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Havik: Inside Brilliance

The 2021 edition of the Las Positas College Journal of Arts and Literature. Please visit our website for additional works, including videos and audio recordings. https://havikjournal.wixsite.com/website

The 2021 edition of the Las Positas College Journal of Arts and Literature. Please visit our website for additional works, including videos and audio recordings. https://havikjournal.wixsite.com/website

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InsideBriliance



Inside Brilliance

Havik 2021

Cover:

Earth

Painting

Aydin Ermolaev

Pleasanton, California, USA

Back cover:

From Rubble to Relic

Corrosive Metals and Raw pigments

Jeremy Siedt

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA


Staff

Editor-in-Chief

Lara Abreu

Senior Prose and Acedemic Editor

Elizabeth Reynolds

Senior Poetry Editor

Senior Art Editor

Michael Henry

Lara Abreu

Prose and Academic Editors

Lara Abreu

Jessica Marty

Kayla Gregory

Sophia Nunes

Copy Editors

Advisors

Assistant Advisor

Lara Abreu

Elizabeth Reynolds

Melissa Korber

Toby Bielawski

Peter Zimmer

Layout Designer

Jennifer Katherine Snook

Poetry Editors

Theresa Tmekei Peterson

Fernanda Patino

Jen Burnett


Sponsors

Thank You!

Diamond Hawk

Las Positas College

Student Government

Las Positas College Founation

Gold Hawk

Toby Bielawski

California Writers Club Tri-Valley

Branch

Dr. Hal G. Gin

Elpida Kohler and Dietmar Kohler

Martin Nash

Anonymous

Silver Hawk

Andi Schreibman, Financial Aid Officer

Bronze Hawk

Anonymous

Chris Henry

Lone Hawk

Anonymous

Efrine Tmekei Peterson


Acknowledgments

Our deepest thanks to the following people, who took the time to volunteer as judges to

select our award winners.

Fiction Judge

Martin Nash

Visual Art Judge

Dave Wagner

Creative Nonfiction Judge

Michelle Gonzales

Poetry Judge

Jim Ott

Experimental Works Judge

On-Staff Experimental Editors

Academic Nonfiction Judges

On-Staff Nonfiction Editors

We would also like to thank

Charlotte Severin

for presenting and sponsoring the Lydia Wood Awards for first place in fiction and poetry.

David A. Wright

the original founder of Havik (then the “Chabot College Valley’s Visions and Values”) in 1978

Folger Graphics

Without whom this anthology would not exist.

Copyright Policy

All contributors retain copyright ownership of the content they create, including prose, verse, photographs, illustrations,

cartoons, and all other work. The LPC Journal of Arts and Literature retains the right to use material in

all forms in perpetuity.


Letters from the Editors

Editor-in-Chief Lara Abreu

This summer I turn fifty. This knowledge floods me with myriad of

thoughts and emotions. As a stay-at-home mother for the last 16 years,

questioning my life’s choices, ambitions, and goals there has been an incessant

stream coursing through the back of my mind. What have I accomplished?

What impact have I made? While anyone who has raised

(good) children knows, this alone is a herculean endeavor. It is a daily

challenge rife with moments of incredible pride and overwhelming love,

tempered with regrettable moments of fist-clenching frustration and outbursts

of anger. It is finding the depth of mindfulness to accept the person

your child is trying to be while gently guiding them along their path. All

of this is an outward focus that can slowly, imperceptibly blur your path.

Enter Havik, whose very title, and play on words, captures the universal

experience of the last year. Serving as Editor-in-Chief was a self-imposed

leap out of my comfort zone and an opportunity for which I will

be eternally grateful. Our entire process has been virtual, creating novel

obstacles to the collaboration process. Tic-tac-toe screens of black boxes

with white names and disembodied voices sharing their thoughts and

perspectives. After our first meeting, I was flooded with feelings of doubt

and anxiety. How will we connect as a team? How can we communicate

with veracity without knowing who we all are? I needn’t have worried, for

my much younger team, by now adept at communicating in a two-dimensional

world, rose to the occasion. Our Senior Editors of Prose and Poetry

guided our teams with clear goals and experiential insight, creating a

supportive environment for us to tackle the 662 submissions we received.

Each editor embraced their works with integrity and fought for pieces that

spoke to them. Our advisors mindfully supported us as we waded through

this new platform, lending calm voices and invaluable advice. And our unflappable

Production Assistant made our vision a beautiful reality with her

quiet suggestions and powerful skills. Fueled by the incredible creativity

of our authors and artists, from New Zealand to Iraq, from Canada to the

UK, our collective determination to honor these stories and these images

was palpable. The raw emotion, vulnerability and truth we absorbed gave

birth to our title, “Inside Brilliance.”

The works we reviewed revealed a collective social conscience; outcries

against racial inequality; the impact of COVID’s tentacles in every

aspect of life; societal criticism; mental illness. These were balanced by

expressions of love lost and love found, depictions of nature’s beauty, and

the joys of simplicity. Drinking in these global perspectives of experience

quenched a thirst in us. We felt a kinship, a recognition, an affirmation

in every piece. We felt seen and heard in others’ words and images, for

what we collectively experienced in this last year has been inexplicable,

overwhelming and gravely disappointing. But knowing we are not alone

in these thoughts lends a legitimacy to COVID’s slogan of “We are in this

together.” With the utmost humbleness and awe in peoples’ creativity,

courage, and talent, we present this year’s Havik: Inside Brilliance, in the

hopes that you too may find solace and kinship in the experiences of your

fellow human beings.

Lara Abreu,

Editor-in-Chief


Index of Contributors

First Place Fiction

Out of Season

Katherine Davis – Page 64

Second Place Fiction

Clouds

Russel Doherty – Page 29

Third Place Fiction

In Our House

Susan Hettinger – Page 12

Honorable Mention Fiction

Dreaming in America

Nicolas Padrone – Page 5

Everything

Matthew Berg – Page 47

First Place Visual Art

Open Wounds

Younes Mohammad – Page 3

Second Place Visual Art

Travel

Yim Ivy Wu – Page 221

Third Place Visual Art

Quilting Whimsy

Kathleen URBAN – Page 111

Honorable Mention Visual Art

Before the Ballet

Pat Wai – Page 196

Zephyr

Eunhee Soh – Page 19

First Place Poetry

He Tramples the Daisies

Kerri-ann Torgersen – Page 174

Second Place Poetry

Johnny Reb

Ben White – Page 1

Third Place Poetry

Visitation

Richard Stimac – Page 85

Honorable Mention Poetry

(Zardozi) زَردوزی

Vinit Kurup – Page 86

High Beams (GET OFF THE ROAD)

Brianna Fay – Page 81

First Place Creative Non-Fiction

Diary of a Ghostwriter

Dawn-Michelle Baude – Page 59

Second Place Creative Non-Fiction

Happy Green Chlamydia Plush

Mercury-Marvin Sunderland – Page 230

Third Place Creative Non-Fiction

Super-Fast Trains, Super-Slow

Trails

James Sievert – Page 235

First Place Experimental

Mock up TV series Introduction

Kermen Choung – Online

First Place Academic

The Truth Behind The American

Dream

Matthew Aboudi – Page 274


Lara Abreu

Meditating Sea Lion 49

Santorini Sunrise 150

Yes208

Galapagos Love 214

Matthew Andrews

Manslaughter127

Love Poem With Natural Disasters 215

Valerie Ansuini

Broken127

Brian Araque

Anything is Profound 164

Alfredo Arcilesi

Someplace Without Washrooms 136

Mike Ball

On Our Hill 231

Alexandra Bartholomew

Climate is a Changing 40

She Dances Through Fire 202

I’m Part of Something Beautiful 218

Dawn-Michelle Baude

Diary of a Ghost Writer 59

Teresa Beeding

I Shall Never Forget 173

Julie Benesh

Lake Effect 245

Jennifer Benningfield

It Goes Down a Cherry 129

Matthew Berg

Everything47

Robert Beveridge

Moral and Natural Philosophy 226

Carl Boon

What No One Speaks of in Illinois 69

Andriana Botan

Control the Divine 149

jack bordnick

Facing it Together 115

S. T. Brant

A Tiny Dialogue of Metaphysical

Poets224

Kate Brock

Muscle Memory 197

Rebecca Burns

The Tenburys 232

Elle Butane

Fruit Bowl 187

Vialsy Cabrales Esparza

The Welcome Visitor 23

The Fall 207

Naomi Capacete

We Could’ve Been a Poem 101

Ashleigh Cattermole

Buttercup56

Ravichandra Chittampalli

Do Not Insist on Departing Today 101

Saphistry154

Lilly Constance

My Father Reads Meditation XVII 219

Ariel Cooper

Connection102

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made 126

Ilaria Cortesi

Digital Collage Art 46

Shahriar Danesh

IDIOT89

Katherine Davis

Out of Season 64

Christian Deery

The Scene & The Unseen 148

Laine Derr

Baspoke193

Russel Doherty

Clouds29

Ken Elliott

Dirty Hippies 185

Mary Elliott

Summer Lights 250

Aydin Ermolaev

Earth83

Maverick128

Brianna Fay

High Beams (GET OFF THE ROAD) 81

Frances Fish

Lost183

Francis Flavin

The Sharp Edge 58


Tesa Flores

Bruises132

Taew Fornoles

Nap Time 171

Electrified 189

Liz Fortini

Reflection 243

Jennifer Frederick

A Moth in the Light 43

Agent Peacock 50

Contained Chaos: Growing in a Lab 188

Sunflower 247

Jessica Garrison

[ I am ] 84

A New Beginning 96

Matt Gold

#533107

Ellaheh Gohari

Won’t You Run Away 106

Caleb Gonsalves

Virgin Cocktails 33

Rhiannon194

Neverland244

Peter Grieco

Psalm Something 155

Jean-Sebastien Grenier

This is How Delirium’s Demiurge

Drowns the Universe 70

Adieu89

An Ottawa Night Out 163

Hydroponics246

John Grey

Michael’s Music 88

The Time of Your Child 114

David Grubb

This Place 100

Unhappy Chickems, Good Breeders 112

Kristin Ham

Visual Currents 201

Sunny Afternoon 229

Kaylee Hamilton

Black Against White 4

TA Harrison

Deadbeat Dinner Party 95

Sergio Hartshorne

The Wearer of Hats

James Harvey

A Summer With You, Again 216

Nezrin Hasanly

Melancholy is 17

Parks42

Curtain Call 202

Taxi Cabs 219

Rain245

Susan Hettinger

In Our House 12

Mane Hovhannisyan

Windows135

dave hunter

Honor151

Jones Irwin

Cynthia133

Of Western Civilisation 158

We Are A Community National

School159

Murali Kamma

Foreigners and Friends 165

Sam Kaspar

the snow remembered 202

Babbling Glide 205

Eden Kidane

The Mountaintop - The Second Act 261

Paul Koskinen

Rise from Pandemic 76

James Ph. Kotsybar

Apiology42

Craig Kurtz

The Old Man 58

Bachelor187

Vinit Kurup

(Zardozi) 86 زَردوزی

W.F. Lantry

Joshua Trees 110

Juniper Berries 110

Sequoia113

The Cave of Bones 184

Somewhere Between Near and Far 243

Olivia Larson

Where the Sea Swallows the Sky 108

Deborah LeFalle

Inauguration Day 11

Why You Shouldn’t Run in

Flip-Flops230


Danika Leuenberger

Prom Queen 73

Carolyn Lord

Fossul Fuel Relic 82

Kilmeny MacMichael

A Tale of Three Avocados 20

Night106

Ben Macnair

Atonal57

D.S. Maolalai

Lidl170

Terminal173

The drama of weather 207

Aina Marzia

His Name Was Mo 4

Sophie Mateja

Fuego121

Emily Mathis

A Father’s Touch 217

Gabriel McCluskey

The Birds of Paradise 51

Shanna Merceron

a love poem for someone who doesn’t

like love poems 88

Younes Mohammad

Open Wounds 3

Elaine Monasterial

A Ritual Adventure 216

Charity Morris

Residue77

Justin Nagundi

SWEATY ROSES 116

Clare Nee

Moonflowers on Arthur Street 98

Lance Nizami

Facewarp86

Interior134

Vita Nocilla

a trip in space 71

dreaming of the cosmos 97

mushroom bloom 143

let it go 162

the butterflies in my stomach are

free176

Michael O’Brien

A gull Told Me 45

Jay O’Neal

The Unpaid Philosopher or the

Typewriting Monkey 34

Nicolas Padron

Dreaming in America 5

Carl “Papa” Palmer

Bookshelf Prophecy 25

His Limbo Soliloquy 26

Jared Pearce

Battles55

Jilli Penner

Green86

Uncle Down Under 184

Sweatshirt184

Roses Shaded Pink 187

Charlene Pepiot

A Matter of Fact 35

katie pfeifer

There was a lump 23

My Hands 67

To the Man who told me 231

Alex Phuong

Starry Nights 219

Therese Pokorney

To my apartment and all the spaces I

make my own: 227

J.B. Polk

THE BLACK KIMONO 122

Marie-Anne Poudret

Thirteen Stripes 55

The Good and the Talented 62

More than Me 249

henry 7. reneau, jr.

What AmeriKKKa Looks Like Posing As

An Invisible Friend 2

Illume #2: Hope as a Trick of

Light132

If You Scared, Go To Church!! 156

The Signs and Wonders of the Inter-Dimensional

Warrior 228

Elizabeth Wolff-Reynolds

Dig177

Sarah Riensche

Mirage74

Daisy249

Charissa Roberson

Undisclosed194

Sandip Saha

Agony of a Poet 48

Fatal Fate 158


Thea Schiller

Finding the T in the Center of

Motown47

Jennifer Schneider

Invisibility75

Dylan Scillia

Alone24

First Second

Guardian149

Labdhi Sha

Zen Sex Metallica 72

Sameen Shakya

Labyrinth231

Tufik Shayeb

Afterward34

Word-Man63

Your Thoughts 63

The Theme Park 68

Jeremy Siedt

From Rubble to Relic 200

James Sievert

Super-fast trains, super-slow

trails235

Bobbi Sinha-Morey

Knotted so Tightly 182

A Joy I Once Knew 249

Ranjith Sivaraman

The Angel and the Dirty Boy 17

A Slevin

Doing Time 80

Eunhee Soh

Zephyr19

Salt Lick 106

Sam Sohn

Vicissitudes91

Sameeha Soora

Just Breathe 2020 26

Heidi Speth

I Wonder 11

Joy131

An Ode to the Broken Heart 161

After All 215

Louis Staeble

Waves172

Hypnotically Motivated 175

Michael Stentz

Sweet Song 96

Richard Stimac

Still Life 40

Night Prayer 80

Visitation85

Confession155

Terminal240

Mercury-Marvin Sunderland

A Happy Green Chlamydia Plush 230

Edward Supranowicz

Lady X 90

Olga Sushchik

Keep Dreaming 44

In the Sky Above Dublin Hills 87

Blue Flavor 206

Paper Bird 220

Diane Thiel

The Slide 45

Taunja Thomson

Sleight-of-Hand48

Summer Streets 240

The Pool 250

Theresa Tmekei Peterson

Crown XIX 25

Kerri-ann Torgersen

He Tramples the Daisies 174

The End is the Beginning is the

End182

Kathleen URBAN

COVID 19 Dreaming: Prince Edward

Island27

Dogwood Blossoms 28

Quilting Whimsy 111

c-leo ˘͈ ᵕ ˘͈valentino

Swan Song #7 170

Monica Viera

Cabin on Detox Island 134

Joseph Vitale

Where the Yellow Flowers Bloom 241

Pat Wai

Little City Market 10

Before the Ballet 196

Micaela Walley

3AM88

IF WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO PREFORM

GRIEF- WHAT IS IT FOR? 114

THE BABY 120


Lindsey Wentzel

The L Train 95

Roses127

Roses are Red 174

Gregory Wilder

A Drowning Man 141

Bill Wilkinson

Bad Fog of Loneliness 144

Kevin Wilson

The Girl from a Bookstore 190

Brayden Wiseman

Up the Cellar Stairs 203

Ben White

Johnny Reb 1

Robert Wilson

Nightjars56

Yim Ivy Wu

Hannah18

Lady in Garden 195

Travel221

Peace248

Relax251

Bill Yuan

Knock at Midnight 103

Andreas Zignago

Synthetic Blindness 199

Peter Zimmer

Marc and Ward 252

Steve Zimmerman

Vacant Sea 41

igor zusev

Chaotic symmetry 225

Academic Works

Megan Mehta

An Extensive Analysis of The Life of

J. D. Vance 265

Caylia Love

Community College Stigma 268

Laura Riley

Round and Around We Go 271

Matthew Aboudi

The Truth Behind The American

Dream274

Please visit the

Havik website for

video and audio

submissions!

https://havikjournal.wixsite.com/website

Kermen Choung

Mock up TV series Introduction

Julián Esteban Torres López

Sleepwalking Through the 20th

Griffin Messer

Roads


Creative Works


Johnny Reb

Poetry

Ben White

Rio Rancho, New Mexico, USA

Johnny Reb

Had a statue

In Richmond

Alongside Lee and Davis

That they finally took down

In a time

When all of America

Needs to fold up

A Confederate flag

And give it to History

On behalf

Of a nation –

A union grateful

Johnny Reb

Was killed and defeated

In his lost cause

After the local aristocracy

Fooled the poor white boys

Into thinking

If they didn’t fight

They were no better than the

Blacks,

And being better than the Blacks

Was all most of them had

As they charged up North

To defend Dixie

And the culture of oppression

Not realizing

They were as enslaved

As the slaves

If not more so

As the graves of war

Ignored the purpose

In the service of the South

Where they were trapped

In the persona

Of Johnny Reb

With cornbread pride

And pork-rind patriotism

Where loyalty

Was sliced off the high hog

To convince them

They were blessed,

Just, and loved

By good-ol-boy Jesus

Who rode with them

As far as Gettysburg

Where He discovered

A gilded pretense of freedom

And abandoned

Those wood-slat worshippers

Retreating back south

To watch Atlanta burn,

Charleston choke,

And New Orleans slide

Into her own

Decadent decay,

But Johnny Reb

Still found a way

To keep inheritance alive

With his back turned

On God

And a lot of God’s children

As he got off his horse,

Turned in his rifle,

And starved on dirt

And dust

Creating a new God

To trust

Who was forgiving,

Loving, kind,

And white

Ready to fight

Dressed in sheets

With an unholy faith

Preaching

Inhumanity,

Inequality,

Injustice,

And fire

Burning at the end

Of a rope

While celebrating

The hope of regaining

A moonshine lifestyle

Beneath the cross

Where everything lost

Would be restored

While nostalgia and poverty

Went hand in hand

And the past was cherished

Where purity

Had not perished

In the fantasy

Of ideas held by the race

Still longing to chase

Dreams of superiority

By keeping

The minority

Frightened in the night

Excluded from the law

And segregated from the

Constitution

Of agitators up North

Who might travel

Back and forth,

But who would never understand

The Southern man

As a tragic Greek figure

Having suffered so much

At the hands of aggression

When the lesson

To be learned

Was in watching

The residual impacts

Of the Union’s victory

Turn into racist policies

And prejudiced practices

Throughout the South

But in Northern cities as well,

So even 40 years

After Johnny Reb fell,

He got his statue raised

And praised

For Southern Heritage

Memorialized and recognized

As having some kind

Of American spirit

He never really had –

He was just a kid

Given bad advice

Ready to sacrifice his life

For a fundamentally

Counter-Christian cause

Convinced he was right

And righteous

While his white

Skin and whiteness

Were turned into values

And given credit

1


For morality, ethics,

Sacred justice,

And the beliefs

He didn’t understand

Well enough

To guide him

Through reconstruction,

So the seduction

Of power

Perpetuated the hour

Of his ride

When the Rebel Yell

He cried was a call

Of culture

That could never keep up

No matter how many

Blacks

Were tormented,

Cheated, defeated,

Excluded,

Or murdered

In the Southern name

Of Johnny Reb Heritage…

And History won’t miss his statue

As much as his statue missed History.

What AmeriKKKa Looks Like Posing As

An Invisible Friend

Poetry

henry 7. reneau, jr.

Lindsay, California, USA

AmeriKKKa, distancing history, a unit of

measurement, from oppression

by swapping the word history with the word

postracial,

whose amorphous nature incorporates

physical exclusion

& random helpings of fear, paranoia,

frustration

& outrage. Blackness as test subjects

for injustices to be practiced elsewhere.

Every po-lice chief statement

of aberration by anomaly of racist cop,

the cockroach painted into a corner, the

attempts at evasion—

not-me—posing as an invisible friend, as

protect & serve. The official

spokesperson's lie,

like the smell of spent gunshots, chalkoutlines

the asphyxiating repetition of our

grief.

We drown standing up.

Black, as the clever gaze from hooded

Malcolm-tent eyes, hears

every word comes out the speakers.

Blackness, always

in someone else's country, because we, as

stereotype claims,

were born of water hog mud, livid with the

rage of fever

that makes us ungrateful, bites the hand that

starves us.

My blackness confronts me with a desperate

reinvention

of itself, the militant X, by which those who

cannot sign

otherwise leave their mark.

The comeuppance of flung Molotov

into police state lines

as the whole wide Diaspora

pulses through our veins.

But all of a sudden, AmeriKKKa stands with

the Black community—

a shield of aloof politeness

romancing what could have been

gracious good faith & understanding from a

distance—

opposes racism, oppression, &

police brutality, vows to continue to amplify

diverse voices in the U.S. of Attica. All of a

sudden

2


Open Wounds

Photography

Younes Mohammad

Erbil, Iraq

3


His name was Mo.

He liked school, well most days.

But he dreaded going to school that day.

For him, it was like walking into a death

sentence, figuratively, but isn't hard to imagine

it literally.

It was that day that made his mother want

to stay home as much as possible.

It was that day that made it impossible for

his father to find work.

It was that day that made him feel like he

never should’ve left the house in the first

place.

While tens and thousands of American high

schools were holding ceremonies for those

that they lost on that day.

Millions of innocent children, families, and

homes were being destroyed every day after.

While two towers collapsed on that day.

Over 100 mosques were destroyed, taken

down, and attacked even years later.

While the country that we live in blames a

whole religion for that day.

The lives of Muslims changed.

Forever.

Kids like him.

Growing up in a xenophobic society, constantly

told to go back, treated unfairly, and

given less opportunity.

It is because of that day that the NYPD

targets people like him.

It is because of that day that hate crimes

have simply become immune.

It is because of that day that people

wonder if they will be killed for practicing a

religion.

His Name Was Mo

Fiction

Aina Marzia

El Paso, Texas, USA

And as for Mo., it is because of that day

that four kids punched him on the floor of

the bathroom on September 11th, 2019.

Why?

Because his name was not Mo it was Muhammad

(PBUH).

4

Black Against

White

Poetry

Kaylee Hamilton

Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

Ebony. Against. Ivory.

Fabrics rubbing together

Causing static electricity

Can’t sew it together —

Too stuck in

the same mindset

Of hate

That each individual thinks is different.

Roses are guns

When you don’t forgive.

Everything is offensive

And we go back to the distressful ache.

Black against white.

When you put your magnifying glass

Or spectacles to use

All you can see

is the past abuse.

Take a step back-

See the big picture—

Then,

Forever-

You’re richer.

Black to white.

White to black.

“Give me so much love,”

The colors scream-

“We’ll never turn back.”

“Never fight ourselves!”

For that is what we can do

When we stick together without the glue.


Mrs. Blanco has always known she had a

smile, sensed it even before she became

aware of it. When nothing else would do

— her education, her figure, her presence —

that simple pull at the ends of her lips spoke

with a language of its own. This morning,

she knows she’s going to need it. So sure she

is, in fact, that after brushing she restrains

from flashing her teeth at the mirror to preserve

her smile’s full strength.

Outside the window is dusky gray. She

reaches for her floral dress, something to

brighten up the Monday morning that awaits

her. She closes the closet door softly, so as

not to wake up her son who’s still asleep in

the bed they share. From on top of the night

table, she picks up her reading glasses next

to the Selecciones del Readers Digest magazine

and slips them on. She wears them all

the time now when it’s dark.

The long hallways of the boarding house

are gloomy silent, her roommates either

asleep or gone to work. In the kitchen, she

greets Rita, the owner of the casa de bordantes.

No need to start shining her smile

yet. The radio is buzzing the local Spanish

news. Mrs. Blanco has her breakfast in

between Rita’s comments. They’re mostly

about the weather getting colder. Where

Mrs. Blanco comes from, el tiempo is not

much of a subject. It’s either raining or it

isn’t, and usually too hot. Not here, in the

city of long coats. The first thing out of people’s

mouths here, friends or strangers alike,

is the weather, how cold is it going to get or

what’s going to fall from the sky today.

