a long white coat. His hair is
LYDIA: A multiracial female in her mid-twenties. She wears khaki pants and a Chelsea soccer jersey.
Doctor’s office. The Present. Albany, New York. Spring.
The room has a cozy, homestyle vibe. Pictures of the doctor‟s daughters adorn the far wall.
Lights come up on FRITZ KINZELMAN, who sits on one of those beds with the paper sheets, fully dressed.
DR. EMAMI ABED enters the room. Unlike the archetypal doctor, he does not hold a clipboard. Instead, he
carries a stuffed bear holding a big red heart. Upon seeing FRITZ, he turns his back.
We need to talk about something very important. Okay I want you to put on your big listening ears.
This is what I‘ve been worried about since your seizure.
Pause. EMAMI faces FRITZ.
You do have cancer.
Pause. EMAMI hands FRITZ the bear. FRITZ gazes at it.
It‘s in the back of your head. Now, we can‘t take it out safely since the tumor‘s pushing on the
surrounding tissue. So we‘re not left with many options. We‘re starting you on radiation on Monday.
I wish this were a dream.
Pause. FRITZ sets the bear on the bed.
I won‘t do radiation.
Yes, you will do radiation.
I went through it once with my dad, and never again.
How long have I known you
I won‘t steer you wrong.
How nice. When‘s the last time you brought the girls abroad
I say when‘s the last time you brought the girls abroad
I suppose it‘s been years.
Mm. You know I took the kids for our little tour this summer. They were in heaven. I‘ve been
talking about it long enough.
France. We spent most the time in Bourges. It was picturesque. They‘ve got this big, looming gothic
cathedral with these beautifully towering biblical scenes made of stained glass.
Exactly. You and Cyn been to Bourges
And without question, the most breathtaking scene is called ―The Good and the Damned.‖
Listen to me. We‘re going to figure this all out.
Just at the top, you see the souls being weighed at the gates of Heaven by St. Peter. And in the
middle you see a good soul sitting on God‘s lap. And on the right you see the bad souls being driven
into the stomach of the beast.
The Last Judgment.
We‘re all given a small window of time. God only knows. Obviously, what matters is what we do
I won‘t stand for it. Not for you. I‘ve seen patients add on ten years, twelve years. There‘s no telling
how far it can get you.
FRITZ grasps EMAMI by the arm, almost violently. He looks EMAMI straight in the eyes.
They continue to stare at each other. EMAMI releases himself and backs away.
Alright, Mr. Kinzelman. Now‘s the time to get in contact with the people you love. And anyone with
whom you have unfinished business.
Didn‘t think you‘d give up so easy.
Are you toying with me
Me I‘m afraid you don‘t understand, frankly.
Well, level with me. I don‘t understand.
I know the score. You get sick, you vomit, you lose hair. One, two, three. So yeah, I could choose to
go through with it. I might get through the suffering, the depression, the fatigue, the scarring. Fuck,
the potential leukemia from the radiation. And I might come out the other side. It might be the only
reasonable choice in the world and it might buy me some real time. But if you‘re asking me, I‘d
rather die with hair.
Hair Are you trying to get--
What if I am
Then you‘re a moron for pride. Sam and Manny.
This is my decision. I don‘t want them taking care of me.
How can you favor death
Sam and I have the same birthday. Did I tell you what that felt like
You said the world opened up and gave you its gift.
Everything changed when I had kids. You stop thinking about what feels good and you start
thinking about how you‘re going to make their world better. Like dolphins. And when you look into
their eyes you don‘t feel anxious about the future. You just feel… peaceful.
You are a stubborn son of a bitch.
You know, when Lydia was a kid she was obsessed with Ancient Rome. She liked Nero, the
Caesars—All of it.
She was so consumed she made a model of Rome out of wood and salt cubes. And I mean, with
everything—the Colosseum, the Forum, the House of the Vestal Virgins—and she‘d follow the days
of Ancient Roman history. So she was sitting on the floor of her room with her little gladiators and a
LYDIA enters. She lights a match and gives the Roman salute. EMAMI mimics LYDIA.
She burned Rome. She burned down the top floor of our house.
I‘ve got a Rome story from the eighties. It ends with me and three other gladiators cramped inside
this little shit Fiat, passing a joint.
I love you.
A fucking bear
FRITZ puts on his coat.
What are we seeing
The Ghost Writer.
It‘s the new Polanski.
I feel like you two would get along.
I don‘t know.
FRITZ and EMAMI exit. The bear is left on the bed.
THE PARENTS OF AABB1
The parents of AABB1 were growing old. It had been twenty years since they had been impregnated
by the D3DD. In their weekdays, they would tend to the house—that is, AAAA4 would read the
hundreds of papers available, and BBBB3 would bake or pray. On the weekends, they would attend
meetings of religious and business organizations and (on Sundays) host the Board Of Care. Their
members were religious, some, others not. The issues at stake pertained to the war and the war‘s
combatants. Difficult decisions were made. Like how one could keep foremost the safety of their
soldier children and oppose the war. There were financial issues. But in the past five months a new
agenda had been creeping its way into the hearts of the noble members. It went something like this.
―If we continue to support the war with our money and with our attention, I believe we will be
destined for a bombing. I assure you, with my heavy heart, that our children will understand that if
we continue to recognize the existence of combat, through our money and our prayers, the war will
absolutely go on.‖ This was exactly the seed that was growing in their hearts. And so the newspapers
stopped printing evidence of a war and the Board was disbanded. It was done. The parents of
AABB1 did not pray for him anymore. BBBB3 tried new recipes in the kitchen, and they were all
very good. AAAA4 continued to read the papers, without fear of rhetoric creeping in. All was calm
for the time being. BBBB3 with her gingerbread and pecan-coconut desserts. AAAA4 with his
sports sections and business news. He read voraciously. He even picked up a novel from a discount
novelty stand. And he set to reading it. The novel, whose jacket had been ripped off, gave AAAA4 a
familiar feeling. It told of a young man‘s experience on a fishing ship, catching lobsters and
swordfish. The young man lived on deck for years, which weathered his face and hands. At the end
of the third chapter, there was a storm. At the beginning of the fourth, the young man is
shipwrecked, but has found a wife in his new place. The couple is in love, and soon desire their
baby. They each memorize verses of their D3DD‘s manifesto, and begin approaching him, the way
that one does, casually visiting the cafes and religious corners where he might be found. After many
months, the young man builds the courage to ask the D3DD for his counseling (which means only
one thing). The young man is very persuasive. The D3DD is happy to accept such a handsome
couple, and they are soon granted seed for the fertilization. And what do you think happened to the
happy family War came to their town, killing their D3DD, destroying the religious corners; it was
the undoing of their home. The young man and his beautiful wife and their newborn chose to
emigrate by ship, the only mode with which the young man felt confident. In the book, their ship
did not sink, but their family was ruined by the jealousy and pride of their son. AAAA4 could not sit
still anymore. It was a sign. He couldn‘t help but think of his own son. This book was about his son
and he could not allow himself to read newspapers any longer. Bombs were in the air, any way he
looked at it.
on a g-
by leaf lie
by life wry
beyond the sawed off elm,
my drive at its height,
and yet still moons over this
longtime calm realm.
And flies the night white
on snow-whisker pines,
kindling an alpenglow.
Now by these brass andirons, where
last coals glow, I weary
from my qualms. Out here dawn
leery will unroll the horizon,
bursting Psalms, while con-
flict leaves peace in this lounge, as I yearn
to flee beyond these wilds,
sown from homing. Why from
this airy lair, do I adjourn
Nightfall is to the whippoor
as day rise is the heron
that stands still.
On a lawn strewn with wild violets,
dawns later I awaken
held by moss. In the river‘s
shallows, the white egrets
swoop, glance, poise, lance
waves and arch across.