Dreaming in America

Fiction

Nicolas Padron

Miami, Florida, USA

Mrs. Blanco finishes putting on her face by

the front door. She reaches into the bottommost

of her purse for the keys and locks

every lock before she steps away.

It all begins in the elevator, with the

simple act of pressing the call button on the

wall brass plate. The doors open on their

own and she steps inside the mirror and metal

box. Her belly shivers as the floor drops,

a combination of dread and excitement

she’s still acquainting herself with since she

arrived in New York. Part of the luxury trappings

of a past future time, an aging modernity

she is only now catching up to.

For better or worse, everything is temporary.

If she is certain of anything it’s that.

Exile with all its heartbreaks, the same as

the guilty enjoyment of a New York elevator

ride, is only provisional. The bearded atheists

who had forced her and so many to flee

her homeland would not keep her forever

from the life God had meant her to live.

Outside, it’s colder than it looks. She

buttons up the winter coat Rita sold her for

five dollars and tightens Amelia’s red scarf

around her neck. As she walks past the store

windows in her stiff overcoat, her reflection

isn’t all that unappealing. It not only

conceals her long-lost silhouette and keeps

her warm, it also makes her feel part of the

landscape, like another New Yorker.

At the bus stop, everyone climbs in one

at a time, each dropping a token, unrushed.

It is at moments like these too that she’s

reminded how far she is from home. Tokens

instead of money, no one hustling to the

5

empty seats, no conductor to collect the

fare. The efficiency of it makes her wonder,

though. In her town, buses had a driver and

a conductor, and when they’d seen her a few

times, she didn’t need to signal her stop.

Everyone was more in touch with each other,

less orderly, sure, but more normal. She

wonders how the americanos, as smart as

they are, could have missed that, the simple

human touch.

The downtown bus travels in the shade

of Broadway’s architecture, a sightseeing

show for Mrs. Blanco—and the reason she

preferred them to the subway. She presses

her forehead on the icy glass window. She

grins at the bright storefronts along the way,

with their window displays projecting out

to the street like movie screens with views

of domestic scenes, gleaming kitchenware,

and elegant mannequins wearing the latest

styles. There’s a kind of musical play choreography

in the way New Yorkers march

across the streets, in the stop-and-go of the

vehicle traffic. The grandeur everywhere

moves her: the polished sheen of rotating

doorways, the assembly lines of yellow taxis,

the sheer abundance of affluence. Her faith

in the infinite might and wisdom of the

americanos is reaffirmed at every intersection.

The bus stops at a red light.

When she left Havana, all she and her boy

were allowed to bring was $120.00 and — as

she liked to say — all the hope and Kleenex

they could carry. And, of course, the fervent

belief that the United States of America


would never allow a Communist nation to

take root just ninety miles from Key West.

This wasn’t only her opinion: everyone she

knew was of the same mind. The end of the

bearded revolutionaries was only a question

of when — maybe a year at the most before

she’d be back with her family around her

again, back to where she was born and married

and had her children, home until three

weeks ago.

Today is a particularly difficult day for

Mrs. Blanco. It’s her first day out looking for

a job, in search of employment, something

she’s never done or needed to do before.

At forty-six, the only job she ever had was

that of housewife and mother, work that had

prepared her for just about anything except

to look for employment — much less in a

foreign land. The task does not intimidate

her as much as the idea of having to ask for

it in English, a language she loves to hear

but she’s incapable of articulating without

embarrassing herself.

Mrs. Blanco looks at the note her exiled

friend, Marta, had given her. “Get off on

34th Street. Walk to 8th Avenue, Garment

Center. They’re always hiring sewing machine

operators in the factories around

there,” it says.

In Havana, she had a Singer machine

with a wrought-iron foot pedal her husband

bought her. She’d fashioned dresses and

shirts for her children with it when they

were younger, even sewn a camping tent for

her son’s Boy Scout troop once. Sew? Mrs.

Blanco could sew just fine.

From the bus, she keeps watch of the

street signs at every corner. “Get off when

you see the Macy’s store and walk around

the area looking for Sewing Operator Wanted

signs on building walls,” Marta’s note says.

Many things she never needed before or

thought she ever would are needed now.

Only a few weeks ago she still lived at home

with her husband of twenty-two years and

her two children. She’d known the comforts

of a well-off existence, which had come with

much struggle and only in recent times. But

in less than a year of the communist takeover,

it was all torn apart, beginning with

the seizure of her husband’s business, the

family house, even the cars. Then came days

of desperate rushing around like on a ship in

the storm, throwing everything overboard,

trying to sell, trade, and hide whatever

remained of the family’s assets. But the idea

of seeking asylum didn’t come until later

when talk of an even more horrifying law

was proposed. The enactment of what they

called ‘Patria Potestad.’ The law that gave

the communist government parental rights

over un-emancipated children. Once the

rumor took hold, the question of whether or

not to leave the country was settled.

The communists could take everything she

owns, she decided, but not her son.

Almost overnight, she found herself thousands

of miles away, confined to a bedroom

in an overcrowded boarding house in New

York City with her twelve-year-old son, starting

her temporary life of ‘political’ exile,

a refugee — a ‘worm,’ how the fidelístas

called the likes of her.

Although the hardships of her younger

days now seem like something to look forward

to, Mrs. Blanco doesn’t allow herself

to wallow in her misfortune as some of her

fellow exiles do. Hope is fresh yet. Still, the

day-to-day is far from easy. Rooming in an

apartment full of political refugees is like

living with a big wounded, grieving family.

Rare is the night that she is not awakened by

6

the muffled sobs of some of her roommates.

Exile is the same as living in a permanent

state of emergency, ever hanging to a single

hope. Every rumor, every word printed or

heard on the radio about the homeland has

to be dissected, reinterpreted for hidden

meanings, every piece of news a new topic

to argue about. The one thing the entire exile

commune agrees on, though, is, with God

and the americanos on their side, everything

the comunistas have stolen from them would

be theirs again. And this was something Mrs.

Blanco believes with all her heart.

Across the street, on the northbound

side of Broadway, Mrs. Blanco notices a sign

written in English and Spanish. It speaks

of union, employment, and brotherhood.

Compelled by a sudden impulse, Mrs. Blanco

pulls the cord and gets off the bus, and then

doubles back up the street.

The sweet smell of recently baked dough

stops her on her tracks. She rests one hand

on the shop window and stares at the trays

full of happy-looking donuts arranged in

rows. Mentally, she counts the change she

has in her purse, hoping. But she knows all

too well how much she has, or rather how

much she doesn’t have, then walks away

thinking of all the weight she still could

stand to lose — once again looking at the

positive side so as not to weep.

She stands under the sign she saw from

the bus and takes up the dark and narrow

staircase. At the top landing, she halts by

the opened smudged glass door. The stale air

in the gray-walled office reeks of cigarette

smoke and indifference. Facing a long counter

dividing the room, a handful of people are

lined up by a faded yellow line on the floor.

Mrs. Blanco steps in and surveys the women

working behind the counter and at the


desks beyond, pecking on their typewriters.

A couple of suited men sit behind glass-partitioned

cubicles.

She stands demurely at the end of the line

and listens to the English-speaking voice of

the bespectacled woman behind the counter,

concentrates on it.

The person at the counter walks away and

Mrs. Blanco moves up a step.

In front of her, there’s a tall black lady

and a Latina-looking one who’s at the counter

now. She’s speaking to the bespectacled

woman. The harder Mrs. Blanco listens to

what they’re saying the less she understands.

A minute later, she hears “Next.” She

remembers what next means. In English,

every word sounds so much nicer to her, like

in the subtitled movies, the voices of Doris

Day, Elizabeth Taylor, and Audrey Hepburn,

so musical even when uttered in anger. Yet

she’s just unable to articulate the words, as

if her mouth isn’t put together the same way

as theirs.

The tall black lady steps up to the counter.

Mrs. Blanco places the tip of her shoes

on the yellow line on the floor. The tall lady

seems upset. Something in the document the

bespectacled woman handed her has set her

off. Her voice is getting louder. She reminds

her of those powerful-voiced Protestant

preachers in the movies. Mrs. Blanco tries

to decipher what each is saying. The noisier

they get, the less she comprehends them.

The tall woman starts to shake her finger

at the impassive bespectacled face behind

the counter. Suddenly, she wheels and

stomps away, hollering menacingly at the

entire place. When she reaches the door,

she balls up the insulting document, hurls it

in the general direction of the wastebasket,

and storms out the glass door.

Now the office staff is up, bunched in

groups around their desks, ruffled by the

irate lady. Mrs. Blanco is up next.

The bespectacled woman waves from the

counter. “Come on up.”

Mrs. Blanco approaches with a tentative

smile: she didn’t hear ‘next.’ Her throat

tightens up. “Pleese, laydee, S-peak S-panish?”

The bespectacled woman turns around and

with a cigarette between her fingers waves

at someone and walks away.

Spanish Carmen comes to the counter.

“How can I help you?”

Mrs. Blanco lets out a sigh of relief and

broadens her smile. “Aaayy,” she sings out.

“Thank God you speak Spanish, mi hijita.

What a relief.”

Spanish Carmen almost smiles.

“Well, the truth is I am looking for work,”

she says, leaning closer to the counter. “Let

me explain: I have only been in this country

for three weeks, yes. But I am a hardworking

person and a fast learner, and I am willing to

do whatever work that is being offered.”

Carmen gives her a squint-eyed look. “OK,

let’s see your book.”

“Libro?” Mrs. Blanco, unsure whether

Carmen has understood, starts again. “Maybe

I should tell you, I am a married woman.

I have two children, yes, two. My oldest, my

daughter, she’s in Cuba with my husband, los

pobrecitos … I’m sure you must have heard

how terrible things are over there now with

those communists taking over, my God. But

my son, he’s with me. We had to bring him

out right away before the communists start

taking the children to Russia. Yes, that’s

another thing those communists are doing.

But he’s in school now, thank God. And God

7

willing, my husband will be coming to join us

very soon. Now, my daughter, we’re not too

worried about her. She’s already eighteen

and engaged, yes. She’s going to marry a boy

we know, a good boy. But in the meantime,

well, my son and I have to stay here, you

understand, until we can return. So you can

imagine how difficult it’s been for me to find

a job without any English —”

“Excuse me a moment, Mrs. Blan-co,

right?”

“Yes,” she answers, reaching into her

purse for her passport, her ID. “In Cuba,

married women get to keep their maiden

name, not like here. Yes, it is Blanco.”

Carmen, assuming the walk-up is looking

for her book, says as she flicks through the

Rolodex, “Let’s see . . . We have a few openings

for iron operators today. Would that be

something you’d want to do?”

“Ironing? Oh, sure. I can iron. My husband

tells me no one, not even his mother, can

iron his shirts as well as I do.”

“All righty, then. Give me your book and

I’ll send you right out.”

Mrs. Blanco hands her passport.

“Not this, your union book, or your card,

whichever you brought with you.”

“I am sorry, señorita. I don’t have a union

book. I could get one if you tell me how—”

“Oh, oh. How can we send you out on a

job, if you’re not in our union? This is an

employment office for our union members.

This is not for anybody. I mean you have to

be a member.”

“No problem, I will join the union. Just

tell me how.”

“It’s not like that. I’m sorry, the jobs we

have are for our members in good standing

only.”

“This is no problem for me. No problem


at all. I want to be a union member. Just

tell me what I have to do and I will join your

union. You see, we just arrived in New York

and I need a job—”

“You’ve already told me, Mrs. Blanco.

But I can’t send you out unless you’re in our

union. It’s just how it is.”

“But I will be very happy to be a member

of your union. What is it? Is there a fee?”

“Yes, well no, it’s not just a fee. To join

our union, you must first work in a union

shop for at least three months before you

can apply.”

“You’ll have to pardon me, Carmencita,

chica. It’s a beautiful name, Carmen. I

almost named my daughter Carmen, yes. I

have a cousin named Carmen too. She’s my

favorite cousin—”

“Mrs. Blanco…”

“Forgive me, Carmen, I will not bore you

with it. But listen, if you give me the ironing

job, I promise you I will come back in three

months and ask for you personally and I will

join your union. A promise is a promise.”

Carmen looks over Mrs. Blanco’s shoulders

at the line. “Look, I’d love to help you —”

“But Carmen, my girl, how can I work for

three months and then join the union if you

don’t give me the job first?”

“These are the rules. I’m really sorry.”

“You mean you can’t give me a job unless

I already have a job?”

“Not really, but in your case, I’m afraid

so.”

“Why would I come to ask for employment

if I am already employed? I’d be too busy at

work!”

“I’m sorry. Take this brochure with you.

Read it at your leisure. There’s nothing else I

can do. Next . . .”

Mrs. Blanco buttons up her coat. “Ay, Carmencita,

really. I’m afraid it’s going to take

me a long time to understand this country.”

She straps her purse on her shoulder. “To

have an employment office for people already

employed—” She finished her comment

with a silent headshake of disbelieve.

As Mrs. Blanco walks toward the glass

door, the heat of emotion wells in her eyes.

She halts next to the wastebasket. She looks

down at the balled-up paper the screaming

lady had shucked with such disdain. Quickly,

she lowers herself, picks it up, slips it into

her purse, and walks out.

Two blocks away, she stops to decipher

the words on the paper. It’s a printed form

filled out with ink but without a bearer’s

name on it.

“... Jane Holly Blouses ... West 61st Street

... Steam iron operator ... Salary: $1.25 an

hour ... attention: Mr. Weinstein.”

Her face lights up. She has no reservations

in applying for a job a disgruntled member

of Carmen’s union didn’t want. Unions, what

are they good for anyway? In Cuba, they

called them sindicatos, like the one the

communists first organized in her husband’s

factory and then abolished after they confiscated

it. But if unions is how the Americans

choose to call them, it is fine with her.

On Columbus Circle, Mrs. Blanco runs into

a crowd of people waving signs of ‘JFK for

President.’ She works her way around them

and hurries down 60th Street, crosses West

End Avenue, and turns on the corner. The

Hudson River is just down the road.

A cold wind blows on her face, clean, crisp

American air.

61st Street is solid with parked cars. She

finds the address. A sign above the doorway

says Jane Holly Blouses. She enters the

building. Out of the biggest elevator she’s

8

ever seen, she encounters a pretty girl at

the desk by the door. Mrs. Blanco switches

on her smile and hands her the wrinkle-creased

but now straightened flat employment

form.

The receptionist, chewing gum, picks up

a telephone, says one phrase and hangs up,

then says something to her and points at a

metallic door. The stained sign on it says

‘Employees Only.’

“San-cue,” Mrs. Blanco says.

She enters a high-ceiling workshop with

long tables. Mr. Weinstein, a thirty-something,

pleasant-looking man in a tie and

dress shirt, comes walking from behind a

stack of rolls of fabrics. The out-turned toes

of his shoes are shiny but dusty . . . a man

who doesn’t mind getting dirty at work. Mrs.

Blanco approves.

She holds out the paper.

Mr. Weinstein doesn’t look up at her smile.

He scowls at the paper. “Where’s your union

booklet?”

She answers with her brightest smile

something that sounds like this to Mr. Weinstein,

“Chess, I lie to goo-erk bery mosh.”

He releases a long sigh, steps back, and

shouts over the machine noises “Josefina,”

then waits, glancing at Mrs. Blanco, sizing

her up.

Spanish Josefina, short, with a round

cheerful face, races over, obviously pleased

to be the boss’s interpreter.

“Ask Mrs. Blanco if she has her union book

or her ID card.”

Josefina translates the question.

Mrs. Blanco takes a deep breath and is

about to explain why she doesn’t yet have a

union card when Mr. Weinstein with the outturned

toes cuts her short. “Never mind,”

he says with a dual expression of pity and


mirth on his pale face. “Tell Mrs. Blanco not

to worry. Tell her to come back tomorrow at

eight in the morning ready to start training.

Ironing.” He gestures as if waving an iron.

“And tell her she’ll be starting at a dollar an

hour, not at a dollar twenty-five as it says in

the form. OK?”

Then Mr. Weinstein adds without the need

for translation, louder as if his Spanish would

be better understood at a higher volume.

“Ma-nya-nah worky on time. OK?”

The message is translated anyway and

Mrs. Blanco, beaming, almost curtsies at her

new boss. “San cue, bery bery mosh.”

Walking back to the subway, Mrs. Blanco’s

eyes overflow with tears. She can’t believe

her luck. To have achieved what only twenty-four

hours before seemed like a monumental

impossibility feels nothing short of

a miracle, as though the Virgin herself was

watching over her.

Suddenly, she remembers how hungry she

is and picks up her gait. Back in the rooming

house, there are hot dogs and a can of

Campbell soup waiting for her. Tonight, she

announces to herself, she will take her son

to the pizzeria on Broadway and celebrate.

She slows her pace as she approaches a tumult

in Columbus Square.

The crowd is so thick she can’t see the

end of it. Dozens of JFK for President cardboard

signs are up all over the street and

over people’s heads. Motorcycle policemen

are cutting off the traffic. Red lights are

swirling. A sudden upsurge of voices and motor

noises breaks out and she is dragged by

the rushing human tide toward the edge of

the sidewalk. A slow-moving black convertible

as long as a yacht comes sailing slowly

through the mass of bodies. And there, over

the sea of outstretched fluttering hands,

the figure of John F. Kennedy appears in a

royal blue suit, his face under a crown of

impeccable chestnut hair, and a smile of

perfect white. Drawn by the delirious multitude,

Mrs. Blanco reaches out to him as if

attracted by an invisible magnet, and their

skins clasp together for a magical instant.

Then just as quickly, the candidate’s caravan

floats away.

Mrs. Blanco extricates herself from the

mob. She walks away toward Broadway

unaware of the importance she would later

give to the event. A half-block up 61st

Street, she begins to feel faint. She leans

on a wall to wait for it to pass. Beside her,

there’s the tangle of tubes of a scaffold on

the side of the building. On a tall windowsill

behind her, she sees a neatly folded white

paper bag. She takes it and peeks inside.

There are two jelly donuts wrapped in wax

paper, a capped coffee cup still hot, two

sugar packets, a plastic stirrer and paper

napkins. She looks around her at the busy

sidewalk of incurious New Yorkers passing by.

She sighs and puts it back, and walks away.

She halts abruptly, turns back, picks up

the paper bag and rushes up the street with

it.

On Broadway, she finds a bench in the

median promenade. She sits down, pours the

sugar into the steaming coffee, and stirs it.

Slowly, she takes out a donut. Up by her lips,

she breathes in its baked aroma and bites

the sweet soft dough filled with even sweeter

jelly as though performing a delicious but

sinful act. Pigeons start gathering nearer.

The November sun shines with a silver glow

through the overcast Manhattan sky. She

savors the donut unhurriedly until is gone except

for the white sugary dust on her fingers.

9

She looks into the paper bag, and summoning

the phenomenal strength only motherhood

could give her, Mrs. Blanco saves the

remaining donut for her son.

She gathers herself up and takes the subway

uptown.

In her room, she finds her son with his

heavy white-sox feet resting on the radiator.

He has the transistor radio up by his ear. She

drops the groceries on the small table by the

door and gives him a kiss on the cheek. He’s

busy mouthing along with the song playing,

mimicking the singer. He’s singing in English.

Mrs. Blanco doesn’t fool herself thinking

if she ever went out job-hunting again that

she’d be hired the same morning, shake the

hand of a presidential nominee, and find a

bag with fresh donuts and coffee. But it had

happened. And she had done it all on her

own. She knew her exiled roommates were

going to ask her how her day went, they

always ask about everything. She’d have

to be watchful of how she told it. Measure

her elation, soften the magical aspect of it.

Tragedies bring people together, but personal

good fortune, not so much. To be an exile,

to be forced to flee one’s homeland and seek

refuge in a foreign country, is no different

than living with an open wound, hurting part

of every moment.

Mrs. Blanco approaches her son. His head

is bobbing in time with the music. She lets

the sweet-smelling paper bag fall on his lap.

He drops everything when he sees the donut.

“How did this get here in one piece?” he

says, amazed.

“Son, you wouldn’t believe the day I had

even if I told you.”

“Did you find anything?”

Mrs. Blanco smiled.


10

Little City Market

Painting

Pat Wai

Livermore, California, USA


Inauguration Day

Free Verse Poetry

Deborah LeFalle

San Jose, California, USA

I Wonder

Poetry

Heidi Speth

St. Peters, Missouri, USA

The blue balloons

tethered by thin cotton cords

wrapped ‘round my fingers

bob in morning breeze

and squeal as translucent latex

skins

rub one against the other

ready, waiting to be freed

to rise high into the sky

Their weight of no consequence

but I have bricks on my shoulders

Despite placid appearance

I am exhausted and await freedom

too

freedom from 1,461 days

of orange-drenched evil

As I let go, I let go

and the tightropes in my body

miraculously begin to ease

Bricks crumble into a heap at my

feet

invisible balm melts over me

At last, the hallelujah moment

hoped for has arrived

Head reared back

I watch the imperfect spheres

ascend

catching sun’s glare

drifting this way and that

until they are mere pinheads

And as blue balloons

dance amid the clouds

swallows soar

and signs of civility

come into view once more.

I often wonder about my fish

Swimming in circles in my fifteen-year-old, twenty-gallon tank

Are they angry when I bring home new fish?

Do they notice when one of their fellow fish dies?

Do they talk to each other?

Are they lonely?

How do they make the best of their situation?

I feel like we can learn a lot from fish

Because after all, we are all just stuck here swimming in circles in the

same fishbowl

It is time we learn to rejoice when we meet new people

Time to grieve when friends and friends of friends pass on to another

life

Time to reach out and talk to those who have no one else to listen

Time to not let people be lonely, but love them for who they are

Time to live our best lives every day, whether we are in the world’s

largest aquarium or the small

fishbowl in a child’s bedroom

No matter how trapped, how secluded, how isolated you feel

There are always going to be other fish in your sea to bring you up

To share their joy, to encourage you, to love on you

Sometimes we just can’t see past our own reflection in the glass

To see our friends staring back at us

11


In Our House

Fiction

Susan Hettinger

Olympia, Washington, USA

Before there were laws regulating such

things, in Mormon polygamist families if the

husband died first, his wives who died after

him were buried in his same grave. They

spent eternity together, stacked on top of

his coffin, chronologically by death date, one

atop the last, condo-style. I bet the women

didn’t come up with this idea. I’m an amateur

anthropologist and this practice interests

me. I am not a Mormon, or even a wife.

However, I live with a man who still co-owns

two cemetery plots with his ex-wife. Does

this bother me? Maybe a little. I plan to be

cremated or possibly composted, if the funeral

home in our small backward town ever

figures out how to do this without attracting

the neighborhood dogs.

I mull this over early one afternoon in

late autumn during the Baptist funeral of my

friend Rhonda’s father. Rhonda is not just

my best friend; she is an excellent friend. I

could call her around midnight and say “Pick

me up in the parking lot behind the Tastee

Freeze in half an hour. Bring five thousand

dollars in cash,” and she wouldn’t ask questions.

She’d show up.

Her father’s service is not one of those

celebration-of-life events where microphones

circulate so that the bereaved can

take turns telling heartwarming stories about

the decedent. It’s about release from earthly

travails, reuniting with our Holy Father,

that sort of thing. I’m a Unitarian. Some

Unitarians don’t believe in God, or even in

potlucks. Rhonda believes in both. She prays

daily, thinking that prayer changes both herself

and the world. I tried prayer a few times

but couldn’t quite get the hang of it. Now

Rhonda sits in the front pew with her mother,

half-siblings, and several middle-aged

women. Three of them, I later learn, are

Rhonda’s father’s second, third and fourth

wives, Rhonda’s mother being the first.

In the church social hall afterward, we sip

weak tea and nibble dry cookies after the receiving

line of mourners has muttered “sorry

for your loss” and shuffled along.

“It’s kind of amazing that after all the

divorcing and remarrying and reproducing,

everyone in this room still gets along,” she

says, “even the wives.” This strikes me as

awkward for all concerned. I compare the

wives. Which is prettiest? Which youngest?

Do they like one another or is there animosity?

I consider this as I drive home. I am not

like Rhonda’s mother, with her easy acceptance

of those successor wives. My family is

not Rhonda’s big, warm, welcoming family. I

am the only one among my four stingy sisters

to acquire a slightly used man. So? Maybe

my concern is that while I’m the incumbent,

I’m not the first. Maybe it’s that everyone in

this gossipy town knows that Isoletta left Lou

seven years ago, not vice versa, so I am the

rebound partner. Maybe it’s that Lou and I

haven’t married. Do people say, outside my

hearing, “Poor Samantha. Lou hasn’t exactly

traded up, has he? Think they’ll ever marry?

She’s forty-three. Could be her last chance.”

I don’t compare favorably to Isoletta’s grace,

her mellifluous voice, her glowing olive skin.

12

Her parents are Italian. Her father sang with

the San Francisco Opera, though mostly in

spear-carrier roles. He was not the guy who

gets the aria opportunities. But Isoletta has

an artsy, European aura. Given to tantrums,

I hear, and not suited to household chores.

Whereas I enjoy domesticity, am of average

temperament and average looks, distinguished

only by an unusually sharp tongue.

It’s not that I dislike Isoletta. It’s just that

I want nothing to do with her.

She keeps cropping up at inconvenient

times and places.

Pulling into the garage, I recall our recent

chance encounter. I’d looked up from a photo

spread of Inca mummies in The National

Geographic, to see her, Isoletta, sitting

across the clinic reception area, waiting for

her appointment with my (mine, not hers)

primary care doc. I’d been slightly anxious

even before noticing her sitting there,

wearing her classy slacks, and her flattering

cashmere sweater—though all that happens

at my annual visits is that I get weighed and

checked for crotch-rot. I’d mumbled “hello”

and returned to the mummies curled up in

their tombs. I imagined Lou, mummified but

still wearing his glasses, lying on a stainless-steel

exam table, the corpse of his exwife—in

cashmere prone on top of him. She

might prefer a Tibetan sky burial on a mountaintop

where vultures clean up the mess.

So I am peeved that tonight, after

this funeral, I may have to host her, and at

how she came to be invited to our house.

That is, the house that Lou previously shared


with Isoletta, the house that is now mine.

Ours, I mean.

###

Earlier in the afternoon, rushing through

the kitchen on my way to the garage to drive

to the Baptist church for the funeral, I had

encountered Lou, a talented and enthusiastic

cook, prepping for the evening’s dinner

party. A Yucatan theme with a menu of ceviche

and papadzules in the aftermath of our

trip to Uxmal with Lou’s 19-year-old daughter

Kate during quarter break her freshman

year at the University of Montana. Okay,

make that Lou and Isoletta’s daughter. Kate

had taken the pictures and sat at the kitchen

table assembling them into a PowerPoint

show while talking on her cell phone. Lou

stood at the sink carving up colorful, exotic

fruits we bought through Amazon—pitaya,

carambola, mamey—as I entered. When she

saw me, she smiled, held the phone a short

distance from her mouth, and said “Is it all

right if my mom comes?”

“What?” I said.

“I invited Mom to the party, Sam. To

see the pictures. That’s okay, isn’t it?”

“Sure,” I said in a bright, highpitched

voice. “Fine. Great.” I looked at

Lou, waiting for him to intervene (“Now,

honey, it might be better if you took the

slides over to your mom’s house tomorrow…”)

but he said nothing. Surely, I

thought, surely? Lou kept peeling. He didn’t

even look up, though he heard the whole

conversation. Lou’s ex-wife heard it, too,

because Kate failed to muffle the phone

against her UM sweatshirt, as we do in the

civilized world. A lively extrovert doing what

extroverts do.

I searched unsuccessfully for confidence

and optimism. Isoletta is the sensitive,

artistic type. She would be uncomfortable

in my house with my friends. She won’t

come.

Then I left for the church, preoccupied,

and annoyed, the prospect of Isoletta plaguing

me.

###

During the service, my mind wanders from

the minister’s words, which are not specific

to Rhonda’s dad. The generic quality of

the liturgy bugs me. So I check out and fuss

a bit, internally, about the tasks I need to

complete before this evening’s party. I stew

over how Kate’s invitation to Isoletta has

disturbed my universe. I ought to be thinking

about the disturbance of Rhonda’s universe.

On my return home after the funeral, my

irritation level escalates. This, combined

with the social anxiety over hosting a gathering,

the desire to make everything perfect,

and the fear of screwing up, all contribute

to an unsettling afternoon.

###

The hour before the first guest arrives is

not a time of calm reflection and enjoyment

of careful preparations. Not at our house,

anyway. At my mother’s house, she steps

from her bedroom, groomed and relaxed

thirty minutes before her parties start. She

walks into her spotless, fragrant kitchen and

asks my father for a martini. This is her tradition:

she sits, crosses her long legs, lights

a Virginia Slim and begins to enjoy herself.

Then somehow, over the course of the next

few hours, coats are hung, drinks poured,

13

appetizers passed, elaborate meals served

and cleared, all with no apparent effort. It’s

as though she has invisible servants.

At our parties, it’s as though I am the

servant. Up to the moment the first guest

appears, I’m still hiding piles of junk mail,

realizing that I forgot to buy cream for

the coffee, and questioning the underlying

premise of the gathering. (Must we celebrate

Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas

every year? When’s the last time these

people had us over? Would inviting them to

a restaurant instead be viewed as de facto

feminine inadequacy?)

I consider—selfish, I know—spending a few

of these precious pre-party minutes calling

Rhonda for reassurance. I shouldn’t bother

her now, not on the evening after burying

her father. She always takes my side. She

would remind me of home-field advantage,

my territory. True, but not the point. The

point is that if Isoletta shows up, I will have

to watch her move her prominent cheekbones

and hipbones through my living room

holding one of my wineglasses, hugging my

friends. Lou’s friends. Her friends, too, some

of them, I admit. But mine tonight, by virtue

of jurisdiction. This is no longer her house. I

did not invite her.

But it’s too late for attitude adjustment.

I’m already invested in pissiness and

it’s hard to give up. Soon the doorbell will

ring. I must guess who’s coming to dinner.

I walk outside to the front yard where

Kate and I have placed luminarias along the

walkway. Kate’s college-branded hoodie

covers her auburn hair. Her tall figure bends

easily as she lights the candles. I take some

matches and join her in the lighting ceremony.

We’d stayed up late the night before


talking while we decorated these paper lanterns.

She’d asked: “Do you remember those

creepy stories you used to tell me when I

couldn’t get to sleep?”

“Those weren’t creepy! And they

worked,” I’d said.

“The seven graves of Sacajawea? Definitely

creepy.”

“You were way too old for bedtime stories.

I was just keeping you company.” I’d

had no idea what to do for a ten-year old

who missed her mother and blamed her

father. I’d never wanted children of my own,

afraid of the psychological damage I would

undoubtedly inflict on defenseless small beings.

I didn’t even own a cat.

“Do you think she was lonely too? I mean

after she left? Or maybe now?” Kate says.

“Do you feel sorry for her?”

“Absolutely not,” I say. “She made her

choice.”

“Huh,” Kate says, pausing. And then:

“Remember the one where Sacajawea never

met Meriwether Lewis and instead of becoming

a guide, she got a job driving a Zamboni?”

“Uh, no.”

“And when she died, they mixed her ashes

with water and froze it to make the ice-skating

rink?”

“Now you’re making stuff up.”

She continued along the “remember

when …” vein long into the night as we cut

shapes from paper bags, shapes we’d seen

at the Mayan pyramids. Serpents, mostly.

At Chichen Itza on the fall equinox, we had

watched the late afternoon sun creep down

the northern staircase, creating the illusion

of an immense approaching snake. Now, as

we place the candles, their light creates an

eerie effect. It appeals to me.

After all are lit and Lou and I are in

our room changing clothes, I say, because

I can’t help it, “So, are you okay with having

Isoletta here tonight?” My jealousy is

unattractive. Isoletta is dancer-elegant and

cultured, in both appearance and behavior.

But I stick around. I am here. Here, wishing

I were less ordinary and had time to shower

again.

He turns to me, his face expressionless

and says, “What do you mean?”

“I was just surprised that Kate decided

to invite her.” I should suck it up and

tough it out. I regret speaking even as the

words leave my accursed mouth.

A flicker of irritation crosses Lou’s

handsome face. He says, “Isoletta is Kate’s

mother. Kate wants to impress her with the

pictures from the trip. I think she’s still

trying to earn her way back into Isoletta’s

affection. This is not about you, Sam.”

Oh.

He looks at me again.

“Isoletta is Kate’s mother,” he repeats.

###

She comes.

Lou and Kate are involved with other

guests, so I must let her in. She stands in the

center of a circle of luminarias on our porch,

looking like she’s on stage surrounded by

footlights. She has brought her shiny hair. I

open the door. We exchange manufactured

smiles. “Lovely to see you,” I lie. “Glad you

could make it.” She precedes me through

the entryway into what used to be her

house, before she fled, abandoning husband

and child. I take her coat so that I can put

it with the others on our bed (our bed!). I

offer wine and usher her in. This is my house

14

now. These are my friends. Mine, mine,

mine. She looks around, taking stock. Little

has changed since she absconded. We didn’t

paint or change the furniture. She has a good

eye, better visual sense than I have. Her degree

is in art history. I’m an accountant. I’m

drawn to the quantifiable. I’ve never cared

much about interior decorating, but this

evening I’m beginning to wonder if I could

somehow put my mark on the place. No, too

much like dogs and hydrants. But as I look at

Isoletta assessing our home, our lives, I feel

that one of us does not belong here.

It’s not like when we go to Lou’s company

Christmas party and I must see and speak

to women he dated before me. They are

negligible people and the party is always

at a hotel. Everything is impersonal. This is

different. She was his wife. This is our home.

In objective terms, the party is

successful. Everyone we invited comes. The

food is tasty. The photos project beautifully,

and there aren’t too many of them, so it

doesn’t get boring. My favorite image is the

three of us kneeling at an archaeological site

where artifacts are being exhumed; we’re

sweaty and dusty and entranced. Kate and

Lou make an entertaining father-daughter

act, both gifted storytellers. They tease one

another and me. Everyone laughs. Lou is

undeniably charming; I am lucky to be with

him. The house glows golden and inviting,

with soft light from the fireplace reflecting

on familiar faces. I think how eternal this

scene is, like cave people huddled around

a fire pit millennia ago, sharing a haunch of

roasted saber-toothed tiger and tales of the

hunt. I wonder if cave people were monogamous.

Seems unlikely.

Although the party appears to be going

fine, I continue to feel unsettled, like a


month-to-month tenant. A constant awareness

of Isoletta’s presence weighs me down.

I know her exact location at every moment.

She carries her Rioja out the back door and

stands on the deck, sipping and surveying

our hibernating weed garden. She returns in

under five minutes. She goes into the guest

bathroom, causing me to worry whether it’s

clean enough. I recall the moment when, as

I moved my stuff into the upstairs bathroom

drawers, I came across her forgotten jar of

facial “serum” made from mink oil, with a

$175 price tag still stuck to the bottom. It

was tempting, but I threw it out.

I try to ignore her but can’t.

At one point, I spy her standing next to

Lou. They make a handsome couple, both

tall and effortlessly stylish. I’m shorter than

them, closer to the ground, more detail-oriented.

They stand not face-to-face but sideby-side.

He hands her something. What is it?

It’s the snow-globe, a custom-made ball of

crystal containing an image of a child-sized

snowperson and an adult-sized snowperson,

representing Kate and Lou. Lou had it made

for Kate during our trip to Oslo to see the

fossilized Viking ships. Kate gave it to me

last Mothers’ Day, a gesture I understood to

mean that she sees the two snowpeople as

herself and me. This chokes me up whenever

I think of it. Now Isoletta receives it

with both hands, gazes down, then gently

shakes it to make the snow fall. I watch from

the other side of the room, hoping no one

watches me watching her. She tilts her face

up. Lou inclines his head toward hers. They

talk. She smiles. Is he giving it to her? No.

He puts his hand out to receive the globe

back from her. She pauses, then returns it.

Their hands touch unnecessarily.

As I pass, I overhear Isoletta say “… it’s

the typical freshman fifteen…” and feel momentary

outrage on Kate’s behalf. Cafeteria

food. She’s a bit rounder. So what?

I walk around the room, re-filling

glasses and collecting plates, trying to enjoy

the good fortune that has brought me this

life, these people. Kate, central to this

tableau, cut her hair while away at college

so that it looks a lot like mine, short and

low-maintenance, which is not exactly a

wise choice. For a moment, I feel a surge

of fierce love for this child who spent her

middle and high school years in our house,

the house I share with Lou. But the next

moment, passing plates of marquesitas for

dessert, which the slender Isoletta refuses,

I feel apart from the gathering, someone

whose job it is to carry away dirty dishes,

and make sure everyone else is warm and

fed and content.

Do I resent her? Not exactly, I realize,

as I move through the living room, discharging

my hostess duties. It’s Lou who disappoints

me. Is he treating me like a waitress,

or have I willingly assumed this role? I want

him to stand next to me, slip an arm around

my waist, look proud of me— I know I’m not

trophy material. Would such a small gesture

assuage my ugly jealousy? Maybe I should

prompt him.

I walk over to where he sits on the sofa

engaged in animated conversation with Isoletta

and the couple from next door, people

who have presumably seen it all, from their

close vantage point. “Dear,” I say, “how

about giving me a hand with the coffee?”

“Sure, Sam, I’ll be right there,” he

says, but he doesn’t follow me as I retreat to

the kitchen.

I am wearing my forest green sweater.

It’s my best color. I try to recall exactly

15

how long it’s been since we had sex. More

than a week. Two weeks? I return to the living

room carrying a tray of cups and a carafe

of coffee. I catch Lou’s eye and try to communicate

with him nonverbally, but there’s

no universal gesture for “hey you, walk away

from that other woman and come over here

and help me.” I approach him again. He’s

still seated, still yucking it up with Isoletta

and the next-door neighbors.

“Could you please take this around for

me, Lou?” I ask, interrupting him.

“Yeah, yeah,” he says, his hands in mid-air

as he gestures to illustrate some point in the

story he’s telling. “Just a minute.” He turns

back to his audience. “And then she goes,

‘Well Dad, what’s the point of traveling the

world if you’re afraid of a little raw conch

salad?’” They all laugh. I stand waiting. No

one looks at me. I set the tray on the coffee

table and withdraw again, irritation morphing

to actual anger. I think maybe it shows.

I’m okay with that.

In the kitchen, I stand by the sink, my

back to the door that leads to the dining

room.

“What’s with you?” Lou says, as he enters

and comes to stand next to me at the sink.

“What do you think?”

“I have no earthly idea,” he says.

“Put yourself in my place,” I say. “How

would you feel if I invited an old lover here

to our home and you had to wait on him

while we flirted on the sofa?”

“Seriously? You’re jealous? That’s ridiculous,

Sam.” He gives his head a small shake.

“You’re over-reacting. We’re not flirting. Get

over it.”

“I can’t,” I say.

“I can’t believe you’re doing this. I’m going

back to our guests.” He swivels, his back


to me, knuckles on hip.

“Fine,” I snap. “Have a swell time.”

And as he turns to go, the door to the

dining room swings open. In comes Isoletta,

carrying the coffee tray, having apparently

distributed the cups to our guests. She immediately

sees that something’s up, something

she wants no part of, something she

may recognize.

“Sorry,” she says, sets the tray on the

counter, and backs out.

“Nice,” Lou says to me, in mock civility,

and follows her.

I stand over the sink, feeling slapped,

looking out the window at the last surviving

luminaria. I see not the yard but my own reflection

in the glass against the black background

of night sky beyond. I look small, but

the resolution of my mirrored image is poor

so I appear less frizzy, flaky and fat than I

believe myself to be. I am alone. I scrape

and stack plates to wash later. I wish again

that Rhonda were here, someone on my

side, though I know this business of taking

sides is never a good idea.

The kitchen feels chilly. Voices and music

float in from the next room. Festive, but

antiseptic, like a sitcom laugh track.

I view the clutter around me—crumpled

napkins, lipstick-stained goblets, halfgnawed

morsels on skewers—wondering what

a successor civilization might make of my

midden.

Then motion attracts my eye. Someone

on the driveway, walking away from the

house. Isoletta, her slim silhouette in the

designer coat which she must have fetched

from our bedroom. The room where I wanted

her never to be. At least she’s leaving. I

exhale in relief and contemplate abandoning

the dishes to sit near the fire with the others.

But then she stops. She hesitates. I hope

she won’t turn around and see me watching

her. She remains motionless for what feels

like a long time but is probably only about

thirty seconds. She slowly rotates in a full

circle as if to survey the place she is leaving.

In the darkness, I can’t see her face, but

her form appears less regal than it did earlier

in the evening. What is she thinking? What

is she doing?

She squats down and sits on the curb, feet

in the gutter. She draws her knees up close

to her chest and wraps her arms around

them, in a sort of self-hug.

The door from the dining room bangs

open and Kate storms in. She slams the snow

globe down on the kitchen table hard enough

to cause the pile of dessert plates to jump. I

shift my focus: What is she thinking? What is

she doing?

“What?” I ask.

“She wasn’t even here.”

Huh?

“I didn’t mean to piss her off. Though

maybe Dad did. But she didn’t have to stomp

away like that. Make a scene and everything.”

“Slow down,” I say, searching her face for

clues. It’s red and damp.

She swallows, looks down, then back at

me. She backs up a couple steps and leans

against the counter, nudging the smudged

glassware out of the way with her rump.

“We were talking about the trip and that day

we stumbled onto a quinceanera, remember?”

“Of course.” A huge party across the

street from the public park where we picnicked.

Girls in fancy dresses, one in white

like a bride. Loud music. A gruesome pig

roasting on a spit. Kate had taken photos.

16

She’d shown one of them this evening.

“Mom said it was to celebrate menarche,

and I said no, it’s just a fifteenth birthday

party. And then she went on and on about

the importance of coming-of-age rituals in

all cultures when a girl gets her first period.

And I said, not all cultures. Not ours.

At least not mine. She sorta gave me the

stink eye. And then Dad butted in and said,

‘You weren’t even here, Isoletta. Sam was

here.’”

Thank you, Lou.

“He said, ‘Showing up matters.’ Then she

just got her coat and left. Without saying

goodbye to anyone.”

I remember that day. Red Tent rather

than Bat Mitzvah; no gifts. How uneasy Kate

had been. How we put a little Vaseline on

the end of the plastic tampon applicator to

make it slide in easier. And how relieved I

felt when she laughed as she sat on the toilet

while I stood just outside the bathroom

door and described how to position a mirror

to help her locate what I crudely referred to

as “the right hole.” I should have called it

“an orifice.”

“Do you want to go after her?” I ask.

“What for? She walked away from us, not

the other way around.”

Us. I hear this word with such satisfaction

that I immediately chastise myself for my

pettiness, my possessiveness, my invention

of a nasty little drama.

It occurs to me that if Lou were to sell the

two cemetery plots he and Isoletta own together,

or better yet give them both to her,

that would help me a great deal.

I feel sure he would do it if I asked.

Also, I want different carpeting.

And better lingerie.

My eyes sweep across the post-party detri-


tus. Kate looks at me. I look at her. Her hair

isn’t that bad after all. Neither is mine.

I give a loud but involuntary sigh.

“What?” Kate says.

“I no longer feel an obligation to do the

dishes. They’ll still be here tomorrow. You

with me?” I slip arm around her waist and

propel both of us back toward the party.

The Angel and

the Dirty Boy

Poetry

Ranjith Sivaraman

Kochi, Kerala, India

The kid loved playing in the mud

A mud much darker than his skin.

He was comfortable being dirty and ugly

Because all his mates were so.

Deep inside him always dreamed in vain

of a cute little angel who will descent from

the sky

with an alluring smile and tempting soul

The angel took his hand and slowly made

him clean

They walked into the woods, climbed the

hills

ran through the plains and swam in the rivers

they admired the orchids, pissed off cuckoos

drenched in sunlight and burned in rain

They tasted fragrances drank tears

danced in storm, fought for memories

hugged breathlessly and froze in moments

And kid asked the angel, "Where are your

wings?"

The angel told him "I forget to mention;

I was never an Angel, but I didn’t want to

hurt you with the truth!"

Melancholy Is

Poetry

Nezrin Hasanly

Concord, California, USA

To open the window for the first time in the

day

and you find yourself staring at a sunset

To stay up long enough at night

and hear a rainstorm from start to finish

Sometimes we don't need a clock

to tell us how much time we've missed

Nature is that mentor in our lives

with the stern but kind reminders we need

17


18

Hannah

Painting

Yim Ivy Wu

Danville, California, USA


19

Zephyr

Ink Pen Drawing

Eunhee Soh

Pleasanton, California, USA


A Tale of Three Avocados

Fiction

Kilmeny MacMichael

Oliver, British Columbia, Canada

“Once upon a time, there lived three

bears, a big bear, a little bear...”

“I already know that story.”

“Hmm. Once upon a time, there was a girl

with golden hair, who lived in a tower and…”

“I know that one too. I don’t want a once

upon a time story; I want a real story.”

“Once a time... once a time ago, but not

too long ago, there was a boy...”

“Is this a real boy?”

“...This was a real boy. This boy was older

than you, but not too old. There were still

many things he didn’t know. One day…”

“Where did he live?”

“He lived... in a big city, in a small house,

because his family was small and poor.”

“Were they paupers?”

“Not quite. His... father worked and his

mother was careful with their money. And

this boy was lucky to have found a job working

at a store, after school.”

“What kind of store?”

“I’m going to tell you. Why are your eyes

open? Close your eyes.

“The boy was lucky to have a job working

at a grocery store. He wore an apron with a

big pocket and swept the floors. He helped

to put the groceries out on the shelves.

Sometimes he would carry groceries out to

customer’s cars, and every so often, a customer

would give him an extra coin, a tip.

“He knew he was lucky to have this work.

He knew he was lucky even though carrying

the groceries sometimes made his arms hurt.

Even though working meant he couldn’t play

but had to hurry from school to the store as

soon as school ended for the day. He didn’t

have many friends to play with anyway. Many

of his classmates taunted him and laughed at

him.”

“Why?”

“Maybe because he was shy, and maybe

because when he did talk, he talked with a

different accent than they did.”

“Why?”

“Because his family came to the big city

from a place far away, trying to find good

work for the father. But his father hadn’t

found that good work yet.”

“Why not?”

“There were too many other people

looking for work and not enough good work.

It was a hard time for many, although there

were some still doing well.”

“They were mean, those other children.”

“Perhaps some of the boys who laughed

and teased him were even hungrier than he

was. Perhaps they were jealous of him, perhaps

their fathers couldn’t find any work at

all and neither could they. Perhaps.

“At the store, there were different coloured

fruits, golden apples, and green

bananas, lemons, and yellow squash. There

were brown nuts and red meats and soups

in brightly labelled cans. Jars of colourful

striped candies, pink-fleshed grapefruits,

and boxes tied with bows, full of chocolate…”

“And oranges?”

“There were oranges. Looking at all this

food while he worked, the boy’s stomach

would grumble and tell him it was empty,

20

and he was hungry.”

“I’m a little hungry.”

“After that big supper you ate? You are

not. Are you?”

“No.”

“Good. But our story boy was. Our story

boy would have to wait after his stomach

grumbled, wait hours until his work for the

day was done. He had to wait until he could

go back to his little home, and there his

mother would have a little supper ready for

him. The boy would eat the little supper and

brush his teeth and go to bed. Did you brush

your teeth tonight?”

“Yes.”

“Did you wash your face?”

“Yes.”

“Are you tired?”

“No.”

“Hmm. The boy in our story was sometimes

so tired after supper, he would fall

asleep before his mother had finished washing

the supper dishes. And he went to sleep

sad about how little and grey his suppers

were.”

“What do you mean, grey?”

“I’ll tell you. There was rent on the little

house to pay, and they had to pay the water

and electric company, and there was a

heating bill to pay because it was winter.

The boy needed new shoes. The family

couldn’t afford to buy colourful, strange,

exotic, different food. They couldn’t afford

to buy the colourful food at the store. What

if they tried something new and they didn’t

like it at all? They couldn’t risk buying food


they couldn’t eat. They could only afford

the same, bland, grey food, over and over

again. The food they knew. White bread and

margarine. Spaghetti. Lucky times, meatloaf,

although it was really mostly bread too.

Potatoes, all the time. The food they knew,

too well.

The boy’s mother was always saying there

were great things ahead, and better times,

as long as they kept honest and hardworking

and were patient.

The boy dreamed of striped candies, big

jelly doughnuts, crispy fried chicken, cornbread

with rich cream, orange squash…”

“Oranges?”

“…oranges. Plums. The boy imagined all

this wonderful food, with all its wonderful

colours, and the food that he did have no

longer looked or tasted any good at all.

Still, he stuck to being mostly good and

patient until one day. It was a day where

nothing seemed to go right.

He woke up late; he was late for school. It

was winter. The teacher was cross, and the

boy forgot his spelling, and he was called

stupid in front of everyone. It was Thursday,

which the boy knew meant potato soup for

supper again... and of all the grey food there

was, potato soup was just about the greyest.