Their high I see from our ground
foam. Its green-red muffs
strum me like a mandolin
in spring with lupine
Before I lunge,
I am flung from the trampoline
above the cardinal flowers, birch, silo,
prairie grass, reeds, willow
by Wild Cat Beach.
Down over Koshkonong.
I search high, low,
eyond Michigan, Huron,
Erie. I reach towers of eyes,
a-wink, whose dreams I haunt
at night; a wild-scape
by day I daunt!
For kin-ghost, back on the midland,
I mourn, then, moor
on the isle with Shorackappock.
Cut dad out from the beginning—
lizard tails like worms in a bucket
wooden golf clubs
war costumes and being forced to smoke
cartons of Pall Mall Lights
half-empty all over the enclosed porch
the yellow, ceramic cats.
Don't wonder where they are now.
Big Rock Candy Mountains
medication for high cholesterol
prayers in a language you can read but not translate
lobsters on the kitchen floor
Leave them where they are;
don't touch them again.
Go to the orchard.
Strip branches of their leaves with one hand
as you run past.
The turkeys over the hill smell terrible
don‘t breathe in through your nose.
Hide with the dog in the ivy
where the rats crawl
where you're not supposed to go
and don't let him eat the poison
near the cellar.
Watch for snakes with flat heads.
cobras are more afraid of you
and they don't like being cornered.
Pile into the family van
so cramped you have to put your feet on your bag.
Press your head against the window the whole
Think about everything.
Go to the creek.
Want to die there
running over stones.
Catch fish for dinner
but paint them first
the colors you like
and press them to your t-shirt
before you skin them
all by yourself
and cook them
skewered on sticks like marshmallows.
Flip every rock along the shore
looking for salamanders.
Be careful not to crush them with your giant hands.
They are fragile
and sad to look at as they die.
Go to the ocean.
Watch the sand breathe.
old before they‘re finished.
Lose yourself in the current
you will be saved.
Dream of sand crabs
the size of your hand.
Sting-rays caught on fishing lines.
Being the last human left.
It is illegal to pick the long grasses on the dunes.
The lifeguard will yell at you.
Do it anyway.
Pretend they are magic wands
or oversized pens
there are roots piercing the edges
glass all over the road
plastic gathering in the water
tar in the sand
poison because they aren't yours.
Turkeys are mesmerized by rainfall
and they drown
staring at the sky.
PROSE POEMS FROM BLINKING, BENDING BONE
corn cobs crowded (dead) on counter-top (found) gn-awed to
(rotting) pulp for throwing (once mom and dad are gone);
toothache agitated by a (pointed) finger stirs (up) rage (at
crime) scenes; i am (a lot) of things; i am (not) a liar; i (need
to) floss (still); fairy says (she wants) your pretty (yellowed)
teeth (for money) so precious; (this) god made (earth for) man
to (mine) love; welcome to my (farm) house (watch for shit)
To bicycle across town. To see patterns in the grass. And the laughing. And the hammock. How my
chest is full and empty. How you tease. And the sun. And the strawberries. How we water the
garden. How food is served. To hide and sleep. To dig holes. And the drive. To get home. How I
can hear your heart beat. How my heart beats. And the bird calls.
Get some parsley even though it makes our daughters sick. Parsley is good on eggs fried in garlic
and butter. Your pores will open. Try to hydrate every two hours. Gargle hot salt-water for a sore
throat. This road floods, so keep candles under the sink in case of blackouts, and just say you have
chains on your tires—they won't check.
Child is afraid of shadows in the corner of his bedroom. Fed up, Mom and Dad say just be brave.
They find him the next day sitting up in bed facing the corner, eyes and mouth wide open.
Walk into the woods, think, I'll never leave again. Shred clothes. Tear leaves from trees. Chew on them.
Sky is lavender (which makes me welt-up and itch)—think, I'm allergic to this time of day. Stomach
growls. Follow rabbits on tiptoe. Freezing when detected. Think, I need better shoes for this. Later, have
meat for dinner. Smiling at myself.