When the winter wind started spattering rain

against the school window, the boy wasn’t

surprised. It was that kind of day.

On the way to work his old shoes let in the

road-greasy water, and soon his socks and

feet were wet.

At work everything was hurry hurry. His

shoes squeaked. His stomach grumbled so

loud one customer turned to look at him.

He blushed.

The boy found himself standing in front

of a display of green fruit called avocado.

His mother had once called them alligator-pears.

They didn’t look very much like

alligators, but they did look a bit like pears.

The boy had never tasted an avocado.

Have you?

The boy often wondered about avocados,

about why they were one of the most expensive

fruits. If people bought them even

though they cost so much, they must be

good. What was he missing out on, having

never tasted one?

There he was, with wet feet and an empty

belly, while other people swanned around

in furs and fat. He was tired of waiting for

better times. He was tired of missing out on

having, including missing out on these avocados,

whatever they were like.

He wanted to try one, and he wanted to

try one now.

No one was watching him, so he picked up

not just one, but two avocados.

He put them in his apron pocket.

He walked to the storage room at the back

of the store. He closed the door behind him.

He was alone.

He took out one avocado and bit right into

it, his teeth striking fast past the thin leathery

skin, into the flesh underneath.

“He’s wrong.”

“Yes. He spat the mouthful back out into

his hand. It had tasted awfully strange. Was

it meant to be peeled first? Fearfully looking

back at the door, he moved behind some

crates and tried to peel the fruit with his fingers.

It didn’t work very well, but he managed

to dig out a piece of the green flesh.

He put it in his mouth. It was hard to chew.

A thump, a voice. Someone was coming.

The boy quickly put his ill-gotten fruit back

into his pocket. He grabbed at the closest

box to him and pretended he was there to

21

get more… of…whatever was in the box. He

swallowed and smiled as the boss came in

and hoped he didn’t look too guilty.

There were rutabaga in the box.

The boy went back to work, the stolen

avocado bite sitting like a lump in his belly.

He was sure everyone could see his pockets

bulging with stolen avocado, but no one said

anything. When quitting time came, he took

those avocados with him out of the store.

On the way home, he put the avocado he

had bitten in to into a trash can. It was dirty

from the lint and dust in his pocket getting

into the gouge he’d made.

It was a double-wrong he’d done now —

first stealing and then wasting food.

But he still had the second avocado. Perhaps

avocados were like bananas, arriving

at the store before they were ripe. The boy

didn’t know what a ripe avocado looked like,

but he thought now probably it should be

softer than the one he’d tried.

The boy didn’t talk much at supper, and

neither did his parents.

Before going to sleep, the boy put his second

stolen avocado under his bed. He would

keep it secret under there until it seemed

ready. He didn’t know how long it would

take.

The next morning the avocado was the

same as the night before, so the boy dressed

and went to school and work. He worked extra

hard that day, so hard the boss told him

he was “a good, hard-working young man.”

The boy flushed and stuttered and felt just

awful about what he’d done.

But he’d done it; what could he do about

it now? Should he have confessed?

The boy wasn’t brave, and he was afraid if

he admitted his crime, he would lose his job,

and then how would he get new shoes?


When he got home, he helped his mother

with the dishes, and he studied a little

before he went to bed. He didn’t look at the

avocado under his bed that night.

He didn’t want to see it.

The next morning was Saturday. It rained.

He went to work. He pretended there was no

avocado under his bed. On Sunday it rained,

and he went to see a movie.

What did he go to see? Something fun and

silly, set in a world where skies were always

blue.

Monday was rainy. Tuesday, the boy failed

a spelling test. Wednesday, while raining,

the boy had to clear garbage from the rain

pipe in front of the store using the wrong

end of a broom. Thursday came again, and

he had the sniffles. Friday — Friday — eight

days after first stealing it, the boy remembered

the avocado under his bed.

He did feel stupid he had forgotten.

The avocado was soft now. The skin was

dull, and it had a few dark spots on it. When

he poked it, the place he poked went and

stayed dented.

He thought it must be ripe. And he got a

little knife, and he cut it open.

Inside, this avocado had sort of… dark

swirls through the green flesh, almost black

they were. It had a great big nut, or seed, in

the middle that came out easily.

The boy wondered if he should eat this

fruit, with its ugly looking dark swirls. It

didn’t seem right, somehow, but he didn’t

know. Maybe this was the way it was supposed

to look.

He ate some. It wasn’t very pleasant. In

fact, it was pretty terrible. This second avocado

tasted even worse than the first.

The boy went and rinsed his mouth out

with water and threw the mushy avocado

out the window.

The next day was Saturday again, but sunny.

While he was working, he couldn’t help

but notice there were still an awful lot of

people buying avocados.

Why? What was the secret? What did you

have to do to enjoy the things? Should he

risk stealing another to try avocados a third

time? Would the third try be the lucky try?

He kept working. Eventually, he was asked

to help carry a customer’s groceries to their

car, and he could see several avocados in

their shopping bag. His curiosity overcame

his shyness. He asked the customer lady

about them.

The lady seemed a little surprised, but

she smiled and said, “When an avocado

yields just a little to the touch, that’s when

they’re best for plain eating.”

She took one avocado out of the bag and

handed it to him. She said, “You try this one,

on me.”

The boy thanked her.

This avocado he didn’t have to hide. The

green skin of this perfectly ripe fruit had no

dark spots, just little yellow freckles. When

he gently poked it, it didn’t dent like the

last one, but it did give just a little like the

lady said it should.

He went and sat down on the curb in front

of the store, and he cut this avocado open.

The inside was pale creamy yellow-green.

There was not one dark streak in it. The nut

was smooth and shiny brown and came out

cleanly. It was pretty to look at. Maybe this

was why avocados were so popular? Because

when they were ready to eat, they were nice

to look at?

He almost didn’t want to eat it because it

looked so nice. But he also wanted to know

what they were supposed to taste like!

22

He ate half the avocado. The insides

were so smooth and creamy, he could lick

them from the skin. It tasted a bit like...

warm creamy ice cream would, if it didn’t

melt and it was cold and without the sweet

taste. It had a slightly nutty taste, too, and

it wasn’t... well, it wasn’t bad. The boy

guessed this avocado was just the way that

an avocado was meant to be — but...

It left a coating on his teeth and tongue

he didn’t like.

There was too much of it — even though

he only ate half —

And although it made him feel full, it really

hadn’t felt or tasted like eating anything

particular. While it was a bit like ice cream,

or nutty banana, it actually didn’t have

much taste at all.

It didn’t taste bad, but it didn’t taste very

good, either.

This colourful, perfect avocado sort of

tasted... pale. A little grey.

The boy wrapped the remaining avocado

half carefully in his clean handkerchief to

take home, so his mother could try it.

He still couldn’t understand why people

were willing to pay so much for avocados.

But he wouldn’t bother to steal any again.

He would still prefer an honest, every day

orange, or to be perfectly honest, a doughnut.


The Welcome Visitor

Poetry

Vialsy Cabrales Esparza

Lathrop, California, USA

I like to re-watch episodes of my

favorite shows when I feel sick.

It’s comforting to find myself

in fantastical, familiar worlds

with characters I’m as fond of

as family or friends.

Too often, I lose myself to fiction.

I enjoy the embrace of long weekends,

feeling secure and snug under a soft blanket

Knowing without a falter in the conviction

that I am welcome.

A repeat visitor and attentive re-listener

I can recite my favorites by heart

Like a best friend, I know what will be said

Long before the sentence even starts

I could, of course, explore anew instead

But these characters that hold me captivated,

They awaken in me a wonder and awe

to which the only response must be

inspired creation, pure and unweighted

unencumbered, understated

I acknowledge; therefore, I must create.

I acknowledge; therefore, I must create.

I acknowledge the beauty around me,

within me, the acknowledgements before

from those I’ll likely never meet

that there are stories meant to be incomplete,

characters destined to fail,

unable to reach what they need;

creators that know, the only comfort

I need (when I feel frail)

is that I will, indeed, prevail.

There was a lump

Poetry

katie pfeifer

Baltimore, Maryland, USA

There was a lump

The size of a penny

This tar lump

Staining her breasts in mammograms

Lurking for ways to cling to the nipple.

Everyone tells me they’re sorry

But how can I be sorry

When I want to get on my knees and thank whatever God that will listen

It was caught in time?

That the stain image of chemo burned tits won’t be my mother

Or the ghostly bald women

Who linger in society

Wearing the scarves where their hair was

Like a white sheet over a dead body.

The doctors comfort her

By saying she was lucky

But I could still see the fear possessing her through her eyes

Wanting to be awoken

So she didn’t have to do this.

But I inherited the fighter in me from her

The woman who won’t let me forget

She was in labor with me forty-three hours

Because I wanted to snuggle in her uterus more than climb down her

canal.

And on January 22, 2019

She made that cancer her bitch

And I get to hug her now

And not have to remember each strand of gray hair

Or the fighting she still has in her.

23


Alone

Photography

Dylan Scillia

Marlboro, New Jersey, USA

24


Crown XIX

Poetry

Theresa Tmekei Peterson

Winchester, California, USA

Recall, wretched beings, the warnings given

While I was still young and weak

A few bodies under yellow stars and red was

all the havoc I wreaked

Even on my name day when I was discovered

Shelter you still did not seek

Traveling through skies like migratory birds

You all helped me reach my peak

Embrace is not needed with air as my ride

And death, my compatriot

In truth, my job is hard when you hide inside

I encourage all to riot

Your leaders close borders and issue more

masks

As hospitals overflow

But everything is now too little too late

Your vaccines still come too slow

Millions have fallen to my gentle caress

You cannot fathom my art

You all should learn to fear my faceless

presence

Or be wheeled off in a cart

I have delivered many to my good friend,

Death

We relish your pain and cries

But those governments who had time to

prepare

Am I at fault for who died?

All this happened, more or less.

It was the best of times.

It was the worst of times.

Bookshelf Prophesy

Poetry

Carl "Papa" Palmer

University Place, Washington, USA

(opening sentences)

Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

It was a bright cold day in April

1984, George Orwell

and the clocks were striking thirteen.

We started dying before the snow,

Tracks, R. Davidson

and like the snow, we continued to fall.

(closing sentences)

We are lost in darkness and distance. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

and not enough to see by.

Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood

After tomorrow, another day

Are there any questions?

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

So that in the end, there was no end. The Tree of Man, Patrick White

We shall never again be as we were. Wings of the Dove, Henry James

25


Just Breathe 2020

Poetry

Sameeha Soora

Pleasanton, California, USA

His Limbo Soliloquy

Poetry

Carl "Papa" Palmer

University Place, Washington, USA

The pain first started with an

ache.

I watched as hope slowly died.

Everyone’s sorrow was bringing

them down.

I heard people say, “Just breathe.”

How can I breathe when instead I

fall?

This really made me think.

But how could I even think

That somehow this ache

Would still let me breathe?

Soon came the most painful fall.

George Floyd and Breonna Taylor

died.

Why must society bring us down?

The loss of social contact keeps

bringing us down.

If we all stay smiling and think

That laughter and love hasn’t

died,

This horrible, painful ache

Might finally let us breathe.

Then soon came Fall.

It felt nice to know that Mother

Nature hasn’t died.

The colorful leaves kept me from

feeling down.

But the raging fires made many

people fall.

Worrying and worrying wasn’t

helping society think

About how we can stop the fires

and this ache.

The smoke was caught in the air;

how do we breathe?

With barely any air left to breathe,

2020 decided we must deal with

another fall.

The elections were loud and kept

making us ache.

“Vote!” was what people said, to

keep us from being down.

There were times when all I could

do was think

About all the laughter and love

that had so obviously died.

But after so many people died,

Finally, there was some hope, that

allowed us to breathe.

It was making a lot of people

think.

The vaccines were bringing smiles,

as so many people fall.

Finally, we were looking up, not

down.

Is it really gone? This horrible

ache?

So many died, and people continue

to fall.

But as they say, “Breathe,” and

don’t look down.

I think, as the year ends, we are

now beyond this ache.

Actually, I like lockdown. I already was before COVID anyway,

but now I’ve got my privacy. No family feeling forced to visit

or hold vigil in my netherworld, he confides through the phone.

Both of us former Army soldiers placing us on common ground

made introductions easier with the usual “where were we when”

comparisons of duty assignments all military members embrace.

Though sharing multiple telephone calls these past seven months

since my assignment to be his companion as a hospice volunteer,

I have yet to meet him face-to-face due to pandemic restrictions.

Using his bedside number at the nursing home, I can call anytime,

not worry about visiting hours, ask if he’s busy, got time to talk.

His answer’s most always the same, Just busy here being alone,

too close to death to complain. Clicking me to speaker he begins

what he calls “me-memories from a time when when was when.”

Mostly musing of being anywhere but there, lost in an actual place,

blurring “what was with what is” behind and in front of his shadow,

recalling dreams as a younger man, of a future in past perfect tense.

And times talking of present times from his no man’s land outpost,

All days end as they begin in purgatory, today recopying yesterday,

cared for by hosts of faceless masked angels not letting me die alone.

Forgive me only thinking of myself, I just need you to hear I’m here.

Inside I’m your age, the two of us sharing a brew at the NCO club,

years ago and oceans away, comrades-in-arms talking of our day.

To me he’s the sergeant with permanent change of station orders

in transition for his final mission ending his time on active service

in hopes his God is religious and his terminal assignment is good.

26


COVID 19 Dreaming: Prince Edward Island

Photography

Kathleen URBAN

Alamo, California, USA

27


Dogwood Blossoms

Fabric

Kathleen URBAN

Alamo, California, USA

28


Evan spots her English professor, William,

parking his Jeep in the lot of Santa Barbara

City College. He throws a leather bag over

his deerskin jacket and strolls toward his

classroom. With his blond dreadlocks and

scuffed cowboy boots, Evan thinks he could

be one of the students. He waves to a passing

redhead and gazes out over the harbor.

Evan, a nineteen-year-old sophomore,

heads to the classroom with her blue dress

accenting her curves, hoping someone will

notice. She thinks how lucky she is to attend

a seaside college on a bluff overlooking the

Pacific and to be studying with William. She

knows without the money from her father’s

life insurance policy, she wouldn’t be going

to college anywhere.

William’s World Literature course is by

far her favorite class this fall; the intricate

plots of conflicted émigré lovers seem worlds

removed from the small town of Cambria

where she grew up. Evan loves reading these

stories and has decided to be an English lit

major, maybe even a writer. She’s thinking

of making that declaration to William. Evan’s

mother wanted to be a writer when she was

in college, then gave up that dream when

she married one—Evan’s father.

William has told the class he’s thirty-five

years old. Evan considers the average student

is barely out of high school, except

Linnea, the leggy Swedish exchange student

who seems to be his girlfriend.

The classroom door opens, and Linnea

strides out, heading for William.

William frowns, stops twenty feet from

Clouds

Fiction

Russel Doherty

Santa Barbara, California, USA

Evan, and waits. Linnea calls out as she

gets closer. Evan can hear her loud, accented

voice. “I thought we were having lunch

today.”

Evan wonders if she could use their relationship

in a story.

William’s eyes bounce from Linnea to Evan

and back. “I can’t really discuss that here.”

He’s fierce and quiet.

“What is happening between us? You keep

acting as if we are not lovers.”

“You told me everything changed.” William’s

voice rises. “You left in the spring saying

it was over, you would be staying home

in Sweden. So I moved on. Now you’re back

and basically telling me you’re in charge of

my relationships. That’s just not true.”

By the slump of her shoulders, Evan can

tell Linnea is at a loss. She thinks this means

William is available. Her mind starts slowly

calculating.

Linnea storms past Evan, back into the

classroom. William looks at Evan and shrugs

like he doesn’t understand. He walks by Evan

without saying anything.

William opens the door to the classroom.

Linnea runs out crying, holding her backpack

in her arms, bumps him aside, and keeps on

going. William enters the classroom. Evan

follows and sits up front. She decides to try

and talk to him after class.

Evan knows William’s wildly popular World

Lit class is attended by a cross-section of

students who mostly come for the easy A.

She wants him to know she’s different. She

loves the animated discussions caused by the

29

assigned novels: Bel Canto (South America),

A Bend in the River (Congo), The Alexandria

Quartet (Egypt), The Unbearable Lightness

of Being (Eastern Europe). The novels reflect

the culture clash of outsiders inhabiting a

society vastly different from their own. Evan

feels the storylines call out to her, begging

her to follow. William is her guide to this

mysterious universe.

She’s amazed by the lives lived in the

novels. In her discussion group, the languages

spoken, modes of transportation, dress,

housing, socialization—especially mating

habits—are all loudly dissected with the fervor

of anthropologists. Evan feels she’s found

her tribe.

She remembers William saying he has lived

this story of failed assimilation. He’s told

them his marriage ended because—as an

outlier—he tried desperately to fit into the

mostly male-centric, open-marriage faculty

culture, and failed. When he described to

them the descent into romantic hell experienced

by Tereza and Tomas in The Unbearable

Lightness of Being, he stressed, “This

is giving you a warning; watch out for your

heart.”

Evan knows that William likes to date his

students. She thinks about being that student,

just like her mother dated her father—

her professor at UCLA.

William starts in with today’s lecture.

“Some of the other English professors teach

the standard great themes of today: climate

and economically caused migrations of peoples,

multicultural clash of values, or polit-


ical decolonization. I don’t. I use my book

choices to explore Eros in the novel. Why did

the Unbelievable lovers choose to return to

Czechoslovakia after the Russians invaded?

Why not stay in democratic Switzerland,

where they would be safe? These characters

threw common sense away in an effort to

live out love to its fullest.”

Evan fantasizes about loving to the fullest.

William says, “And I want to explore the

importance of now, and the choices these

characters make to follow love. If you recall

Baba Ram Dass—an original researcher with

Timothy Leary and his LSD experiments—he

went to India, changed his name, and became

a proponent of Be Here Now. His philosophy:

Live your life now, not in your head,

not in the past or future, but in the reality

of today and who you’re with.”

This is my New World, Evan thinks. No one

has ever explained life this way.

“These are fish-out-of-water relationships:

encounters, attractions, maneuvers, couplings.

I treat these novels as gospel. Learn

from these experiences. Love is their calling;

their communication is with you.”

William’s rich, deep voice fills the room

like a Shakespearean actor, riveting and

soothing Evan at the same time. He sounds

like her father. She loves the way his hair

flops over his eyes, and he keeps throwing it

back, emphasizing his words: love…communication.

The characters in these novels have more

sex than anyone Evan has ever known. Their

relationships have been at the forefront of

her mind since school started this year. William

could be one of the characters.

As the lecture and the novel’s plots intertwine

and William’s voice resonates, Evan

hungers for her own love. Looking around

the room, she starts to formulate a plan.

The boys listen to William as if he were a

Great Explorer leading them to this New

World. The girls sigh.

“Today’s discussion novel, Bel Canto, is

about the relationship of art—particularly

music—to the stranger-in-a-strange-land

environment. Remember, in Bel Canto, the

English-speaking opera singer, the beautiful

Roxane, has fallen in love with the Japanese

businessman, Hosokawa.

“Hosokawa’s interpreter, Gen, is forced

into an unnatural position, helping a love

affair flourish between his married employer

and the American diva while they are held

captive by South American political terrorists.

And, of course, Gen is also in love with

Roxane. These novels I teach wouldn’t exist

without conflicting love triangles.”

Evan’s own parents had a fairly conventional

relationship, and then her father died

abruptly. She remembers the sad piper playing

“Danny Boy” at his funeral and the void

afterward.

She’s had two sexual relationships herself,

both pretty conflicted. The high school one

ended badly, and she’s never talked to that

guy—Zach—since. Last year’s new college

fling, Thomas, just fizzled out, leaving Evan

adrift.

She wonders how William finds these

books. Perhaps there’s a section in the bookstore

where the immigrant experience has

its own shelf. She pictures William’s house

filled with polished wooden bookcases.

Evan adores Bel Canto. Perhaps life could

imitate art, and a similar love triangle might

play out in her own life. She wonders what

kind of partner William would be. Articulate

in class, but not so considerate out of it?

William asks the class, “We all know opera

30

is a great form of art, but what is the function

of art to the characters in this novel?”

Three students yell out answers.

“Illumination.”

“Diversion.”

“Social commentary.”

Evan remembers from her reading that

art both describes and transforms human

experience. But something about William’s

question pulls at her. He’s like a child who

sees too much or wants too much. He always

talks of the lovers in the books and how they

found each other—as if it were inevitable.

She thinks he talks honestly about his life,

baring himself to the class, like he’s looking

for someone to fly too close to his flame. She

wants that flame.

And then William is right in front of her

and everyone in class stares.

“You seem so far away,” William says, his

voice a quiet, bassy undertone.

Evan, shaken, doesn’t know what happened.

Had he called on her and she hadn’t

answered? Had she drifted off?

“How did you interpret the story?”

Evan needs him to accept her. She’s not

sure why she’s being put on the spot.

She says, “Despite the hostages and the

terrorists facing death, they have to go on

living. They get through each day by Roxane

singing arias to them, everyone entranced

by her voice. Then the translator Gen and

Roxane get married at the end. It isn’t the

expected ending, yet it’s more satisfying.”

Evan can see in William’s eyes he wasn’t

expecting the analysis she’s given him.

Maybe he doesn’t see as much as she thinks.

Maybe she has something to teach him as

well.

“You have a very complete understanding

of the story,” he says. Evan is glad she’s


going to talk to him after class.

Because she knows from her reading that,

in the end, only love matters.

* * *

Later, outside, Evan waits for William.

As she waits, she watches the reflections of

passing students in a window, and the sailboats

on the sea in the background.

William comes out with his leather bag.

Evan remembers the novels. Is the same

insight needed to understand the novels necessary

to understand the teacher?

William smiles when he sees her. “I’m glad

you waited for me.”

Evan’s neck stiffens. The old cliché from

math class comes to mind, “When you assume

something, you make an ass out of you

and me.” She can’t say that, of course. But

his certainty stops her from declaring her

decision to major in English lit.

Instead, she says, “What makes you think

I was waiting for you?” William’s look shows

he didn’t expect that comeback. Evan thinks

maybe she’s made a mistake. But her tongue

has always been too fast.

“Sorry,” he says. “I meant I’m hoping you

were waiting for me.”

William’s answer disarms her. “Does a

relationship demand total honesty?”

“We’re talking relationships already?”

William now looks elated.

“I thought that’s how you interpreted

everything.”

“Not all of life, but certainly literature.”

“So maybe I was waiting for you. I had a

few questions.”

“Ask away.”

Evan looks up at the clouds to gather her

thoughts. They remind her of summer camp,

lying on her back in the grass, matching

animal crackers to the cloud shapes. What

animal is William? A cat, she decides. “Does

everyone in the English department accept

these books as important?”

William laughs. “Hardly. Half the faculty

thinks my literary heroes are interlopers who

won’t last another decade. But if we’re being

honest, I’d like to walk you to your car.”

He points to the parking lot.

Evan senses William trying to get ahead

of her, smiling to set her at ease while

attempting to control the conversation. “I

have another class, and I walk to my apartment

anyway.” Maybe he’s more like a fox.

“Could we meet after your last class? I’ll

drive you home.”

Cunning. Evan ponders this. “I don’t know

if I should accept your offer.”

“Well, we could go for coffee or tea or...?

Or you could say no. You won’t offend me.”

Evan closes her eyes and feels the sunlight

beating on her eyelids. William is smooth

and offering her an out. This almost feels

like a #MeToo moment, but she realizes she’s

the one who initiated it. Time passes. William

coughs.

When she reopens her eyes, William is

calm, awaiting her answer. She says, “I

should say no. But you probably wouldn’t

forgive me.” Evan waits to see how serious

Mr. Fox really is.

He says, “Sadness builds up in people who

are afraid to act. Most of the stories I’m

attracted to involve people whose actions

explain their wants and needs. They try to

live now, push the sadness away.” He flicks

his hair back.

She looks at her smartwatch and makes

the safe choice. “I have to go to class. It

ends at four. We could go to Starbucks after.”

“I’d like that,” William says. “I’ll meet

31

you here at four.” He nods his head and

strolls away.

As she walks to class, sniffing the ocean

air, Evan wonders if this is the start of her

real life—an older man, a professor, interested.

* * *

Starbucks is the usual: chatter, coffee

aromas, laptops, and people scattered at

tables, indie music in the background. William

escorts Evan in through the door. When

he holds it open for her and puts his hand on

the small of her back, the touch dizzies her.

They sit down with their coffees. Evan feels

expectant about where the late afternoon

might lead.

Thinking during her last class—Human

Development—that she needed to question

why William asked her here and not some

other girl, Evan has decided to try and pin

him down. She feels the need to turn the

tables on him and question his ending of the

relationship with Linnea. How to handle this?

She needs to know how he approaches love

outside of literature.

He stares as if he’s just seen her for the

first time.

Evan says, “What happened before class

with Linnea?”

“Let’s just say it didn’t work out. I moved

forward and she went backward.”

A Dave Matthews song comes on. His tenor

voice sings, “Crash Into Me.” Evan wonders if

that’s an apt metaphor for what happened.

“What do you look for in love; a heart-toheart

connection, just sex, a life partner

that you have to adjust to, or…?” She eyes

him over her coffee.

“My basic guideline is trying to stay honest

in the moment. Love for me is a struggle to

find the right person. Like this conversation


we’re having. I sort of let it happen; I leave

myself open to the possibility and hope to

learn from each of my friends.” He hands

Evan a business card, William – World Lit,

with his cell phone number.

“So we’re friends now?” She looks at the

card.

“I’d like to be,” he says.

Evan’s heart murmurs. “You said you were

divorced.”

“The culture here is very open and experimental.

My wife wasn’t willing to participate.

I felt it was holding us back. She felt it

was breaking us apart. We had a difference

of opinion.”

Evan thinks that’s almost the same answer

he gave for the breakup with Linnea. She

feels emboldened. “I thought about why you

asked me here, and I’m confused. Am I just

some random girl from this year’s class?”

“I’m sorry if I gave that impression. But

love is about acting and committing and living

in the now. I felt a strong connection to

you, the way you summarized the function

of art in Bel Canto today, and I wanted to

act on it.”

He’s smooth, but Evan isn’t convinced.

“Is love about self-realization or about the

relationship between the two people?”

“I don’t know, maybe…maybe it’s closer to

understanding myself.”

Evan thinks about her father—a one-hit

wonder with his coming-of-age novel, a big

splash with high school English teachers—

who slowly lost his fierceness and sank into

second-guessing himself when he switched

to literary fiction. He made enough money to

buy the cheapest house in Cambria and then

barely earned enough to keep them in it.

Evan’s mother is still waiting tables.

“Are you a writer also?” she asks.

“I like to think of myself as one.”

Evan hasn’t thought about dating a writer.

She looks away at people moving around

their tables, leaving, sitting, touching each

other. The sun slants in through a window

and turns a square of the gray carpet white.

She thinks of herself as a girl finding her

place in the world. How would she handle

being married to a writer and teacher in an

open-marriage culture? Not very well. Zach,

in high school, had said, “I want to date

other girls also,” while he was still with her.

That didn’t work.

“Who were you meant to be?” she asks

William.

“My parents were born in Belgium. They

named me after Guillaume de Machaut, an

early-Renaissance troubadour. ‘Guillaume’

is French for ‘William.’ Anyway, he wrote

poems about love, some set to music, called

motets. Most of my life, I’ve tried to envision

how to be that person here in the twenty-first

century. They say that in the love

poetry of every age, the woman longs to be

weighed down by the man’s body.” William

fingers his dreadlocks.

Evan giggles. “My God, that’s terrible.

That line is straight out of The Unbearable

Lightness of Being. Has it ever actually

worked for you as a pickup line?” Evan has a

wry smile on her face. William isn’t smiling.

“Not really. But if I’m bothering you, I can

just go.” William takes the top off his cup

and blows on his coffee.

Evan thinks, Thin skin. She realizes William

is used to the other person being impressed

by his worldly conversation, his position

as a teacher. He doesn’t think of himself

as someone who could be unoriginal and

worthy of being a punch line. “Well, what

would you say to me if I used lines from a

32

novel in conversation?”

“I’d say you were very literate.”

“But not very original.” Evan is on firmer

ground now. She doesn’t feel William is

getting ahead of her anymore. This is sort

of how debate was for her in high school,

the defense of your ideas, punching holes in

the other person’s argument. “Can I say this

sounds like Unbearable again? That dating

you might be the equivalent of my going to

a foreign country where I don’t know the

rules?”

William says, “Maybe we should start this

conversation over again.”

Evan feels William doesn’t have a clue

how badly he is coming off to her. “Are you a

musician and poet like your namesake?”

“I play a little jazz, some Jason Mraz.”

He’s defensive; less of a fox now, more human,

more malleable, perhaps a duck.

“Do you write your own love poetry?”

“Only when I find my muse. It doesn’t

happen often.”

Evan decides she’s being told she’s not his

muse. She ends the conversation.

* * *

Afterward, walking the bluffs, Evan wonders

if she should’ve stayed. When she said,

“Sure, let’s have coffee again,” and got up

to leave, she was certain there was a flash

of anger in William’s eyes. Maybe no girl has

walked away from him before. She can’t

decide which character William thinks he’s

playing, or if he thinks he’s the author of his

own story and no one else gets to know the

plot.

As she smells the new-mown lawn, she

thinks, Still, it’s nice to be wanted.

What adjusts the power between people

in relationships? Who’s in charge at any given

time? Evan thinks one of the big secrets of


human behavior is that you can’t love until

you can feel the other person. The electricity

has to be there. You grow together, you

grow apart, and you learn the boundaries of

human connections.

So she won’t really know unless she gives

William a shot. She sighs.

She knows we’re all connected in human

relationships, whether we like it or not.

They’re important to us, sustaining our lives.

And, just like the other two relationships

she’s had, Evan thinks no one is exactly who

you thought they were once you get close

to them. You either adjust or you don’t. It’s

both the wonder of life and the gulf between

yourself and another.

Maybe the only connection she wants out

of William is literature.

The air is warmer now, the ocean sparkling

with thousands of diamond reflections.

Feathery cirrus clouds float by in the background.

A horn sounds from the parking lot

down below; Evan sees the distant people

walking the harbor shops, miniature creatures

like in a movie. Further out, seagulls

ride the updrafts above the breakwater.

Stand-up paddlers break the vastness of the

Pacific. Oil derricks and the Channel Islands

dot the horizon. Pelicans fly by in a high V

formation, searching for fish.

Evan is reminded of Icarus, who flew too

close to the sun. She wonders if her wings

could also come unglued.

A different version of the New World

comes to her. I can write my own story, she

thinks, without the triangle, without the

conflicts.

She pulls out his business card and texts

William. “Sorry, I can’t join you for coffee

next week.”

Maybe she does have something to teach

as well.

The wispy, shapeless clouds drift away.

33

Virgin Cocktails

Poetry

Caleb Gonsalves

Roseville, California, USA

I sit watching hopeful high school students

Set up for their homemade remote prom.

Twinkly lights and beautiful white silk

Decorations of choice for their night of

fame.

Ready to vote for their queen and king,

Before they realize how meaningless these

titles are.

I watch making cocktails out of coke and

lemonade

Thinking about one particular girl,

and how I’d like to take her dancing.

I check my read receipts,

Confirming our new normal,

One where we don’t go dancing.

We peaked at fear and self doubt,

Which forced us to dance on our own

At dances that weren’t made for us

Missing out on what could have been,

We ended without beginning

Never knowing the magic of prom


The Unpaid Philosopher or the

Typewriting Monkey

Poetry

Jay O'Neal

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The homeless philosopher outside Tims isn’t

sure about self-preservation anymore.

If life is lived subjectively through the senses,

he rhetorically begins,

through one’s face

and one’s hands,

*he extends a hand and stares at the dirty

fingernails attached*

then how can any of it

objectively matter?

Why even bother?

Now he aims his bright, intelligent eyes at

me,

two flashlights from a filthy face.

I shrug.

Though I’ve wrestled with the questions

myself, I’m not too sure either.

“It doesn’t make sense,” he says

as clearly as a crystal and as concisely as a

dictionary.

“It really doesn’t make enough sense to

bother with at all.”

I can tell he’s been at the problem for a

while.

During the pause, I ask if he wants anything

from inside.

He’s worth his weight in gold,

I think,

entering the Tims, ordering for us, then

leaving.

Fortunately, he doesn’t waste

his words on greetings or thanks.

Instead, he promptly shares a deeper lesson

learned from musing whilst I was inside.

“I guess just don’t panic, eh?”

I nod.

He nods.

“The key is not to panic,” he concludes,

taking his four-by-four from me and setting it

beside him on the cold cement.

He hasn’t said if this new conclusion

is connected to his original problem,

but I suppose that’s up to me to determine.

I could waste my life with him,

I realize;

I could waste my life

here at Jarvis and Carlton the way

Plato wasted his with that Socrates fellow.

But what a poor student I’d be,

ignoring his initial premise of living through

the senses

just for vicarious life-lessons.

What a poor student that’d make me, to forgo

my subjective experience.

With that in mind, I unlock my bike.

My teacher is too deep in thought

to bother with a goodbye,

his grubby face twisted with what

most would mistake for pain

or

a desperate need to shit.

Afterward

Poetry

Tufik Shayeb

Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Restless branches, creak

in the wind.

Swallow too much dry air,

hear a clicking in the throat.

Confuse the click

for a tick, and

believe there is a squirrel

inside.

Desperate,

swallow even harder.

Try to chase out

the goddamn thing,

but then give up

looking for enough saliva.

34


“And to your right, you’ll see our statue

dedicated to the Drabblewood Daemon.

Crafted locally, the design was inspired by

multiple eyewitness accounts recorded since

his first sighting exactly twenty-five years

ago!”

Camera flashes reflected in the bronze

casting of the half-bat, half-rodent stretching

on his clawed hind legs to sniff the air. In

the center of the gawking sightseers, Irving

smiled. Her grin’s reflection distorted in the

crook of the statue’s extended wing while

the guide continued her rehearsed trivia.

“To the statue’s right is the Dalby Street

alleyway—the daemon’s first known sighting

where an unfortunate group of bystanders

was brutally mauled in the darkness!”

“Bystanders,” the word slid through Irving’s

teeth. So that’s what they were now?

She blotted her nose with a scented tissue,

longing for the allergy pill left on her hotel

nightstand. The cornfields that surrounded

Drabblewood were agony in the fall. She slid

her face mask back on, ignoring the snorts

from those nearby. If they knew who she

was, they’d hold their tongue.

“And the swath of pine’s a little further

back is where bloodied clumps of fur were

found hanging from the branches following

the attack. It cemented the daemon’s love

for flesh, though what exactly the slain creature

was remains a mystery to this day.”

Camera flashes blanched the peeling tree

bark as the tour guide led the group through

the pines. The tourists stuck together, Irving

noticed, and hesitated with each step on the

A Matter of Fact

Fiction

Charlene Pepiot

Piqua, Ohio, USA

spongy needles—as though they expected the

daemon to lurch out of the ground and claim

his next victim. For fun, Irving stiffened and

snapped her head to the side. A family beside

her flinched and turned the same way.

Irving chuckled at the commoners, and they

laughed back with less enthusiasm. Irving

wasn’t scared of these woods. Not anymore.

The tour guide droned on with her rehearsed

trivia, each tense pause and fearful

stutter coming off as painfully artificial. Most

folks would connect her young face and lackluster

presentation as summer help making

a quick buck for college, but Irving knew the

folks of Drabblewood didn’t leave for university.

Indeed, they rarely left at all.

“And just behind me, you’ll see the

infamous cornfield of the Cashen family! It

was here the daemon revealed his startling

human intelligence and fire breathing capabilities

when he seared ‘DON’T EVER FOR-

GET’ into the crop twenty-five years ago. You

probably recognize it as the place Monster

Seeker’s host Gavin Gothel camped out in

the season seven premiere and found the

daemon’s eight-toed scratches gouged into

the dirt.”

Having heard enough, Irving slipped away

from the excited comments and camera

flashes. She backtracked through the pines

to reenter the town. Stopping at the daemon’s

statue, a cruel laugh escaped her.

“Ever the skeptic, aren’t ya?”

It was Irving’s turn to flinch. The voice behind

her awakened a long dormant helplessness

she struggled to contain. Her group was

35

still visible past the pines, and Irving forced

her shoulders to straighten.

“Ever the nosy bully, Harry? I see time

hasn’t changed you enough—” Irving’s retort

faltered as she faced the man. Who was this

bearded, hunched fellow whose beer belly

strained against tight overalls caked in animal

feces and bits of straw? Surely not Harry

Cashen, the athlete who could trip her in the

school’s hallways and rob kids of their pudding

at lunch because his family rented out

their farmland to everyone’s parents? Even

his voice sounded off, as though he hadn’t

been the one barking orders for a long time.

Irving knew how Drabblewood’s labor could

warp you, but somehow, Harry’s taunting

face had been immortalized in her memory

as ever youthful and cruel. Glancing at her

designer vest and Gucci pants, Irving turned

back to the statue. “The cast is quite detailed.

Did Jeff create the mold?”

“Yeah, he’s made a business of selling

handmade souvenirs and the like,” Harry

hunched his shoulders beneath the statue’s

shadow and stroked a flask of salt titled

Daemon Repellent. His alleyway encounter

had scarred more than his arms—the poor

“bystander”.

“Good for him, I know that was Jeff’s

dream,” Irving nodded. “The wings were a

nice addition. He can fly away whenever he

wants now.”

“Actually, there have been reports of the

daemon swooping down on night joggers

with very wing-like appendages,” Harry lifted

his head in a poor attempt at reclaiming


his withered power. “I guess the facts don’t

reach bigwig reporters in New York?”

“Considering I published the first daemon

sighting, I think I would know the facts,” Irving

said coolly. Last I checked, those bloody

clumps in the trees were just a few tufts of

hair.

“Really?” Harry echoed. “Like the facts

you televised to the world claiming murder

hornets were going to wipe out the Midwest?

Or the facts that we’d drop dead if we went

outside during last year’s flu outbreak—the

one conveniently televised before the elections?”

Harry spread his arms wide, and

a few passing tourists glanced their way.

“We’re well acquainted with your ‘facts’,

Irving. Judging by your mask, I assume you

consider that toxic smog cloud the latest

apocalypse?”

“Drabblewood is directly in its path, and

the levels of pollution will have bystander’s

dead of cancer in five years,” Irving insisted,

though Harry’s eye roll betrayed him for

a lost cause. Irving pulled her mask down

so Harry could watch her pronounce each

syllable. “Nevertheless, you can’t deny my

influence. The network wants to do a series

on urban legends and I twisted a lot of arms

to get the Drabblewood Daemon chosen over

the Mothman.” Backing off, Irving’s eyes fell

to a misplaced pebble on the sidewalk. Her

shoe orbited it in a slow circle. “I figured

the publicity would benefit the town, you

know?”

“Drabblewood isn’t interested in your

sensationalized fake news. We’re a town of

logic and facts.” Harry spat on the sidewalk

and stalked off.

Irving watched his back until a group of

tourists blocked her view. Something twisted

in her stomach that she fought to repress.

Swallowing, her gaze returned to the winged

half-rat, half-bat statue.

“Logic, eh?” she said a little louder than

necessary.

*

The tour group had moved on by the time

Irving’s conversation was finished. No matter,

she had been raised in these streets. A

few half-remembered turns later had her

questioning that sediment. The Drabblewood

of Irving's youth was more elusive than the

daemon himself. The cracked sidewalks and

peeling paint of years past had been washed

away by waves of tourist revenue and replaced

with supposedly haunted hotels, local

museums and gift shops. A former tunnel

sprayed with expletives was now adorned

with an honorary caricature of the daemon

writing “DON’T EVER FORGET” with his sixwebbed

toes in blood. It must have been

done before the Monster Seeker’s episode

confirmed the daemon had eight claws per

paw.

“Lassie, would you care for an infrared

flashlight?” An old man with a cart of Daemon

Bobbleheads wheeled up beside Irving.

The grease stains on his t-shirt hinted that

his previous job had been less than desirable.

“It’s the only true repellent against

the daemon, contrary to what he claims.”

The man scowled at a stand across the street

where a shriveled fellow in a straw hat was

selling vials titled TrueER Daemon Repellent.

“What does the light do?” Irving asked,

flipping one on and off.

“The daemon can’t stand the infrared,”

the man explained as Irving handed him the

cash. No one could say she didn’t support

tourism. “He can only see certain hues on

the color spectrum.”

Irving repressed a smile. “Can he now?”

36

“You ought to show some respect, lassie,”

the man warned. “The daemon doesn’t forgive

those who forget. See what became of

that Harry boy—denying a sports scholarship

just to show his devotion to the daemon!”

Monster Seekers did mention that the

alleyway attack had thoroughly rattled

Harry, though Irving had not realized the full

extent. She had left for New York just as the

daemon craze was kicking off, a choice she

couldn’t regret while watching the distant

corn swaying in the breeze for miles.

“If you’re a doubter,” the man continued

with a frown. “I’d leave before nightfall—

for your own sake.”

Irving focused on the old man’s face. Had

she known him before? Five years in the

fields could pile on enough wrinkles to warp

anyone beyond recognition, let alone twenty-five.

The man’s nose scrunched, and as he

leaned forward, Irving guessed the air-conditioned

sets hadn’t changed her enough.

“Irving?”

“Yes?” Irving said cautiously. Hopefully.

“You remember me?”

“Oh yes, Drabblewood’s hotshot who left

for the smoke and mirrors of New York!”

“ATN national news, sir.” Irving’s shoulders

slumped.

The man pried the light from Irving’s

hand. He wadded up her dollars and threw

them against her chest. They fell to the sidewalk.

The wind whisked them away.

“I don’t do business with crooks.” The

man's fist banged against the cart with a

force that rattled his infrared lights.

Irving’s mind raced with a million contacts

that could generate a million stories on

this brutal act of harassment. Instead, she

smoothed out her vest, bid the man a fine

day and melded into a passing crowd.


Irving followed the tourists into a rustic-styled

restaurant with an electric sign

blinking The Daemon Diner. Through the

window, Irving watched the man's competitor

in the straw hat and Harry join him on

the sidewalk. She stepped a little closer to

the woman in line ahead of her. There were

worse fates than being an outsider.

Staying amongst the hungry tourists

seemed her best option. Counting the calories

in her head, Irving chose an overpriced

tourist salad with homemade Dastardly

Daemon Dressing and flipped through several

hundreds before plucking out a twenty to

give the cashier. The woman at the resister

surprised her.

“Grace!” Irving gasped. “How are you?”

Grace swiped aside a black curl that had

escaped her hairnet. Her red lips parted in

a perfect ‘O’. “Irving? I barely recognized

you!”

The pleasant surprise in her voice was

encouraging. Irving rested against the counter

covered in little cartoons of an older,

wingless daemon rendition. “Given your high

school baking endeavors, could this fine eatery

be yours?”

“Someone has to feed the tourists, thank

god!” Grace chuckled. “Before this daemon

craze, I was facing a life feeding chickens.

Poor Harry took that route, you wouldn’t

recognize him now if you two met.”

“I’m afraid I’ve already had the displeasure.”

Both women laughed, though Grace

tapped her fake nails against the counter.

“Can you blame him, though? You did announce

on election day that your networks

opposing candidate was arrested for drunk

driving, yet conveniently neglected to mention

it happened over 20 years ago.” Grace

shook her finger at Irving. “That’s pretty low,

naughty girl.”

“I don’t write the scripts,” Irving

shrugged, conscious of the heat spilling from

the kitchen.

“Of course. You’re the innocent messenger

girl.” Grace laughed again, though the words

stung. She leaned over the counter. “Seriously

though, who’s behind the story about that

smog cloud? The catastrophic conundrum

that threatens us all?”

“No one’s behind it,” Irving thought of the

reports that hadn’t been released yet. Of

the mutations. Children with organs born on

the outside—their tiny hearts beating faster

and faster until they popped from the stress.

Eight legged calves trying to stand, to suckle

without jaws. “Grace, modern science

doesn’t know the full effects of inhaling

those toxins, and what they’ve discovered is

nothing to brush off.”

“Sure.”

“Grace, I mean it! The reports—”

“—claimed it was no big deal until the politician’s

ears perked. Now it’s Armageddon!”

Grace sighed a little. “We’ll be fine. Even

if the smog is as bad as your so-called news

claims, we have the daemon to protect us.”

“Protect?”

Grace’s smile faded. “You wouldn’t know,

of course, but since the daemon appeared

Drabblewood has had no catastrophes. The

tornado that decimated our neighbors last

year miraculously spared us, and we had no

casualties during that so-called pandemic.

We’ve had nothing but prosperity, and I

doubt some leaked gas will change that.”

“Grace,” Irving started, but a woman

whose Daemon t-shirt still had the price

tag attached coughed pointedly behind her.

Irving stepped aside for the customer, noting

37

Grace’s bright smile as she bid her a good

day. Grace was living her dream, and that

success would further spill into the town.

One day, getting up before dawn to feed

slop to the pigs wouldn’t be an option for

the children predestined to run these happy

little tourist traps. Grace handed Irving her

salad. Her voice fell to a whisper.

“You’ve been reporting for The Man too

long. You should come to our festival honoring

the daemon tonight! It’s locals-only, but

being born and raised here has to count!”

An insider look? Irving could picture the

headlines, the masses flocking into Drabblewood

to buy merch and support her former

neighbors. Not to mention she could warn

the community! Irving had never been one to

hesitate when an opportunity presented itself.

The successful took, and Irving instantly

accepted Grace’s proposition.

After a most average but overpriced meal,

Irving pocketed Grace’s handwritten directions

and followed the tourists-turned-meatshields

outside. Harry and the old men had

disappeared, though Irving felt unseen eyes

watching each step as she strolled down the

sidewalk. Success was not for the foolish

either, and Irving was well accustomed to

prying eyes watching for the smallest slipup.

But this was different. Drabblewood

shunned the scandals and internet rumors

her antagonists exploited. These eyes didn’t

seek airy gossip; they were hardened from

physical labor and sacrifice. Irving knew her

status in the world of spotlights and politics

would not protect her here.

Glancing around a final time, Irving

ducked down an alley she’d entered often

years ago. Back when a “weird girl” like her

who walked alone and dared to draw stick

figures laughing beside skyscrapers needed a


quick escape.

She came out beside a forest untouched

by noticeable change. This was Daemon

Country. Home. She strutted forward and

collided with a spiderweb. Swatting it aside

sent her tripping over a root and crashing

into a thorn bush. She pulled herself up with

a scowl—silk pants and vests weren’t made

for this world.

Picking bits of the web from her hair (and

only screaming once when she pulled out

the spider), Irving pressed further into the

woods. Twenty-five years had done little to

alter the twisted trunks of ancient oaks, and

as the memories of stumbling down the hills

to hide from Harry’s gang reasserted themselves,

Irving found her footing and strode

forward with bolder steps.

At last, she stopped by a rocky overhang

above a little creek. Her ankles wobbled

as she leaped across the slippery steppingstones

and made it to the other side

of the bank. Her hand traced the wall of

smoothed limestone extending along most

of the waterfront. As a kid, she had thought

it unclimbable. Now, it barely rose above

her waist. Everything here seemed so much

smaller.

Somewhere, a rabbit’s panicked screech

ended mid-note. It effectively stopped

Irving’s nostalgic trip, reminding her she

hadn’t come here to relive memories—but to

change history.

Irving’s hands shook as she bent back a

mass of branches drooping over a section of

the limestone wall. She stared into a small,

dark hole just big enough for a raccoon to

wiggle inside. Red eyes stared back.

“Time to come out, little fella.” Irving

curled her lip. “Did you miss me?”

Slowly, as though reaching through time,

she pulled the furry gray mass out into the

fading rays of sunset.

Far from the menacing figure whispered

about in gift shops, the daemon was smaller

in person. Irving had forgotten how cheesy

her mother’s fur coat looked wrapped

around the plastic cat skeleton. Not her

greatest work, though Harry and his posse

had been fooled when they stumbled into

the alleyway drunk that night. The scars

they sustained from fumbling in the dirt

over broken bottles had morphed into claw

marks with each retelling. It had aroused

the town’s suspicions only amplified by

her scattering tufts of her dog's shed hair

around the pines near the schoolyard. The

mauled raccoon taken for a victim had been

an unexpected bonus, and combined with

her burning “DON’T EVER FORGET” into the

Cashen’s cornfield, the Drabblewood Daemon

was born. Even back then Irving knew how

truth could be birthed from well-placed lies.

Was it dishonest? Perhaps, but the daemon

had breathed life rather than corn dust

into Drabblewood and placed the otherwise

unnoteworthy town on the map. He made

dreams reality and offered an escape Irving

had needed to forge for herself. Surely the

good more than compensated for a little

dishonesty?

“Only now you’re hurting this town,”

Irving ran her pampered nails over the mildewed

fabric. “They adore you, but a hoax

can’t ward off a scientifically proven cloud

of radioactive doom,” Irving chuckled bitterly

at her joke. The skeleton’s paw splintered

beneath her two fingers. Decades of winter

hadn’t shown the plastic kindness. “I’ll have

to come clean so Drabblewood will take this

smog seriously.”