On a swing at the park. Wood chips falling out of my pockets. Girl runs up, calls, Do you love Jesus
Yes or no. Her mother won't look at me. He made the tomatoes and the butterflies and even you and me. Yes or
no. Swinging pretty high now. Little girl, you know how there can be lots of names for the same
thing Yes or no.
IN A CELL
I am in a cell (I am not in a cell). The cell is made of concrete (I am not in a cell). There is a locked
door to the cell (I am not in a cell). It is cold in the cell (I am not in a cell). There is a hole in the
floor of the cell (I am not in a cell). I am naked in the cell (I am not in a cell). I am a number in the
cell (I am not in a cell). I starve in the cell (I am not in a cell). The cell is loud with noise from other
cells (I am not in a cell). There are people guarding my cell (I am not in a cell). I imagine my love
outside the cell (I am not in a cell). No windows in the cell (I am not in a cell). No light.
ELEVEN O’CLOCK NEWS
Deluded thoughts arise
from mental afflictions.
It could be that I said something
once and half-meant it, or not.
It could be that I washed my hands of it,
in the literal sense,
but that the smell still lingered
on the tips of my fingers,
As the sky turns red and pink the guys on
surfboards paddle out to the horizon
and I can see them now, the guys on surfboards
paddling out to the horizon as the sun goes down
one more time
it was like the sun was going down over the ocean
and the guys on surfboards were floating in the wake
I can see them now the guys on surfboards paddling
out to the horizon
one more time
Get into an elevator and everyone is breathless
in the proximity of a stranger‘s body, the smell of
perfume or sweat.
A rainy afternon when I think to myself: ―I don‘t
have to go anywhere.‖
And somewhere a building is going up in an empty
lot and the construction workers are crouched on
the sidewalk smoking cigarettes and eating
And somewhere people are buying tickets to a movie
that opened the day before. (A long line stretches
around the block.)
Someone is cursing and someone else is babbling to himself and someone is frightened and stares at
her feet. The older people are falling asleep in their beach chairs as the sun goes down over the
horizon and I‘m drinking a pina colada and my left leg won‘t move. The boat is at the dock and
people are waving. The women wearing long dresses with elaborate hems. Every day three people
cross the street. A, B, and R are not their names. The sirens on the rocks are singing to the men in
the boats. Smiling like an idiot when the lights come on.
A couple in Afghanistan
was stoned to death
by the Taliban
An explosion killed 7
and injured 14
Roger Clemens lied
to Congress about
Former Governor Blagojevich
on one count
(Law & Order)
All she has to show for it is a dog
with three legs
All she has to show for it is a Japanese
kimono that her husband bought
during the war
All she has to show for it is
a mild case of temporary insanity
when she takes out the trash
All she has to show for it--a tire
with no treads
Walk downhill and you get
to the river. Stay in one place
and you can have it both ways.
The shadow of the hand
that reaches out for--a
leaf The disbelief on her face
as I bite her hand.
Sometimes you learn something you don‘t want to know. It was 1970 and we were driving up the
coast to Point Reyes. My mind floats out the window like smoke in the breeze. A little shimmer of
heat, bourbon and water, a granite lion. It was you all along, waiting in the parking lot after
midnight. It seemed at any moment, if there was a lapse of attention, a wave might break over the
rooftops and inundate the cobblestone streets where on a typical summer night you could see
people walking arm in arm, canvasing the small shops or eating dinner in an outdoor cafe. It takes all
my energy to appease my hunger. Put your money on a number and close your eyes as the wheel
Someone calls truce from the outhouse window
The same old wine in the same old bottle
The habits of a lifetime can be changed over night
According to the weather lady
The chance of rain is less than zero
I stand in the shadows and stare at her building
Muffled sound of the orchestra warming up
There‘s a rod in rodent and a hum in human
Put on your blinders, one more time, and step outside.