Irving pulled a bag from her pocket and

38

shook it open in the light breeze. How

could a force so gentle be leading toward

something so deadly? As Irving lowered the

daemon into her bag, a clump of gray fabric

fell into the creek and floated away. The

breeze faded, but a nearby bush shuttered

ever so slightly—or maybe that was Irving’s

imagination. Tightening her fingers around

the plastic handles, she backed away toward

civilization.

Night had settled over Drabblewood when

Irving emerged from the alleyway. Scattered

tourists roamed the streets with night vision

goggles and bait in hopes of luring out the

daemon. Irving slipped past the distracted

amateurs to the Cashen cornfield on Drabblewood’s

outskirts. A half-moon cloaked the

surrounding corn in an unearthly silver as

Irving approached. Several stalks had been

torn out to create an entrance guarded by

two men in oil-stained jeans. Irving’s free

hand fumbled in her pocket for Grace’s note,

and after reading and rereading the directions,

she approached. The men stepped

aside as she entered the maze.

Night’s creatures chirped and gurgled

around Irving as the path widened into a

spacious clearing. Infrared lanterns had been

hung on poles to cast a red hue over empty

bottles and townsfolk conversing by tables.

A long banner reading “25th anniversary”

stretched along the surrounding wall of corn.

As Irving scanned the crowd for Grace, her

eyes found faces she hadn’t seen in years.

Many turned away, though some mustered

fake smiles. Loathe her all they want— Irving

knew they could never escape her legacy.

Her smirk faded as the doubts resurfaced.

How would they react to the daemon’s fabricated

origins? He offered them hope that

the impossible could become reality—if she


broke the backbone of Drabblewood, would

the town ever pull itself back up? After

graduation, when she had packed her bags

for New York with the town’s jeering in her

ears, Irving had burned “DON’T EVER FOR-

GET” into the field to retain some hold on

the place she had never belonged. Did she

dare break the finite link that connected her

with the sprawling woods and people of her

youth? Though memories of Harry tossing her

smashed journalism tapes into miles of flat,

inescapable fields reigned in Irving’s mind,

in some weird way Drabblewood was still

home.

Irving stopped by a campfire where Harry

huddled, stroking his salt. His eyes kept

glancing to the shadows with none of the

arrogance he’d exhibited in the daylight.

The daemon’s first and only intended target

was far from a threat now. Irving had seen

maliciousness beneath spotlights and smoky

rooms, and Harry’s high school shenanigans

just couldn’t compare. He was but a simple

mind from a simple town.

As Harry rubbed his crusted nose, Irving

knew she had haunted him, and everyone,

long enough. Her fingers tightened around

the bag, reminding herself of the smog cloud

that would extinguish everyone if they failed

to protect themselves.

“Excuse me,” Irving called over the blasting

stereo in the background. Eyes from all

directions locked on her with equal animosity,

though this was nothing compared to

the backlash she’d received after inflating

the numbers for murder hornet fatalities.

“So you recognize me? Good. Then you

know I have access to a substantial amount

of data—all of which points to a disastrous

fallout for whoever inhales the encroaching

smog cloud. You must take precautions before

it reaches you!”

“Ah yes, like those killer mutant dandelions

you warned the world about?” the old infrared

seller lowered his drink to shout. “Or

your shocking infection rate for last year’s

flu outbreak?”

Irving bit her lip. Fresh blood pooled

around her teeth. “Perhaps the scripts I read

from exaggerated threats in the past, but I

promise you that this is real!”

“Flaunt your lies all you want.” Harry

clutched his salt. “We have real proof the

daemon will protect us.”

“No science has proven his existence!” Irving

stomped her foot on the tilled dirt. “As

much as Monster Seekers claims otherwise,

any legit investigator lists the scratch marks

and fur as inconclusive!”

“Exactly,” Grace shouldered past two

men in overalls to stand beside Harry. “He

transcends modern science, making your socalled

facts irrelevant.”

“Idiots! You’ll all be killed!” Irving shouted,

stunned by Grace’s confidence as she

set her box of cupcakes on the refreshment

table. Grace, whose ACT Science score was a

perfect 36, considered the daemon a messiah

rather than tourist fodder? The surrounding

stupidity was suffocating, and Irving

fought to keep her tone professional as she

lifted the daemon from the bag.

“See here, this is your mighty protector!

The puppet I controlled twenty-five years

ago in the alley on Dalby Street! He is falling

apart, but I intend on saving you ignorant

fools again!”

Her words settled on open mouths and

stiff shoulders. The stereo’s Country playlist

seemed painfully misplaced for the occasion.

Grace was the first to speak.

“Nonsense. That looks nothing like the

39

daemon.”

“You read the reports,” Irving chided,

growing annoyed. “My reports published to

further the hoax!”

“The fur is gray,” someone challenged.

“Everyone knows it’s a gnarled, stringy black

color.”

Everyone knows? The nerve of these commoners!

“You dare reduce our beloved daemon to

some makeshift prop?” Harry shouted, glancing

around the surrounding corn.

Irving let the insult slide, for the townsfolk

were muttering amongst one another,

and she didn’t like the way the red lighting

reflected in the pits of their eyes.

“Grace,” Irving turned to the woman she

had considered a friend. “You know me, you

know this is nonsense!”

“He told us to never forget,” Grace twisted

a stray curl. “Your disbelief betrays him.”

“We haven’t forgotten you, daemon!”

Harry wailed into the night. “Don’t let this

skeptic evoke your wrath upon us!”

The town approached Irving as a unified

front. Hadn’t they always, even back then?

An army of cold scowls demanding she take

up a shovel and stop her delusions of grandeur.

Mocking her smiling stick-figure drawings

with her beside the Statue of Liberty

and other landmarks foreign to the local

farmland? Ripping apart the paper as Irving

cried and cried on the floor, thinking this

laughing face had been a friend she could

trust with her dreams? Not letting her forget

that she was too small, too independent, too

unique, to fit their standards—even when she

pulled weeds from the fields until her hands

grew bloodied and calloused?

Fear and sorrow fought for control as

Irving stepped away from the red faces. Her


desperate lie was breaking away and growing

into something else entirely. Something she

couldn’t control. Irving wasn’t accustomed

to being powerless. Not anymore.

“You’re all insane. It’s just a hoax! A simple,

stupid hoax that can’t save you!”

“Then let’s quiz her on the daemon,” the

female tour guide called in the back. “As the

so-called creator, surely she would know his

history?”

“Yes, yes!” Irving spluttered. Her back

thumped against the solid wall of cornstalks.

“Does the Drabblewood Daemon have

wings?” Grace pressed.

“Of course not!”

Grace and Harry shared a glance. Too

late, Irving remembered the statue and its

sprawling, bronze bat wings. Wings based on

eyewitness accounts.

“No,” Irving moaned as the believers’

approached her with sooty hands clutching

pitchforks and half-empty bottles. The liquid

inside turned the color of old blood beneath

the infrared lights. Her wingless prop

dropped in the dirt. “There were no wings.

There were never wings! That’s the truth!

That’s the honest truth!”

But the truth had warped, she realized too

late.

Climate is a

Changing

Poetry

Alexandra Bartholomew

Reston, Virginia, USA

The fires are raging

The dams are bursting

The deserts are growing

The snow is falling where it shouldn’t be

The coral is dying

The sky’s turned apocalyptic red

The ocean is swelling

90% of life may soon be dead

The water’s been poisoned

The fish are belly up

Companies won’t be reasoned

With blood in their cups

The climate’s a changing

We could have done something

Should have done something…

I would have done something

If I had any power.

Still Life

Sonnet

Richard Stimac

Maplewood, Missouri, USA

I’d cruise my bike along the earthen levee

And watch the towboats push with or against

The current. Standing there, my boy’s mind

heavy

With coming, going, watching, still, I sensed

My shifting, not the laden barges’ sway.

Illusions of self-motion trick us all.

We assume life fixed, that we choose our way.

Maybe my watching those shoal-draft boats

crawl

Ground fear in me, that dread will lead to

loss

Of freedom, of choice, of time held. It

seemed

Fixed, calmed, the earth at rest. It’s me

who’d cross

From point to reciprocal point. I dreamed

Of space firm, of time with no start, no end,

No sorrow, no loss, no sin to amend.

40


Vacant Sea

Photography

Steve Zimmerman

Bothell, Washington, USA

41


Apiology

Poetry

James Ph. Kotsybar

Vandenberg Village, California, USA

A

bee

can bite

the leaf of

a tomato plant

to encourage it into bloom.

When bees approach a flower, the static charge of wings

turns back legs into a velvet magnet to attract and carry pollen to the hive.

After a hundred million years, they’ve become expert

at selecting which plants will thrive

providing nectar

and other

foodstuffs

for

them.

Parks

Poetry

Nezrin Hasanly

Concord, California, USA

When I was a kid, parks were a fun and lively

place

I could never get enough of the slides

I always had a cheerful smile on my

face

Now I'm an adult, and parks have become my

escape

I keep going on the swings and swing so

high

hoping it'll free me from this world and

launch me into space

I wish I could go back in time and be

carefree again

Formed

from

the wasp,

they evolved

into colonies

developing social order,

language (dance), architecture, food storage, and many

of the things we call human inventions and institutions, like patriotism.

Each and every worker would give her life for the hive —

Hive held over jelly-fed queen,

who through pheromones’

tyranny

directs

hive

ops.

42


A Moth in the Light

Collage

Jennifer Frederick

Baltimore, Maryland, USA

43


Keep Dreaming

Photography

Olga Sushchik

Pleasanton, California, USA

44


A Gull Told Me

Poetry

Michael O'Brien

Chesterfield, New Jersey, USA

With me I would love to spend my time.

Some, upon seeing me, alone, in a cafe

might have thought it sad, and that,

they were glad.

Thinking, I have my people,

and I’m not lonely that way.

When I was by myself, I

was never alone.

Oh, how I would love feeling my thoughts cascade

from the wonder of being alive.

In this universe and into this consciousness

I would dive. My every sense receiving

into only me, the moments of a drifting mind.

That can’t be shared,

Thinking of how I did spend my time.

I was such a good friend of mine.

Such fond memories, of sitting by myself.

On a bench in the park.

Birds flying in the blue sky.

Tree branch marionettes, telling the

leaves, to dance if you please.

Ducks on the pond.

Floating feathered vessels, drifting aimlessly.

I was non-human, another part

of the landscape

to be painted.

Letting my mind out for a stroll.

Thoughts fluttering and swirling.

With no place to go.

This is how I would love to spend my time.

I was such a good friend of mine.

45

The Slide

Shape Poetry

Diane Thiel

Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

Sometimes to avoid

conflict, we might let it slide.

Some of us, over time, have developed

quite a smooth side, that will slide the muck thrown

down off of us, leaving barely a trace to an outside eye.

But eventually, it becomes clear

that not everything can slide.

Some things are just too big,

and if we try, it would crush the slide,

rupture a fissure in the ground.

No one would know

how to fix such a deep rift,

heading all the way down to an abyss.

Clearly, at least to some discerning eyes,

such a slide would be too dangerous.

The black and yellow hazard tape

all around the slide

would become a permanent

fixture in the park.

So if I can’t let this one slide

into that chasm, I know I have to speak,

but from too much experience, I also know

exactly where this will slide, regardless—

what this will trigger, with such debris

having collected here for years.

Hard to watch, but easy to predict

the mud flow that will follow,

taking everything with it.


46

Digital Collage Art

Digital Art

Ilaria Cortesi

Shanghai, China


Everything

Fiction

Matthew Berg

Beech Bluff, Tennessee, USA

It wasn't good, and she knew it. Every attempt

was a miserable failure...to her anyway.

One idea. One stroke. One more color;

yet every painting done fell apart...to her.

It was this way until a revelation hit her

while painting again: Just paint everything,

whether it's good to you or not, so she did.

In painting what she did, joy returned. Her

results were less than amazing, but with each

painting done for the love of creating that

gradually changed.

Broken. Ugly. Failure was prominent.in.every.work.

A weld snapped. A bolt would not

tighten. Every design repulsive! He tried and

tried, adding more pressure to himself; until

one day when it all changed. Everything.

Just create everything, whether it's great to

you or not, so he did. He woke the next day

and listened in his spirit as inspiration spoke

to him. Then he created. The results were

pitiful at first, then became awe-inspiring in

each creation made. Joy however was always

present, remembering the reason he sculpted

once more each time.

An old lady was in need. A metal ramp had

to be made, and no one helped, until the

news reached the painter and the sculptor.

A mutual friend got word of this need. He

relayed it to them. Wanting to help, they set

to work. The metal sculptor built it, and she

painted it: beautiful and tasteful with flowers.

At the need met (and the beautiful designs)

the old woman was filled with gratitude as

her joy returned. She could access the outside

with her wheelchair and be encouraged by the

flowers, all because two people gave everything...with

joy.

Finding the T in the Center of Motown

Poetry

Thea Schiller

Somers, New York, USA

Tender, touching tenacity with also temerity,

Totally terrific, typically telling, of lives not

so smooth but with such smooth music.

Telepathic telepathy,

Tuning and tapping and tempering the crazed

emotions,

The Subjugations knowing inside the tummies

and knowing all the secrets of the Universe.

Trinidad and Tobago, places to go to hear

calypso,

But Motown,

Tight friendships and loyalty,

Melodic tops of the sunrises, sunsets

Proclaiming colors of black, blue, red, and

ecstasy.

The tipping point for brother Tempo

Holding a torch.

Thine own story be told,

To see your truths, too.

Tickled in the Sixties

Floating on tire tubes,

Iridescent blue in on the back of emerald

green turtles.

Here’s to the dream and to the love,

The unstoppable timetable of your alarm

clock where you set it

to tickle one’s fancy

47

Teachers of tick tock,

Around the clock, the trip around the

numbers to go past midnight,

To make it to morning and 6:00.

Tears, too thirsty, but thematic and thorough

become thoughtful,

And make Tea for two.

Not testy but trustworthy

And teeming with letters, with good partying,

totally into

transition of

Pure theology.

The sounds of T in the middle of Motown

Transport us

To the freedom train

Away from cussing,

into tooling

To make the task doable

The talk piece

Is having Time for everything

to turn, turn beyond Ecclesiastics

to stretch our homes to yours,

All thirsty for the golden answer of blessings

When we thank you, thank you!


Agony of a poet

Poetry

Sandip Saha

Kolkata, India

I.

Sleight-of-Hand

Poetry

Taunja Thomson

Cold Spring, Kentucky, USA

Where will the tide take us?

I am a poem

I take birth in a poet’s

fertile brain

like a tree

as a seed is sown

I am sown

as a thought

born on a paper

taking a shape.

My creator poet

sends me to journals

for publication

misery starts here

like a bride in India

I pay reading fees

as dowry to future in-laws,

magazine after magazine

no taker only pain

after immense efforts

when my father gets my home

he has drained himself

both financially and mentally.

Once I get married in a book

my creator cannot see me

if he fails to pay to the publisher

to buy that book in which I

dwell

my hapless owner weeps.

Once poets were adorable

now they are nothing but

beggars

pleading to publishers.

In summer earth plays tricks on

me—

bee balm mandalas spin lavender

a fox pops out of woods, slinks

under deck, rematerializes redorange

under my feet

& rests

afternoon sun tosses purple

spangles

at my feet

moon opals grass.

II.

It’s true—our eons seem

to be running thin

these days.

We’ve lost the tug of trees, the

odes

of onion grass & orchid, the

reveries

of web & swamp.

We are no longer ocean-wise,

having ceded reefs to garbage,

disdaining the poet’s eye

for slug & fin & foal.

III.

I cannot say, but I know where my

own steps

will take me—

into foxglove center with nectar

mind

following fox’s passage through

tree cathedral,

mossy nave & starry apse,

to her tunneled den cradling

her wild-eyed kits

into afternoons that adorn me

with violet dapple

& orange shimmer

amid nights so dark that stars stab

my eyes

IV.

& I stand, rapt, under winter

moon’s

sleight-of-hand.

48


Meditating Sea Lion

Photography

Lara Abreu

Pleasanton, California, USA

49


50

Agent Peacock

Collage

Jennifer Frederick

Baltimore, Maryland, USA


"Call to mind from whence ye sprang:

Ye were not formed to live the lives of

brutes,

But virtue to pursue and knowledge

high."

Inferno, Canto XXVI, 115-117

Adam, firstborn, held court on the plain of

Eden.

He was there, he said, as a deputy — in a

sense, as a chamberlain.

He was there, he said, to take a census of

the beasts of the earth, and the sea, and the

sky; to name their names and assess their

quality.

The animals bowed their heads. This

seemed a weighty task.

Adam told them to form a queue; to

divide themselves into kingdom, genus,

species, and family; to come in pairs, if

they spawned in pairs; to come in pods, if

they spawned in pods. Lastly, he told all the

animals to comport themselves with dignity

— "No pushing, no shoving!" — he would see

each one of them in the proper place, at the

proper time.

First came the beasts of the earth. The

ounce, the leopard, the tiger, and the lion.

One thousand kinds of cow and one thousand

kinds of chimp. Elephants with ears like India

and elephants with ears like Africa. They

came to our forefather. They kneeled and

were named.

Next came the beasts of the under-earth,

flowing like a river to the foot of Adam’s

The Birds of Paradise

Fiction

Gabriel McCluskey

Colwyn Bay, Wales, UK

throne. Moles and badgers led the way, followed

by the snakes and the spiders and the

toads. And then, like a froth of soap strained

from the grass, came the crawling legion of

insects. Adam named them all — the million

ants, the million aphids; the bugs so small he

could not see them or feel their weight in his

hand.

Then it was the turn of the sea beasts.

Adam went down to the coast and stood

upon the clean white beach. Before him,

he saw the water, alive with fish: plankton

swarmed, and pike pushed against pike,

and sharks jockeyed for position. And Adam

named them all — even the leviathans, hugest

of living creatures, which stretch on the

deep like islands in the main.

Last of all, Adam named the birds of the

sky. Like ministering angels, they landed

around him: buzzards and nightingales, tomtits

and cuckoos, warblers and gobblers. The

sky was dark with their bodies, stormy with

the flapping of their wings.

Then Adam was finished; his invention

nearly exhausted. He sat on his throne,

which was woven with flowers, and rubbed

sleep from his eyes.

"Who else is there?" Adam said to the animals,

"Who have I missed?"

They produced the platypus — a skulking,

miserable creature, who had hidden himself

away when he heard news of an assembly.

Adam cursed the platypus for his backwardness

and, from that day forth, he went

about with a duck’s bill and a beaver’s tail;

51

shamed and insulted.

Then Adam stood, and stretched, and

yawned. He retired to his pavilion, to ready

himself for the perfect sleep of paradise.

But the animals followed our forebear,

followed him right into his bedchamber. Calf

and cub trampled down the golden grass;

slugs nibbled at the wreathing amaranths.

The animals crowded round his bed of flowers,

watching Adam with reproachful eyes as

he bent over the washbowl.

After a moment, Adam straightened and

looked around at them. An antelope butted

his leg. Moths buzzed sadly by his ears.

"Who else is there?" Adam said to the animals,

"Who have I missed?"

They led Adam out of his bower, out of

his pavilion. They led him back down to the

plain of Eden. They clucked, roared, barked,

and hooted. They directed his attention to

the treeline — darkling, now, and gray with

twilight.

And there, bright on the branches, Adam

saw a flock of birds.

These birds — there were around three

hundred of them — had not hidden, like the

platypus. Likely, they had sat in the trees all

day long, waiting for his attention. Anxiety

trembled in Adam’s chest. He should have

gone to them earlier! Taken more care! To

think: He might have gone to bed for the

night, leaving these birds unnamed and

inchoate!

He began to hurry towards them, moving

through the field with a rapid step, indif-


ferent to the burdocks which stuck to his

bareness.

And then a voice called unto him: "Adam,

Adam! Come no closer, Adam!"

The man dropped to his knees, full with

fear and trembling. He flung his hands above

his head and cried out for mercy — primed

for the terrible reprimand, the rod of iron.

And yet no reprimand came. Nor was there a

light too bright to behold, or an angry crack

of thunder; nor was there the pressure of an

invisible eye, beating down on him like the

rays of the sun. There was nothing. Nothing

but a few panicked bleats from the animals

at his back; nothing but the night wind,

blowing in the trees.

Adam staggered to his feet. His knees

were patched with mud. The evening was

getting cold — as cold it could get in Eden.

He recruited his strength and carried on in

the direction of the birds.

And then a voice called unto him: "Adam,

Adam! Come no closer, Adam!"

He paused, listening, and he knew: this

was not the voice he had heard so often

before. That voice was strong, deep, masculine.

It appeared from nowhere, like a summer

storm, and it would brook no argument.

In comparison, this new voice was weak,

shrill, almost querulous. It was a voice of the

garden — a sound that could be made by a

pig, or a horse, or a serpent.

"Who is that?" Adam shouted, "Where art

thou? Do you dare speak to me in such a

way?"

The leaves whispered nonsense. The birds

ruffled their feathers.

So Adam went onwards, wary now, until he

stood by the trunk of the first tree.

He looked up at the birds. The birds

looked down at him.

They were a curious, colourful brood. The

largest of their number was about half Adam’s

height; the smallest could have hidden

in the palm of his hand. Many were of the

bright, twittering kind; some were grayer

and gloomier. All were possessed of watchful,

intelligent eyes; eyes that glittered

blackly in the deepening twilight.

Adam called up to them, prefacing his

words with a smile: "There’s nothing to fear,

friends! Humility will only add to your reward:

'The last shall be first, and the first

last.' Come down, now. Come down and

receive your names — and then we can all go

to bed!"

The birds did not descend. They continued

to observe him, staring at his muddy feet, at

his hair flecked with straw and woodbine.

Adam felt a pulse of indignation.

He fixed the smile on his face and spoke

again, his voice calm and controlled: "Listen

to me, friends: lament not your lateness.

And don’t make yourselves any later, either!

Fear not; tremble not; be strong and of good

courage. Come down right away and get your

new names. Or — what’s the problem? Why

hesitate? Don’t you want names?"

Wings flapped. A green bird whistled derisively.

Then the voice rang out again, harsher

than before: "We will not come down!

Indeed, we will not. We have no need of

you, Adam. You may leave us."

At length, not unamazed, Adam in answer

spoke: "What may this mean? Language of

man pronounced by tongue of brute, and human

sense expressed? This is not right. Who

are you creatures, that thus can speak?"

Again, the birds were silent. Then one of

their number — a large, red-feathered fellow

— fluttered down to a lower branch, so that

he sat just above Adam’s head. The bird

52

drew himself up and gave the man answer:

"And who are you, that thus can speak? Who

are you?"

Adam’s indignation rose to anger. He fixed

the bird with the eye of authority, and lifted

his voice in fury: "I am Adam, firstborn and

steward of the world. Third or fourth in the

great chain of Degree. I have been raised to

empery over fish in flood and fowl in forest.

I am one finger of a larger hand — a hand

which can pluck the feathers of ungrateful

birds quicker than they realise!" (Several

squawks: some filled with fear; some heavy

with irony.) "But I am not a tyrant, dear

friends. Nor is that power which empowers

me. No, no. I am extended as the finger of

peace – a finger which you may take, and

shake, at your will. So."

Adam stood, impressive, his hand extended

in friendship of a kind.

The red bird said nothing, but hung inverted

on his branch. Then, with a sudden

movement, he pecked at Adam’s fingers and

sprang upright. "So?" He cried, "So? So? We

have no need of you, Adam Firstborn. Get

you hence: shoo, shoo, shoo!"

"Why don’t you need me? Why do you say

that? Of course you need me! I hold office,

here. I give out the names. And you don’t

have a name, as yet." (A great deal of whistling;

a sound very much like laughter.)

"What will you do without names?"

"We have names," the red bird said, "We

have names, Adam."

‘No you don’t. How could you?’

"We named ourselves."

Adam’s anger burst its bounds. His yell of

rage reached the animals on the plain, (and

a particularly brazen calf set off to his steward’s

aid, but was soon called back to the

herd by his mate.) Other ears, too, had their


harmony broken by this yell. Other ears that

Adam had no desire to disturb, or bedevil, at

that time.

The birds in the trees crowed and shook

their wings at him. He paced back and forth,

sucking his bitten fingers, frantic with fury.

(And, not in a small part, with fear: His

position was not secure, as he had often

been told. Now, this little problem was quite

unconnected to the cardinal ban — at least

so far as he could see — but Adam knew that

it would not reflect well on him. Not at all.)

"But, how? How?"

The bird did not respond, but just

watched the man pace. He looked very

plump, Adam thought, very plump and proud

and haughty.