Tejan Green Waszak
This bridge crumbles behind me
as I race swiftly to the other side
no time to look back
though in my haste
I dare to look down at the water
and imagine a more honorable battle
ending in the belly of a mammal
whose respect I‘ve gained
for my tireless effort
in the body
of one with more might
may have a different
I am no match for you
or this rat
In this complicated game
there is no end
and you are receding
Further and further
some force pushes you out
into the dark
night on night skin
there are none
You never dare ask
rejection is looming
You are slipping away
In the silence
your face shines brilliantly
for a moment
there is pleasure
to study you
In another city we could be strangers
we are innocent
Your noble face
could go quite far
in another place
This potential can encourage
bringing you forward
Put my records on
and ushered in
a moment of clarity
in this wired world
It must be Wednesday
or I‘ve had too much wine
For 3 hours I thought of you today
and now the cinnamon candle
has left our season
to linger in the air
of the small room inside a big house
won‘t let me forget
clenched fists holding pieces of memory
Ana Almurani is an alumna (2011) of the English Department‘s undergraduate major program
(concentration: Creative Writing). / Rudy Baron earned his master‘s degree in English/Creative
Writing at the Brooklyn Campus & then taught in the English Department for many years as an
adjunct professor. He is a co-founder & former editor of Downtown Brooklyn. / Alicia Berbenick is
working toward her MFA in the English Department‘s graduate creative writing program. / Wayne
Berninger is an alumnus (MA, 1992) of the Brooklyn Campus English Department, where he now
works as an administrator. He manages the Department‘s website & blog, serves as Registration
Advisor for all undergraduate English majors, & teaches freshman writing & sophomore literature
courses. With Barbara Henning & Rudy Baron, he co-founded Downtown Brooklyn in 1992 & has
served as Editor since 1999. / An alumnus (B.A., English) of Florida Atlantic University, John
Casquarelli is pursuing his MFA in the English Department‘s graduate creative writing program.
Prior to attending LIU, he was employed by Health Communications, Inc., where he did editorial
work in their book & magazine departments. He received the Esther Hyneman Award in 2010 for
poetry. / Alane Celeste is an alumna (2010) of the English Department‘s undergraduate program
in Creative Writing. Her thesis was a collection of poetry & fiction entitled When the Dust Settles. She
is currently a graduate student in Long Island University‘s School of Business, working toward her
master‘s degree in Public Administration with an Advanced Certificate in Nonprofit Management. /
Nik Conklin is working toward his undergraduate degree with a double major in English & Media
Arts. / Cynthia Maris Dantzic has been teaching in the Art Department at the Brooklyn Campus
for many years. She was recently among the first group to be promoted to the University‘s newlycreated
faculty rank of Senior Professor. Her most recent book is Alphabet City: Signs of New York.
Following the successes of 100 New York Photographers & 100 New York Painters, she is now
completing 100 New York Calligraphers for Schiffer Publishers. She is also at work on a textbook
entitled Seeing Color, which will present the classic Josef Albers color studies to the current generation
of art students. / Julián del Casal (1863-1893) was a Cuban poet whose early romanticism yielded
to the influence of prevailing French aesthetics. He died young of tuberculosis, having published
only two collections in his lifetime, Hojas al viento (1890) & Nieve (1892). Bustos y rimas (1893)
appeared posthumously. / Wendy Eng is working toward her master‘s degree in the School of
Education‘s Department of Teaching & Learning. / Christine Francavilla is an alumna (MA,
Liberal Studies) of New York University & is currently pursuing a second master‘s degree in the
Brooklyn Campus English Department‘s Creative Writing MFA program. Her work has appeared
in The Tablet, Here‟s Brooklyn, BQE Magazine & Downtown Brooklyn. / An alumna (MFA, 2010) of the
Brooklyn Campus English Department‘s Creative Writing program, Stephanie Gray is a poet & an
experimental filmmaker whose Super-8 films have screened internationally, including at the Black
Maria, Ann Arbor, Oberhausen, Chicago Underground, & Viennale fests. Her first poetry collection,
Heart Stoner Bingo, was published by Straw Gate Books in 2007. Her poems have appeared in
several publications, including Aufgabe, Sentence, The Brooklyn Rail, EOAGH, 2ndAvenuePoetry, Boog City
Reader, & The Recluse. She‘s read her work with films in NYC at the Projections, Segue,
Lungful!@Zinc, & Poetry Project Friday series. / Mary Kennan Herbert teaches literature &
writing in the English Department at the Brooklyn Campus of Long Island University, where she is
an adjunct professor in the English Department. She is a widely published poet & serves as an
Editorial Advisor for Downtown Brooklyn. / Aimee Herman is working toward her graduate degree
in the English Department‘s Creative Writing MFA program. A performance poet, she has been
featured at various poetry festivals, salons, & on radio. Her work can be found in Cliterature Journal,
Pregnant Moon Review, InStereo Press, and/or journal, & Uphook Press‘s latest poetry anthology, hell strung
and crooked. She currently works as sections editor of erotica for Oysters & Chocolate. / Katherine
Hogan holds a Ph.D. in English from St. John‘s University, Queens & teaches as an adjunct
professor in the Brooklyn Campus English Department. Her poems, stories & plays have enjoyed
many prizes, performances & publications, including Lunch with the Muse, Scribes of Ozymandias, Mad
Poets Review & Downtown Brooklyn. / Daphne Horton is working toward her bachelor‘s degree
(Literature) in the English Department. She works as the secretary for both the Department of
Foreign Languages & Literatures & the Department of Communications Studies, Performance
Studies, & Theatre. / Tony Iantosca is working toward his MFA in Creative Writing in the
Brooklyn Campus English Department. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Talisman,
EOAGH, Zen Monster, Brooklyn Paramount, & Downtown Brooklyn. Tony also helps to edit the poetry
journal Sun‟s Skeleton (http://www.sunsskeleton.com/). / An alumnus (BA, 2010) of the English
Department‘s undergraduate English major program (Creative Writing), Giuseppe Infante is now
working toward his graduate degree in the English Department‘s Creative Writing MFA program.
He is a co-editor of By the Overpass: A Journal of Writing and Art. / Gülay Işık is working toward her
graduate degree in the English Department‘s Creative Writing MFA program. / An alumna (2005)
of the English Department‘s undergraduate major program, Belynda Jones currently performs with
the soul/funk band Soul Understated. / Jamey Jones lives in Pensacola, Fl., where he teaches
Creative Writing, Language Arts, & Intensive Reading. He earned an MFA in Creative Writing from
Long Island University in 2011. His most recent chapbooks are the notebook troubled the sleep door
(brown boke press, 2008), & Twelve Windows (brown boke press, 2009). His first full-length book,
Blue Rain Morning (Farfalla, McMillan and Parrish) appeared in 2011. His poems have recently
appeared in Fell Swoop, The Mundane Egg, Big Bridge, Eaogh, With + Stand, The Tsatsawassins, The Portable
Boog Reader #5, & Zen Monster. / Kate is the pseudonym of a Brooklyn Campus undergraduate. /
Anna Lindwasser is working toward her MSED in Adolescent English Education at the Brooklyn
Campus. / Formerly a fabric designer, Montessori preschool teacher, ESL teacher, & choral singer,
Elspeth Woodcock Macdonald is working toward her graduate degree in the Brooklyn Campus
English Department‘s Creative Writing MFA program. / Brady Nash works as an Academic
Advisor for Sophomore Programs in the Brooklyn Campus Office of Student Development &