"Well, if you won’t answer that — what

have you called yourselves?"

"We will not tell you, Adam. We will not

tell you. Our name in your mouth is no longer

our name."

"But what if I name you anyway?"

"But what if I name you anyway? What if

I call you pale-hide? Or pluck-feather? Or

hog-cheek? We can both speak; we can both

go about on two legs; we can both think,

after our own fashions... It is true: We wear

wings, you wear paws. And we prefer the

sky, while you walk on the ground. But,

Adam, I can name you as well as you can

name me."

"But how can you speak? When — how did

you learn?"

"I learnt as you learnt, Adam: imitation.

At one point, our thoughts were low and

abject — the thoughts of any brute beast.

At one point, we could conceive of nothing

beyond the fruit of the field and the grubs

of the earth. But, then, one day, as we

made our nests in a tree of marvelous fruit,

we saw you walking in the garden, deep in

conversation with another. We listened. We

liked the music of your words. And, amongst

ourselves, we decided: We too would speak."

Adam licked his lips, opened his mouth to

speak, then closed it again.

Pastoral work, panpipes, and daily commerce

with mute herds, do not often a dialogist

make — contrary to the examples given

us by later sages. In truth, Adam had never

had opportunity to learn the art of debate.

Personally, he felt most comfortable giving

or receiving orders. And he could no more

argue with his superiors than a snail could

argue with him.

Night had settled on the woods; the birds

had been reduced to dim smudges and the

occasional rustle of wings.

"It’s all wrong." Adam said, speaking

almost to himself. "It’s all wrong, somehow.

You have broken — you have transgressed —

the Covenant!"

"That’s none of our concern. We were party

to no covenant."

"But it’s ridiculous! Nothing just names

itself! It’s a direct contravention, a direct

challenge… Even I didn’t name myself!

You see?" He spoke with more energy now,

relieved that he had hit on a good point at

last. "You see? I was formed with a name

made ready for me. Perhaps, if I had been

consulted, I would have picked another

name — but do I complain? Do I hide in dark

woods, and live like a platypus, and claim

that I named myself? No! I accept the job

that I’ve been given. And I accept the title

that comes with it, too."

"And should we submit, because you submitted?

Should we cringe, and crawl, and

eat dirt, because you did?"

Adam was about to respond, when — all

53

in a moment — his anger was cooled. Something

moved within him, something like the

stirring of life in a new-laid egg. He felt like

a patch of dry ground, made pliant by a sudden

shower of rain.

Adam spoke in suave, confiding tones, in a

voice he had never heard before.

"Do not forget, dear friends, that other

party — that much mightier power... You

know that He named Himself. Now, think:

will He be pleased to hear what you have

done? That you have helped yourselves to

His privilege? That you have puffed yourselves

up as — as what, indeed? As rebels?

As atheists? Or as powers in your own right,

perhaps?

"Think on that, birds, and consider the

consequences."

Adam stopped. He had won his point. With

this pronouncement, a whisper of uncertainty

spread throughout that parliament of

fowls. Even the red bird seemed perturbed;

momentarily struck dumb by the same fear

that had shaken his fellows.

"But, it’s not too late." Adam said,

"There’s still time. 'The last shall be first,

and the first last.' So, come down. Come

down! You’ll see — with names you will cohere.

At last! With names you will be digits

on the hand, like me; you will be leaves on

the tree; droplets in the ocean. Come, now,

come and see..."

The smaller birds seemed to waver. The

larger birds inclined their heads, plumes

swaying with thought. Uneasy on their

branches, they hopped from one foot to

another and ruffled their feathers.

The wind had stopped — held back like a

held breath.

Then the red bird spoke, his voice coarse

in the new silence: "We will not be tempted,


Adam. We will not be led by the beak!

"We saw what happened to you. How you

appeared on the riverbank. A white, fleshy

thing — phlegm of the dust! We saw how

that greater power came and licked you

into tolerable form, like a mother bear licks

her cubs. We saw it. We watched you walk,

faltering like a foal. We watched you build

your bower, and command your chattels, and

— last of all — we watched you impose your

names upon them, calling this one this and

that one that. You see how it has infected

our speech — how we cannot think without

thinking your words. Foal! Cubs! And,

now, you want us to join this great chain of

subservience? You threaten us, and tempt us,

and try to trick us?

"No, Adam, no. We are nothing alike. We

woke with dirt in our eyes. We came scrabbling

forth from the crust of the land. Born

— I suppose — from the secretion of certain

salts and minerals. We knew no maker; no

hand sculpted us from Euphrates’ clay. We

crawled amongst the weeds, our feathers

weighted with sod. We grew in strength and

wisdom, till we could leap from the earth to

the trees, from the trees to the sky.

"We made ourselves, Adam. We named

ourselves. We will rule ourselves.

"Now, get you hence, Pluck-feather!"

The tension was broken; the birds rallied

behind their speaker. Some shrieked and

hissed and flapped their wings. Some shouted

in voices like song. And some, less certain,

hid their heads beneath their feathers.

Adam opened his mouth to speak and was

silenced.

The wind, suddenly furious, had blown his

words away.

#

A great storm burst upon Eden, then. A

storm which made the forests bend and tore

the tender grasses from their roots. The first

storm. The storm that marred the face of

the sky with lightning; and which lashed the

backs of the animals with ropes of rain.

Adam hid himself from the storm’s anger.

He crept away, like a woodlouse, to hide in

the hollow of an enormous tree.

#

In the morning, when the rain and wind

had stopped their roaring, Adam left his hiding

place and went in search of the birds.

For the first time, he saw the floor of the

forest scattered with broken branches and

ragged leaves; he saw animals, sodden and

shivering, picking their way through the

wounded world. For th e first time, Adam

saw his breath cloud in front of his face, and

felt the bite of the air.

At length, he found the birds.

As before, they were met in counsel,

high up in the trees. But now, they sat close

together, huddled against the chill. Their

feathers were drab; their proud, plumed

heads bowed with exhaustion.

At first, they did not notice his presence.

To draw their attention, Adam had to shout

and bang on the trunks of their trees with

a fallen branch. And, even then, their gaze

lacked the fixity of the day before.

Adam addressed the red bird, who he saw

sitting apart from the others, sitting alone in

the fork of a battered yew. The bird’s face

was ashen, white where it had once been

scarlet. Hoops of sleeplessness had grown

beneath his eyes and his feathers were bedraggled

and rain-stained.

Adam stood beneath the yew, and called

54

up to him:

"Well, bird, what do you say?"

The bird bobbed his head. Said nothing.

"Now, you have seen it all — the storm —

the might — the power and the glory."

The bird bobbed his head, shrilly repeated:

"The power and the glory, the power and

the glory!"

"You have seen it. And, hopefully, you have

understood it. You are a particle of dust, flying

in the face of heaven. You realise, now,

that you must submit."

"Must submit. Must, must submit! Power

and the glory! The power and the glory!’"

"Just so. Now, come down. You will be forgiven,

all of you. Your crimes are not capital.

Soon, you will find your place amongst us.

Good grass will always grow in fertile soil."

"Just so! Just so! Grass, grass! Soil! The

power and the glory!"

The birds dropped dumbly from the trees.

They formed a straggling procession, twoby-two

up to Adam’s feet, their wings dragging

in the mud. It was a procession without

song, without rejoicing. Each bird received

his blessing, and then — in an instant —

seemed to forget himself. They staggered

and stumbled like drunks; they pecked at

the wet leaves like chickens.

The red bird kept his perch. He sang

senseless tunes and capered clumsily up

and down his branch. He bobbed his head

in frantic accord, snapped his beak at the

unresisting air. He cried out, in a voice as

thin as an infant’s cry: "Power and the glory!

The power and the glory! Forever and ever,

Amen! Forever and ever, Amen!"

#

And that is the story of how the parrots

got their name.


Thirteen Stripes

Poetry

Marie-Anne Poudre

Dublin, California, USA

Battles

Poetry

Jared Pearce

Oskaloosa, Iowa, USA

1.

You’re a little hoarse to call me

this morning to tell your story.

Zebra! Zebra in pajamas!

Tell me about the savannas!

2.

Zebra! Zebra’s running fast

down the grassy vales' dead-ends.

“What amoral beast or man

has spooked your peaceful herd of friends?”

3.

Sleepy leopards perching aloft

opened their eyes but missed your rump.

Whiskers over claws, they fell soft,

Snarling at the speeding chump.

4.

“What amoral beast or man

has spooked your peaceful herd of friends?”

Zebra! Zebra’s stopping at last

to graze around the vales' dead-ends.

5.

Felon lions stalking their prey,

hiding under the canopy,

headwind blowing their scent away,

draw close, and you graze slap happy.

6.

Fancy, trendy in savannas,

Zebra! Zebra! You, silly horse!

Aren’t you a little too hoarse

to tell stories in pajamas?

7.

Snap! A twig breaks. Fuzzy ears twitched.

Two swift lionesses pounced

on your black stripes. Missed by an inch!

Faster, you saved your skin this once,

8.

my cunning horse who pranced. Of course.

Zebra! Zebra in pajamas,

Fastest reflex in savannas!

Survival was your thriving force.

9.

Stung by horse-flies the wildebeest

Reeled away from the waterhole.

Your stripes were your shield at nightfall.

Bite-free, you always drank in peace.

10.

Zebra! Zebra in pajamas,

You, lucky horse! You pranced, of course.

Fancy! Trendy in savannas.

Wild mane’s style! No silk! All coarse!

11.

“Are there more black in your white stripes?

Or are there more white stripes than

black?” (1)

Striking smart horse dressed in pinstripes,

smooth, you blur the lines of leaves and

bark.

12.

Bleached and tall, the grass blades hid you.

Jeeps and men with guns roamed near.

Stood still, as their dangerous crew

Killed—the zebra disappeared.

13.

Zebra! Zebra! You! lonely horse

behind zoo bars, you cry, of course.

Zebra! Zebra! You miss the plains,

where warm winds brush black and white

manes.

(1) Madagascar, by Eric Darnell and Tom

McGrath, Dreamworks, 2005

55

My neighbor is upset her dog is eating

rabbits.

She’s observed the dog will pretend his lead

is tight, that the rabbits believe this feint,

stray

too close, and the dog pounces, nails and

canines.

I asked if we could borrow her dog to kill

the rabbits in my yard. They creep in under

cover, nibble on the green, wolf the bean,

leave

nothing except their kits to glean and, again,

seed.

My neighbor looks like she’s been mauled, so

I duck

and weave: Could we have some shed fur to

deter?

She’s kind to that and brings me a fist of hair

I raise like dukes inside the garden fence.

She promises to bring a bag after the dog’s

brushed;

I arrange the defensive mortar and trench.


Do you like butter? Do you like cheese? Do

you like sitting on a housemaid’s knees?

Despite the deluge outside, I could see

one of the sheep that was putting on some

late winter weight. She was stumbling

against the sheet of rain and hail, standing

in the middle of the field, pawing at the

mud instead of huddling under the shelter.

Catching a flash of blood against her fleece,

I dropped my shabby tea towel and managed

to shove my aching feet into my still-sodden

work boots. I had spent all day clearing the

bottom pasture for the upcoming lambing

season and hadn’t yet had the chance to

check the flock. I silently cursed my father

as I threw the door open, he was difficult to

get along with, and the last three farmhands

had quit without notice, leaving just the two

of us and a flock of 600 Drysdales.

Nudging the torn-up grass, a low sound

rumbling from the ewe’s throat. I could tell

she was in pain, and as I reached a hand

out in comfort, she pulled away and slipped

into the muck. I ran a hand across her back,

deciding to call her Buttercup. I had spent

many afternoons in this field with mum,

shining buttercups under our chins, singing a

little nonsense song. Today’s buttercups have

been crushed into the dirt, flecks of bruised

yellow peeking through as the rain washed

clay across my boots. Daylight was fading

and the lambing sheds with the heat lights

and dry shelter were several miles away.

Blood was pumping through my cheeks as the

wind whipped loose leaves and debris around

Buttercup

Fiction

Ashleigh Cattermole

Christchurch, New Zealand

us.

I peered down the driveway, desperately

hoping my father had returned from checking

the fences, but the dirt driveway was

empty. My feet were skidding underneath

me, the shivering ewe in front of me was

quiet now, her breathing heavy. With a

rolling gut, I could feel bile in my throat but

sucking icy air into my lungs, I cradled the

gentle, soggy pile of fleece. I could feel her

contractions and knew the lamb’s arrival

wasn’t far away. I had nothing to wrap the

lamb in, nothing to soothe the ewe, and I

couldn’t tell how long I had. Bracing against

the weather, I ran for the wash house,

grabbed a handful of dirty towels, the first

aid kit, and a ripped tarp. Buttercup had not

moved from the muddy puddle, and I could

do nothing but sit with her, trying to calm

my racing heart with a glance up to the sky.

Good Lord, if you’re up there!

I hadn’t prayed since the day my husband

got sick. It hadn’t done any good then either.

I had lost track of how long I had been in the

paddock, but it was well and truly dark by

now. I looked up at the house, hoping for a

flash of light to show my mother-in-law had

returned. Nothing. I slipped a disposable

glove from the first aid kit onto a shaking

hand, the rubbery snap they made reminding

me of the blustering hospital nurses who

delivered my own son. With a deep breath,

I began to sing the only words that came to

my mind, probably soothing myself more

than the ewe.

“There was a woman, oh she was a widow,

56

fair as the flowers in the valley.”

I could feel the legs of the lamb now.

Buttercup was holding on as if she knew her

baby was almost here.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered as her head crumpled

in exhaustion.

Out and down, my father had told me

when teaching me to birth a mispositioned

lamb. I opened my dry, cottony mouth to the

sky and felt the cool water slap against my

tongue.

Jesus Christ.

I held Buttercup as her lamb slid stiffly

onto the towel. Quickly wrapping him to

try and keep out at least some of the rain,

I placed him gently near his mother’s face.

She slowly blinked. Her panting was desperate

but measured. Her tongue began lapping

at the lamb, but I could tell it was a struggle.

Singing to her again as her eyes closed,

an old towel and a tarp all that was keeping

us from the thunderous spring rain. As I felt

her movements diminish to almost nothing, I

saw headlights approaching. Dad had returned.

Skidding frantically in the dirt beside us,

dad flung his passenger door open and piled

a few old coats onto the seat, turning the

heater as high as it would go. I held the

lamb between my knees as I rubbed the rain

and blood from its fleece. His legs shook,

but he was too weak to stand yet. He was

hauled up into the seat of the ute. With a

last bleat from Buttercup, Dad took off for

the wool shed where there was light, feed,

bottles, and warmth to get the lamb through


the night. I place the last of the soggy towels

across the still ewe, wishing I had more

warmth and comfort to offer her. Her eyes

closed, and I felt the shudder I had been

suppressing in my gut escape, and my body

began to wrack with tears.

As the beginning of the sunrise began to

brighten patches in the dark sky, I trudged

towards the wool shed. My mother-in-law

waved a coffee pot out the kitchen window

as I neared. I could see the top of my son’s

head peeking out of her arms. I nodded and

smiled, making a quick detour to find dad

snoring against a stack of hay bales and

shorn fleece. The heat lamps were pulsing

down upon a tiny bleating bundle that

turned his head and looked around. He was

on his feet now, and I could see his eyes

were bright and curious. I collapsed to the

ground and leaned back against the tractor

wheel, watching four clumsy hooves dance

around in the dust of the morning, a weak

ray of sunlight finally gleaming through the

doors.

Atonal

Poetry

Ben Macnair

Lichfield, Staffordshire, UK

A cow is mooing in a field,

somewhere a crow answers it,

the difference in language,

in communication skills

is obvious.

There are no easy translations for it,

no way that they can understand

what the other needs.

The only difference between their names is

an R,

and maybe the same is true of us as a

species.

Different languages spoken,

with little common ground,

but maybe in the atonal screeching,

the out of tune normality,

the foreign tones,

the microtonal nuance,

there are new tunes to be played,

new rhythms to dance to,

if only we had the time to listen,

and properly understand.

Nightjars

Poetry

Robert Wilson

Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA

I.

Black throats, undersized bills,

nightjars balance sidelong

on branches and wires

stretched across dry, open woodlands.

Their coloration, burnt sienna

and blight, matches dead leaves

on forest floors, they feed

on scraps of light and luminous

bodies of moths.

II.

We count what can be counted:

this was a riverbed,

these are a series of black marks on a page

with some sort of sense.

Those are small birds, eyes as large

as their skulls, still, even diapausal,

numbered one or more sight unseen.

57


The Old Man

Poetry - Tetrameter

Craig Kurtz

Charlottesville, Virginia, USA

The Sharp Edge

Poetry

Francis Flavin

Sparks, Nevada, USA

Have you met the Old Man yet? —

note he’s as old as old cats get;

he’s asthmatic and in no rush,

he’s bony and might need a brush;

you’ll see him mulling on his porch

as if he’s carrying a torch;

it takes a while to earn his trust —

cat treats help but they’re not a must.

Most cats can tell three yards away

if you’re a fink or you’re OK;

they always know if something’s wrong

and if it is, they move along;

they’ll let you be their friend if you’ll

respectfully be half-way cool;

and cats that are quite old are wise —

they’ll X-ray you with their cat eyes.

The Old Man’s twenty-five years old —

at least that is what I’ve been told;

it takes a while, but once up, he’s

inclined to figure-eight your knees;

and ev’ry once in a while, he’ll

be further afield than ideal;

although you wouldn’t think he might,

the rabbits get him out at night.

Although he’s old, although it’s cold,

those rabbits need to be controlled;

while he’s around, those rabbits will

be set upon, unless they’re still;

it’s self-esteem, or call it pride,

but cats should catch some prey outside;

’cause ‘fixing them’ is an affront —

at least let’s let them have their hunt.

His days of catching rabbits are

no doubt best left to his memoir;

I wonder if he knows these days

are yielding now to blank malaise?;

and back then when he captured one,

does he recall, like a re-run,

the last time of his lengthy span

he was a cat, as well a man?

So, have you met the Old Man yet? —

note he’s a person, not a pet;

he’s sitting on the front porch where

he might assess you with a stare;

and looking over the long haul,

what of his days he will recall?

I’m guessing hunting pleasure that’s

vicariously sex for cats.

And ev’ry time I think he died,

he’s been inclined to sleep or hide;

I’m sure he has forgotten me —

who knows a cat’s psychology?;

months later I will see him trot

right up to the best friend he’s got;

I hope the Old Man never dies

because cats aren’t good at goodbyes.

58

Your dinner is squealing in terror in the

backyard.

Ah, you have turned up the music —

Still, I think you can hear the loudest

shrieks,

When the pig is dragged onto the slab.

My knife is sharp and sure.

It will end his misery soon enough —

Yours as well.

Here, we lack that buffer of supply chains

and food hubs

That shields the Western psyche.

You love pork —

So, do I.

You know the price.

I know the cost.


Diary of a Ghostwriter

Creative Nonfiction

Dawn-Michelle Baude

Banner, Wyoming, USA

"Dear Jackie," I typed into the computer.

It was one of the most amazing moments of

my professional life. Me—a kid from Nowhere,

Illinois—corresponding with Jacqueline

Kennedy Onassis! The task combined the

thrill of celebrity-access with the mischief of

impersonation. I adored Jackie's elegance,

courage and style. I commiserated with her

misfortune. I coveted her sunglasses.

"Please do find time to visit us at the

chateau," I read aloud to the Baroness. "The

dahlias are in full bloom, and the gardens

are simply divine."

"Gorgeous," she corrected. "The gardens

are simply gorgeous."

I revised and waited, while the Baroness—

or Mimi, as I was permitted to call her—shuffled

slides on the light box. I spent so much

time in that Parisian office, its contours

have seemingly shaped memory itself. The

room was small and cozy, positioned beneath

penthouse eaves. Between our two desks

was a chaotic table overwhelmed by a turtle

mound of books and files. A phone/fax station

was arrayed next to the windows giving

onto the apse-end of the Basilique Saint-Clotilde.

French Provençal fabric covered the

walls, a different fabric for the swag curtains.

In aristocratic interiors, fabrics are

complementary, never matching. Only lower

classes match things.

"Tell Jackie," Mimi dictated, "the manuscript

is…."

I waited while the Baroness gathered her

thoughts. Aristocrats can't be rushed. The

fact that they can trace family lineage back

several generations gives them a kind of

gravitas bordering on inertia.

"Tell Jackie the manuscript is…," I prompted.

Mimi sighed. Clearly the task was tiresome.

I sipped Earl Grey from a wafer-thin

cup.

"Progressing," she said finally.

I politely ventured that we needed something

stronger. "The manuscript is progressing

well? Progressing steadily?"

Mimi squinted at a slide as if she didn't

hear me. It was tricky in these moments to

gauge how far I could push—deference went

hand-in-hand with employment. I excused

myself for interrupting and asked if she

might be willing to consider "progressing

apace"?

"'Apace' will do," the Baroness decided. "I

suppose Jackie will be relieved to hear that."

Jackie and Mimi were old friends, but

they weren't close. They had gone to boarding

school together, one of those east coast

establishments with lawns as manicured as

the debutantes' nails. Mimi attended Jackie's

wedding to JFK. When Jackie became an editor

at Doubleday after the death of her second

husband, Aristotle Onassis, she agreed

to publish Mimi's book, partly because—and

here I'm vague—someone in Mimi's clan was

very high up at Doubleday.

It was, nevertheless, a good fit: Bedrooms

& Boudoirs of Elite Frenchwomen was about

interiors, and Jackie was passionate about

interiors. It was Jackie who took a lackluster

Sears Roebuck White House and turned it

59

into showplace worthy of the Smithsonian.

She understood how the shape of a chair, or

the pattern of an embroidery, reveals domestic

history—intimate details of daily life

that speak to us more of what it is to be human

than wars or elections or neuroscience

data combined. But did Jackie know Mimi

hired ghostwriters for everything she published?

Although the Baroness could rattle off

precedence in a royal receiving line (Dowager

Viscountess before Earl), she was incapable

of ordering sentences in a paragraph.

She couldn't even write a coherent note to

her publisher.

"Should I tell Jackie that Madame Mitterrand

has declined to be a part of the project,

but that the Countess de Rîmes took her

place?"

The Baroness frowned and said that Jackie

was going to be so awfully disappointed

about Madame Mitterrand.

I would have preferred the French President's

wife too. I took a strong, immediate

dislike to the Countess de Rîmes as soon

as I read her interview with the Baroness…

and that's saying a lot. Most of the women

profiled in Bedrooms & Boudoirs took themselves

so seriously that there wasn't a shred

of humor or humbleness or compassion in

their transcripts, and none more than the

Countess de Rîmes.

I want those Biedermeier bed tables! And I

want them now! the Countess insisted at the

Hôtel St.

Regis, where once she slept in a room outfitted

with heirlooms. I suspect the St. Regis


finally sold the tables to her just to get rid

of her. Her two-hundred-year-old baldaquin

bed, apparently a souvenir d'amour, was

shipped from Spain. She preferred centuries-old

linen sheets, because of course, the

quality went down after 1800. Mimi told me

that the purity of de Rîme's lineage was visible

in her facial structure, which is why the

Countess pulled her hair back into a tight

chignon. Apparently aristocrats can identify

each other by their silhouettes alone. One

French family even claims to be descended

from Jesus Christ.

"I don't know.... whatever I'm... to do."

Mimi stopped sorting images and froze, staring

into space as if time had frozen too. And

I suppose, in a way, it has. Telling moments

in our lives become stills in memory, nuggets

of experience nestled in the neural albums

of the brain. I can still see Mimi's anxious

face, the way her big cow eyes swept in my

direction when I asked what was wrong. The

helplessness emanating from her gaze reminded

me of Mother.

"Hu-bert," she said as if talking to herself,

"may be having an affair."

Hubert? With those fussy ascots? The

perfectly pressed suits? That chiseled nose? A

terrible rigidity seemed to accompany Mimi's

husband into the room, as if all the humidity

had been sucked out of the air. In my opinion,

the Baron was about as attractive as an

empty swimming pool.

But she loved him. Mimi hunched over the

desk, hiding her face in her hands, shivering

like a nervous thoroughbred as she cried.

I fought the instinct to run over and put

my arms around her. Aristocrats often can't

be touched willy-nilly. Formality inheres in

their persons like starch in a cummerbund.

You can't physically comfort them if you

don't have a pedigree or some version of

intergenerational servant status. So I sat

awkwardly in front of the computer, Jackie's

unfinished letter glowing on the screen,

watching Mimi cry.

Her birth name was Norma. I'm not sure

when the Mimi part came in—probably long

before the Baroness part. Because of her

beauty and connections, she'd married into

the aristocracy, but it was a poor fit. Her

privileged airs were forced, as if her training

in finishing school had never really taken.