Retention. In addition to advising & helping to develop program materials, he works with the
Scholarship Assistance Program, helping students research, identify & apply for outside
scholarships. He is working toward a master‘s degree in media theory & aesthetics in the Brooklyn
Campus Media Arts Department. / Uche Nduka is working toward his graduate degree in the
English Department‘s Creative Writing MFA program at the Brooklyn Campus. / Steve Newton
taught from 1992 to 1999 as Assistant Professor in the English Department at the Brooklyn Campus
of Long Island University, where he also served as the Director of the Writing Center. He currently
teaches English as an Associate Professor at William Paterson University, where he directs the
Writing Center. / Jon L. Peacock is a Brooklyn based artist, with a current focus on prose writing
& theatrical acting. He earned his bachelor's degree in Theatre Studies, with an Acting
concentration, from Arizona State University, studying under Marshall W. Mason, co-founder of
off-Broadway's Circle Repertory Theater. He is an alumnus (2010) of the Creative Writing MFA
program at the Brooklyn Campus English Department, where he worked as a Writing Center tutor,
a Graduate Teaching Fellow, Research Assistant (under several different professors), & Adjunct
Assistant Professor (Fall 2010). His master‘s thesis (a novel-in-progress) was entitled Wayward. /
Formerly an Adjunct Professor in the English Department, Howard Pflanzer is a playwright,
lyricist, & poet. On the Border, his play about Walter Benjamin, winner of the 2007 Jump-Start
competition, had its world premiere at Medicine Show Theatre, in November 2007. Medicine Show
presented his play Living With History: Camus Sartre De Beauvoir in the spring of 2011. The Terrorist was
presented (US premiere: 2006) by the Unofficial New York Yale Cabaret (UNYYC) at the Laurie
Beechman Theatre, NYC. He was a Fulbright Scholar in theatre (spring 2003) in India where he
directed the world premiere of The Terrorist at the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA)
in Mumbai where he also lectured & conducted a playwrights‘ workshop. In June 2009 he lectured
on Jerzy Grotowski, Judith Malina & the Living Theatre & Alternative Theatre in the US under the
auspices of the Theatre of the Eighth Day at the Malta International Theatre Festival in Poznan,
Poland. He was invited to reprise the lecture in January 2011 as well as collaborate on a theatre
project about climate change & an alien invasion with Teatr Palmera Eldritcha in Poznan. He has an
MFA from the Yale School of Drama in Playwriting & Dramatic Literature. He was the winner of
a Play Commission in Jewish Theatre from NFJC (for Jersey Nights at Medicine Show), a NYFA
Playwriting Fellowship, two ASCAP Awards, a Puffin Foundation grant & co-winner of an NEA
Media Arts grant for the opera Dream Beach (with Michael Sahl). His plays & musicals have been
performed & read at La MaMa ETC., (The House of Nancy Dunn with Steve Weisberg & Andy Craft),
Playwrights Horizons, Symphony Space, Medicine Show (Poetry Class With Serial Killer), Kraine
Theater (Cocaine Dreams) & The Living Theatre, & broadcast over WNYC & WBAI FM.
Playwriting Residencies include Fundacion Valparaiso, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts
(VCCA), & the Ragdale Foundation. His work has appeared in The Quarterly, The Drama Review, slavic
and east european performance, New York Theater Review (anthology), theater2k.com (online), Cultural
Logic, Socialism and Democracy, Cover, And Then, Home Planet News, & Downtown Brooklyn, & in the poetry
anthologies, Off the Cuffs & Long Island Sounds. / G. J. Racz is Associate Professor of Foreign
Languages & Literature at the Brooklyn Campus, Vice-President of the American Literary
Translators Association (ALTA), & review editor for Translation Review. He won the 2010 Alicia
Gordon Award for Word Artistry in Translation from the American Translators Association (ATA).
/ Leslie Anne Rexach is working toward her bachelor‘s degree with a major in English at the
Brooklyn Campus. / Beatriz Alzate Rodriguez completed her BS at Columbia University School
of Engineering & her MS at New York Institute of Technology. Formerly an engineer at Unisys
Corporation, she now teaches math & art at Cobble Hill High School in Brooklyn. She is pursuing a
second master‘s degree in the Brooklyn Campus English Department‘s Creative Writing MFA
program. / Lisa Rogal is working toward her graduate degree in the Brooklyn Campus English
Department‘s Creative Writing MFA program. / Desiree Rucker is working toward her MFA in
Creative Writing at the Brooklyn Campus. / P. J. Salber is an Associate Professor & the
Coordinator of User Services in the Salena Library at the Brooklyn Campus. His work has appeared
in a number of little magazines including Downtown Brooklyn. / Micah Savaglio is an alumnus (B.A.,
2006) of the University of Milwaukee Wisconsin & is now working toward his MFA in Creative
Writing at the Brooklyn Campus. He is coeditor of By the Overpass: A Journal of Writing and Art. /
Michael Sohn has been teaching in the Brooklyn Campus English Department since 1997. He is a
full-time Instructor, Mentor & Faculty Development Coordinator in the English Department‘s
Writing Program. His poems have appeared in Downtown Brooklyn & Zen Monster. A critical article,
―An Incoherent Collection André du Bouchet's L'Incohérence‖ appeared in Curious Collectors, Collected
Curiosities: An Interdisciplinary Study (Nhora Lucia Serrano & Janelle A. Schwartz, eds.; Cambridge
Scholars Press; 2010). / Jean Verthein works in the Brooklyn Campus Office of Student Support
Services as a counselor specializing in students with disabilities. / Sarah Wallen is working toward
her MFA in Creative Writing at the Brooklyn Campus. / Lewis Warsh is the author of numerous
books of poetry, fiction, & autobiography, most recently Inseparable: Poems 1995-2005 (2008) & A
Place in the Sun (2010). Professor in the Brooklyn Campus English Department, he is Director of the
Creative Writing MFA program. He is also editor & publisher of United Artists Books
(unitedartistsbooks.com). / An alumna (MFA, 2010) of the English Department‘s graduate creative
writing program, Tejan Green Waszak tutors in the Writing Center & teaches as an adjunct
professor in the English Department. / Constance Woo teaches undergraduate courses at the
Brooklyn Campus & graduate courses at NYU in the joint master‘s program of The Palmer School
of Library & Information Science (LIU-C.W. Post) & New York University. Her B.A., M.A., C.Phil.,
& Ph.D. degrees in English Literature are from the University of California at Los Angeles. Her
M.S.L.S. & Certificate of Archives Management are from LIU‘s C.W. Post Campus. In addition, she
has a B.F.A. & training in bookbinding, artists‘ books production, collage & mixed media, printing,
& jewelry design. She has produced over thirty artist‘s books, primarily one-of-a-kind works, &
several limited editions. Her works are in the collections of Wesleyan University, Wellesley College,
The Mata & Arthur Jaffe Collection of Artists‘ Books at Florida Atlantic University, the University
of California (Santa Cruz & Los Angeles), DePaul University, as well as private collections.
a journal of writing
Downtown Brooklyn: a Journal of Writing is the literary magazine of the English Department at the
Brooklyn Campus of Long Island University. A new issue appears each fall semester. The editorial
staff reads new submissions from September 1 until February 1.
We accept submissions only from students, faculty & staff at the Brooklyn Campus. This includes
alumni, as well as persons formerly employed in any capacity at the Brooklyn Campus. Submissions
are also welcome from Visiting Writers who teach in the Creative Writing MFA program & from
writers who come to campus as part of the English Department‘s Voices of the Rainbow Reading
We accept submissions of poetry &/or fiction &/or creative non-fiction.
Save your submission as a single Word document & attach it to an e-mail that you send to wayne
[dot] berninger [at] liu [dot] edu. The first page of your document should be a cover page with your
phone & e-mail & a short bio statement.
In your bio statement, describe how you are connected to the Brooklyn Campus. Are you a student
Please indicate whether you are undergrad or grad, what your major or degree program is, & when
you will graduate. If you are an alum, tell us what your major was & what degree you earned, as well
as the year you graduated. Are you faculty or former faculty Tell us your department, what your
title is or was & what you teach or taught. Are you a staff member or former staff member Tell us
your title & what kind of work you do or did at the Brooklyn Campus. Everyone: If relevant, please
include any recent publications, productions, or performances of your work.
You will receive confirmation by e-mail that we have received your work. We will then notify as to
acceptance on a rolling basis.