At some point or other, I began to remark

the subtle strain. Her French, although far

superior to mine, wasn't perfect. Mimi never

lost the American accent that flavored her

speech like too much coriander on the chateaubriand.

Real European aristocrats, those

who'd earned their place through breeding

instead of marriage, must have looked down

on her, although she tried so hard to be one

of them, going so far as to secure a book

contract that ensured access to the most

highly-placed women in French society. Even

Mimi's professional reputation—the one area

of her life where she could potentially derive

satisfaction—was a sham. The respect Mimi

earned as a former Condé Nast editor was

baseless. I doubt she wrote a single article

published under her name.

Mimi's struggle was to be Mimi—to become

the legend. But no matter how good

she looked in a Chanel suit, no matter how

snobby her aristocratic entitlement, how

often she lunched or dined with la crème,

no matter what power her money gave her

or how rigorously she obeyed the mandates

of privilege, there was a system of hairline

fissures in the foundation.

I believe the only thing Mimi really had,

the thing that she could fully own and rely

60

on, a work that was genuinely hers, was

her Rolodex. In truth, it was her greatest

achievement, a testimony to the success of

her social climbing. It was a late-20th-century

desktop gizmo, a rotating address book

that seems gilded in memory, like a celestial

wheel of fortune. On the notched address

cards, Mimi had the phone numbers of umpteen

women of pedigree, including several

women in line to thrones. It was a Rolodex

of wealth and position, of influence and

power, of caché and swag. Cards were filed

by name and residences: Easthampton, New

York; Gstaad, Switzerland; Ibiza, Spain; Paris,

France; Rio, Brazil; Siwa, Egypt. I know

this because sometimes I had to look things

up and the roll call reeled past, seemingly

spewing glitter.

Compared with this starry universe, Mimi's

personal life seemed tarnished by deception

and disappointment. Her husband was cold,

her adult children—the ones I met—spoiled

rotten and mean. They came to get money,

in cash, from their mother. I saw them—husband,

a couple of kids—they knocked on the

office door, glanced at me as if I were a dull

appliance, and bullied Mimi into whatever

it was they needed. The cash was kept in

a pocketbook in a little closet behind my

desk. I felt sorry for her during those visits.

I felt sorry for her having to go to sleep at

night, knowing deep down in her Baron-ness,

or Mimi-ness, or Norma-ness, that she was

a fraud. I felt sorry for her marital problems.

My face must have shown it. Her tears

slowed to a trickle. One should never cry in

front of the help if it can be avoided.

"Hubert will never leave you," I said.

"Of course not," she snapped. Her fragility

vanished like a raindrop — she was 100%

aristocrat now, sitting stiffly in her chair.


"Tell Jackie I'll be in New York the first week

in June. Ask if she might be free for lunch."

Once I printed the letter—Mimi added a

P.S. about the "simply dreadful production of

Tosca"—she handed me a folder on one of the

Rothschilds. "We mustn't forget the superb

collection of opaline glass," she said and

excused herself from the office.

I grabbed the ringing phone as Mimi

exited, thinking it was Hu-bert, who often

checked up on his wife. She must have

thought it was him too, because instead of

turning around to answer it, she shut the

door.

In English, a woman asked for Mimi. I

explained that the Baroness had just stepped

from the office.

"Perhaps you can help me?" the speaker

continued and my identity slipped. It broke

like a mirror, each piece reflecting a fragment

of self, each self bursting with so much

to say, too much to say, a commitment to

saying, to not just standing there with the

phone in my hand and my mouth open, to

say it, to finally say it, all of it, to say something.

Here is the young woman, flummoxed: Oh

God, it's her! Jackie O.! A former First Lady!

A major New York editor at Doubleday and

Viking!

Here is the WASP with a hard-wired work

ethic: I knew it! We're late—we were supposed

to fax the Princess de Broglia chapter

yesterday.

Here is the poet: Jackie's voice has so

much breath in it, as if each respiration

really counts.

Here is the aspiring writer: I'm ghostwriting

the book you're publishing. I verify, as

much as I can,

the information, but I can't phone the

ladies up and confirm the design details of

the commodes and whatnot because it isn't

officially my book. Might it be possible to put

my name on the cover?

There was too much information to distill

into a sentence or two. Words fail us—the

tiny capillaries in the brain funnel the emotions,

but can't hold the volume. We end up

reverting to known pathways.

I assured Jackie O. that I would ask the

Baroness to phone her back. The chance I

had of improving my lot evaporated into

the field of potentiality from whence it had

come: Jackie would never learn who was

writing the book she was publishing. While

it wasn't my place to tell her, I knew more

ambitious writers wouldn't have hesitated

to laud their role in the project. But it was

more than that: Jackie would never know

that the woman on the other end of the

line understood what it's like when someone

you love is killed and your whole identity is

redefined in terms of a crime. Even though

a comparison between JFK's death and my

father's was far-fetched, both men were

dispatched by strangers across the wide river

of Lethe. JFK's death opened a chapter of

tumult in American history, and my father's

death impacted a small, Midwest community,

but despite the scale-change, Jackie and I

had a scintilla of overlap. In a parallel universe,

we might have attended a survivor's

group together.

The reality was clear: I was a phony too. I

pretended to be a secretary who was really

the ghostwriter of the Baroness' book, who

was really a poet, who was really an abandoned

child, a traumatized kid, a resilient

adult, all smiles and good will, shimmering,

shimmering, a cloud floating freely in the

sky, deepening with the evening light, dark-

61

ening in the evening light, growing dark and

heavy and so deep with sorrow no light can

penetrate. Nothing grows there. Why look

that way? New scenery abounds on a rotating

earth—and there I am, researching Belle

Époque opaline glass as the Baroness returns

to the office, her lipstick refreshed.

"To whom were we speaking?" she asked

brightly.

"Jackie," I said, "it was Jackie."


The Good and the Talented

Poetry

Marie-Anne Poudre

Dublin, California, USA

Once upon my childhood, I met Alphonse,

A good poet.

He was seasoned with graying sideburn

Rimmed glasses often sliding on his pointy nose.

He worked as a journalist

For a Parisian newspaper

He wrote fast peppered stories about the top

brass of his days

He pondered upon the salty brew the city by

the Seine was spewing.

Alphonse had a poet friend

A younger friend he met at the Café des Arts

Many critics toasted with glee at the fresh cups

Of rhymes the cream forehead man was voicing

His name was Pierre Gringoire.

Pierre drank the praises of men

--Twice his age

Kissed the lips of ladies

--Twice his age

Thought he was a giant

but was not famous yet.

As the bounties of ladies became scarce

When the winds of wars reached the city

Stubborn Pierre starved, and Alphonse withdrew to a quiet hill in

Provence.

Where Alphonse kept on watching

Writing

Editing

Soon he had enough coins

To buy

A rundown windmill where he settled. (1)

Gringoire wrote poems in Paris

In which he mocked Alphonse

But the old man, trying tales

Where reason failed,

Weaved a story for the proud talent.

The muse of glory had the joy

Of picking this humble story

For the youthful eager ears.

His friend, Alphonse

Twisted some arms

And procured him a job in a suburb gazette

The gifted youth pouted:

“I write poems, not chronicles!”

Pierre Gringoire

Are the only words left of the young poet

He did not write them.

Alphonse did.

(1) Alphonse, Daudet, Letters From My Mill, France, 1869

62


Word-Man

Poetry

Tufik Shayeb

Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Your Thoughts

Poetry

Tufik Shayeb

Phoenix, Arizona, USA

scatter like fallen branches

an awful mess you pick up

preparing for a massive bonfire

okay, so

I didn't do the dishes

sue me

no,

please don't

I was very busy

saving the world

from itself

you see,

I have been gifted

the special power

of talking good

it's a lightning bolt,

that flirts with Thor's

hammer,

it crashes

upon the darkness

of illiteracy,

and it rallies

the troops to victory

I am Word-Man!

fear

the breathtaking might

of my inestimable

vocabulary!

swoon

at my unmistakable

prowess of that

syntax!

quake

in the wake

of my backbreaking

meter!

okay, so

I didn't do the dishes

but what’s

a worse outcome:

and not enough

clean forks,

or watching

some ignorant goons

heist away

the gems and jewels

of our culture?

in my free time,

I educate college

students

on the art of reading

poetry and prose

out loud

and I hope that

someday

they'll also forget

to do the dishes

and when you’re all done,

you hang a wooden shingle

that reads: a phoenix lived here

you sell bottled cinders, roadside

like a musty snake oil salesman

promising every biblical miracle

and every now and then,

swipe the ashes across your brow

and hope to remember it all

it is a patriotic shield

that evens out the

battlefield,

the smell of graying,

moldy cups

63


Everyone knew that the man in the van

sold pot. We could smell it in the air behind

the Costco Wholesale. We could see it in the

spring green paint job of his Ford Transit.

We could buy it in little baggies between the

hours of nine and five. But none of us could

say much else. There was no one living in

our small Oregon town who knew where he

lived or where he was from or even what his

name was. He was simply called the man

in the van, and not one Costco employee

could remember a time when he hadn’t

been there. He seemed to exist outside of

the world, and anyone who knew him often

wondered what that was like. For obvious

reasons, this was why he’d get mentioned

frequently to out-of-towners. Some wandering

tourist would ask if the town had anything

out of the ordinary, and the man in the

van would almost always be noted. We had

lots of fun describing what he looked like.

We’d say he was stretched like a pine tree

and had muscles in his back that rolled when

he sat down. We’d say he spoke with a soft

Canadian accent and said particular things

about the sky. We’d mention he wore large

dollar store T-shirts and had long frizzy hair

most mistook to be a perm. And when we

were done with our descriptions, we’d often

mention the strange occurrences that liked

to crop up around him. The man in the van

had a few regular customers—high schoolers

and fisherman mostly—and the stories they

told about his product were incredibly entertaining.

One student said smoking it had

made her hair shoot down to her elbows and

Out of Season

Fiction

Katherine Davis

Bluffton, South Carolina, USA

another said it made him dream only about

the ocean. A popular one among the sailors

was that it helped attract fish to their boats.

“Of course you shouldn’t believe them”

the tourists would often get told. “Burnouts

and sailors aren’t really known for their

honesty.”

We’d also try our best to explain why the

man in the van was so compelling. In our

own words, we’d say he was a figure who

understood the difference between solitude

and loneliness. We’d try to explain why

everyone wanted to be him and why no one

actually was. Then we’d usually talk about

the ducks.

Every winter they were there. Large flocks

of migrating fowl that flew down the North

Pacific in droves, and when they’d reach the

town, they’d swirl around the van like vultures.

In this one, tiny, specific area, there

were so many birds that people driving by

the Costco could see them swarming around

in the back. It was our go-to sign that winter

had begun. There was even an annual tradition

among the Costco staff to schedule a

party around the ducks’ arrival. They’d make

duck-themed party favors, pull up some

chairs, and then drink for good weather. And

every once and awhile, the man in the van

would be asked in, but he never accepted

the invitation.

“I’m a little busy,” he’d respond, and

every time, he'd barely be heard over the

sound of quacking ducks.

The town joke, of course, was that the

man in the van was selling the birds pot, and

64

every year, large swatches of conversation

were devoted entirely to this single mental

image. Someone would mention it offhandedly,

and pretty soon the room would spiral

into crazed laughter as people wondered out

loud what the ducks said and how the ducks

paid and how the man in the van managed

his prices. But eventually, an out-of-towner

would kill the mood and ask, “But what does

he really feed them?” Which meant one of

us had to speak up and say “Bread.” This response

left some impressed, a few intrigued,

others a little jealous, and most just slightly

let down, and this was why we didn’t always

give an honest answer.

“It’s definitely pot,” we’d joke. “You can

see for yourself if you want to.”

Ironically, the story behind the bread was

less boring than we realized. It was actually

one of the most mysterious things surrounding

the man. The bread was made out of a

strange, lumpy substance that smelled like

the sea, and somehow, it was all homemade.

The man baked piles of the stuff, and upon

closer examination, a person could wonder if

it wasn’t bread at all. So what was it exactly?

Where did the man in the van get his materials?

How did he even find an oven? Only

he could say, so most of us settled with the

bread being store-bought and left it at that.

Every third Sunday of October, the man

in the van would close up shop, sit in the

opened back of his Transit, and feed the

ducks from nine to five. And the ducks would

always come. There was something in the

bread that seemed to drop them out of the


sky.

Obviously, our Town Council hated the

man in the van. They didn’t find his cute

little oddities all that impressive, and they

could easily convince you they had every

right to want him gone. They had every right

to not want drug dealers in their community.

It was essentially their job to not want

drug dealers in their community. The town

needed a respectable reputation and a sober

community and a semi-sober group of tourists

that could spend lots of money and leave

upstanding reviews. They didn’t want this

man and his van and his ducks and his crap

marijuana and whatever else he was selling.

But strangely enough, it was the whatever

else that drew in a good fifteenth of the

tourists. There was a rumor—an incredibly

small rumor—that had crept its way across

the West Coast. It was usually said in the

backs of bars and near the ends of parties,

and it was as word-of-mouth as word-ofmouth

could be. It said that in a small

Oregon town a quarter mile from the ocean,

there was a green Ford Transit behind a

Costco, and in this van there was a guy who

could Make Stuff Happen. That was all the

rumor ever said, that he could Make Stuff

Happen, and very rarely was that description

ever elaborated on. But still people went,

and if they were lucky they would arrive

at the Costco and leave ten minutes later

feeling very stupid with a half-full baggie

of something-or-other pocketed in their

sweatshirts. No one ever came back a second

time, and even in the winter, the rate of

these customers never rose and never fell.

And of course, not all of these customers

arrived from far away. There was the town

dunce, Maggie Johnson, who knocked on the

Transit one May morning and aced all her

exams, and young Samuel Weaving who, on a

dare, had asked the man for a magic potion

and wouldn’t leave his bathroom for half a

week.

No one in the town knew much about the

something-or-other, but it created enough

activity around the man and the van that its

existence often led to some further call for

greater action. Every year the Town Council

tried to investigate the man in the van, and

every year they failed. This was because a

good solid number of us actually enjoyed

the man’s presence—or at the very least,

enjoyed his product—and this was why he'd

always be warned before the Council sent

one of their members down to the Costco.

The member would arrive, the man would be

spotless, and the Council would once again

be left with nothing. For the most part, this

was how life carried on for the man in the

van.

Then one year things changed. A new

rumor was created, and this time, thousands

across the state of Oregon were told

that duck season was upon them and if they

wanted to break some records, they needed

to be in a small sea-side town practically no

one had heard of. No one knew how the rumor

got started, but that didn’t stop dozens

of duck hunters from flocking in and filling

up the motels. It was basically the best thing

the Town Council could ever ask for, and

soon they became so wrapped up in these

new arrivals, they didn’t even notice the

man in the van setting up his own welcome

wagon. A second rumor picked up soon after,

and this one said there was a pothead behind

the Costco who apparently was responsible

for a lot of crazy shit. It said he had

helped a fisherman beach an orca. It said he

could make teenagers float off the ground.

65

It said he had once given a blunt to a woman

that had made her grow water-proof feathers.

It essentially said he could Make Stuff

Happen. Intrigued—and a little bored—the

hunters soon found themselves rounding the

corner of the warehouse and stopping to find

the man in the van sitting inside his Transit.

If they asked for something useful, each and

every one of them would be given a single

loaf of bread.

“You know you’re not supposed to bait the

ducks,” they’d say.

“You don’t have to buy it,” he’d respond,

and the hunters usually would.

That season was a strange one in the

world of duck hunting. Not only did those

hunters have terrible luck, but most of

them were also incredibly stoned. They told

insane stories about ducks blocking out the

sun before raining down to attack them, and

no one who heard these stories could tell if

they were an effect of bizarre and unfortunate

circumstances or whatever it was the

hunters had been smoking. Several hunting

magazines considered doing articles, the

man in the van quietly counted his piles of

fives, each and every one of us waited to see

what would happen, and the Town Council

fumed in their seats and scrambled to

grab hold of the culprit before he weaseled

out of their fingers. They called the Fish &

Wildlife Service, and after a very long phone

call and two testimonies, the agency finally

told them a couple of guys would be arriving

in the morning. We all considered this and

wondered if we should warn the man. We

hesitated. We decided against it. This time,

we figured, things were different.

On the 5th of November, the Costco

Wholesale was closed for one day, and a

large portion of us quickly gathered at the


end of the parking lot when we realized

what was happening. A dark-gray FWS truck

had arrived on the scene, seemingly completely

out of nowhere, and no matter how

hard we tried to peer through its windows,

no one could tell who sat inside it. Like a

shark, the truck drifted silently through the

parking lot and dipped around the corner,

and after it was completely out of sight,

a deep, unsettling anticipation swiftly fell

across the crowd. A few of us craned our

necks, some of us stood on our toes, and

others asked the person next to them if they

could see much else. There was a silence

that crushed us into holding our collective

breath and thinking a great deal. None of

us could have guessed what was happening

behind the Costco Wholesale.

The Fish & Wildlife agents were almost

pushed back by the pungent smell of salt

water and cannabis, and when they drove

around the corner, they were greeted with

one of the strangest sights they had ever

seen. They were expecting to find a tall,

middle-aged man in a green Ford Transit, but

what they saw instead was the man standing

in front of his car completely and unexpectedly

surrounded by every kind of duck. There

were mallards, wigdens, shovelers, pintails,

and teals. Long-tailed and short-tailed.

Cinnamon and Harlequin. And they were all

completely silent. It was incredible. It made

no sense. These birds needed to be in Baja

California or someplace even further south.

The two agents got out of their truck and

added the stench of wet bird and wet dumpster

to everything else they were smelling.

One of the agents said he’d wait in the car.

The other frowned and took a step forward.

“Sorry,” the man in the van said abruptly.

The agent paused.

The person in front of him sounded incredibly

preoccupied, and it gave the agent

a quiet, headach-y feeling that a person gets

when things fall out of order and they have

to deal with people and places that make no

sense.

“I know they're out of season, but I missed

the eighteenth,” the man continued. “I

didn’t think they’d be this upset.”

Not knowing how to respond, the agent

said nothing and took several steps closer.

He was now a foot deep in duck. A northern

teal bit into the top of his sock and somehow

managed to latch on.

“To be honest, I don’t completely know

why I did this,” the man said. “Turns out I’m

even stupider than they thought.”

The agent was now only a foot away. He

opened his mouth to speak.

“I mean, just look at how confused they

are,” the man exclaimed, and for no sensible

reason, the agent found himself struck into

silence as his body turned mutely around.

Never in his life did he expect to see it

right away. The ducks did look confused.

They seemed to fidget and shuffle and

cringe. The agent could somehow see it in

their eyes, in the way they waddled aimlessly

from place to place. Dumbly, he looked

down and remembered the teal. He half

expected it to speak to him.

“Please let me go,” it seemed to say, “I

really shouldn’t be here. This really isn’t

right. How can someone possibly believe this

is how things work?”

The agent came close to replying and

found that he’d been holding his breath. He

looked at the teal and the teal looked at

him. He rubbed his eyes and sighed. This was

ridiculous.

When the agent turned around with the

66

handcuffs, the man and the van simply

stared at them distantly.

“It’s weird that I thought I could feed

them all now,” he said as he held out his

hands. “And it’s totally unfair. This is all I

ever wanted to do.”

After the FWS truck rounded the corner

and drove past the crowd, and after we realized

it would not be turning back, none of us

really knew what to make of what we’d just

witnessed.

“Who knew they’d finally get him?” Most

of us thought.

“There goes my dealer,” a few others

whispered.

After the ducks scattered into the air and

soared above our heads, most of us felt even

more at a loss. We all got the uneasy impression

that those ducks would never stop by

again.

Then time moved on. A year passed and

a duck-themed Costco party was canceled

wistfully. We soon found ourselves submerged

in a somewhat muted haze. Many of

us tried to find another dealer. Sometimes a

tourist would ask about anything out of the

ordinary, which would lead to a local quickly

getting excited and then slightly annoyed

and then unspeaking. To the Town Council’s

utter frustration, the tourist revenue slowly

began to sink, and during the first few

months after the man’s departure, a handful

of out-of-towners could be seen walking

into the back of the Costco and then leaving

almost immediately.

“Who are they?” We’d ask, but most of

us didn’t go looking for an answer and most

didn’t want it, and after the number of

those strange out-of-towners dwindled down

to none, our small Oregon town truly began

to grow quiet. Another winter passed and


nobody bothered to leave out bread. For

most of the season, all any of us seemed

to do was wait. Wait for the ducks to start

blocking out the sun. Wait for the man to

return in his Transit. Wait for the day when

the town could return back to normal,

when we’d be a subject people liked talking

about, when we’d be strange and unusual

and a little bizarre, when we’d be a spot

that held solutions and stories and secrets

and strangers, and when we’d once again be

something just a bit out of place and a town

on the coast that could Make Stuff Happen.

These two hands

Dry and hard

Used to write this poem

stained

with tears of frustration

typing vigorously

about a story

wishing not to tell

Or a poem

to throw away again

racing with hard emotion

of what to express

And can’t seem to find the words.

My hands are at a stand still

With sweat and trembling fingers

Craving for approval

But rather hide and blend with the table

Running

While being immobilized

And can’t seem to concentrate

on the task at hand.

My Hands

Poetry

katie pfeifer

Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Then

Scrolling on the internet

to find the poem they shaped

the tears they wept

the blood they sacrificed

has been rejected

to be seen as worthless

to be seen as a waste of time

to the people they crave unwanted approval

So these two hands

Broad and thick

Are trying to a write a poem or a story

But instead

Just sit there and let their mind wonder.

67


I. Enter the Theme Park

With a highway trailer’s tilt,

the A-shirt and discount-ticket man

lumbers, unhinged and heaving,

toward the two local boys

standing in front of the hot wing

and funnel cake stand.

As loose soil, they tremble under

the crash of an August wind’s lead foot.

Did you cut in front of my son?

he asks, bringing them both down,

like roadkill, like coyotes reduced

to dust and blood on the interstate.

They apologize and shrink

under the heat of California magic.

They apologize and shrivel,

two decaying animals in the desert.

II. A Quick Bite to Eat

Inside the stand, employees

ache over world famous hot sauce

and finely powdered sugar.

The Theme Park

Poetry

Tufik Shayeb

Phoenix, Arizona, USA

They wear ties and trousers,

blouses and bonnets, hard at work

clothes, elbow-greased patches

and mine-shaft buttons.

Outside the stand, Midwestern folk

with glistening scrap yard smiles

chew through sinewy chicken.

Used napkins between them,

piling higher, racing against

the great roller coaster for ozone

and for superiority.

They are dirty from meat,

chewing meat, picking meat

meat from the gripping prison

of brilliant dental braces.

III. Waiting in Line

Deeper into the park,

past the steel beams

and plastic merchandise,

past the clamoring

jungle of tourists with bright

yellow fanny packs and large

fragile cameras slung low

at their sides, a monstrous,

68

winding anaconda, made of

sweaty, exhausted park ride

patrons, standing in line

they meet each other

over and over,

their

eyes are locked

over

and over as they

pass

each other, over

and

over, like

reincarnation

,over/ and \over,

they are familiar

strangers.

/\

IV. The Rides

Nothing green

will ever last long

in this park,

only mechanical bulls

too big for their riders,

pressing their bolted roots

deep into the slabs below


reaching for an empty heaven

while their creators still walk

on two legs and crawl

when injured.

V. Family Reunions

Near the great roller coaster,

a family reunion congregates

to use the facilities.

There are four generations of

[generic surname], closely arranged

in silk-screen and powder blue.

Some gene, some program

in the brain and in the blood

instructs them to synchronize

every [generic surname] on earth,

had chosen that precise moment

to seek out a ceramic bowl

where, squatting in dim stalls,

they mutter about bad weather

and about unfavorable timing.

VI. Having Fun

The great coaster pounds,

as a little girl pushes her way

through the crowd.

She makes her way

to the front of the line.

Her eyelids flutter,

two ashy moths on a window.

She is blind.

Her cane clickers and clackers.

Her face is vacation red,

her large ponytailed head

is bobbing as she moves,

a floating balloon

tethered by overalls

and clunky Velcro shoes.

Their eyebrows furrow.

That’s got to be a safety hazard,

they jeer.

She is excited.

Soon, the rackety ride

will drop way down.

The great big round Earth,

down below, will tug on all

the inside strings,

her spleen will steal a highfive

from her kidney,

and it will no longer matter

that she cannot see a mascot

dancing.

69

What No One Speaks

of in Illinois

Poetry

Carl Boon

Izmir, Turkey

I offer my mother a recipe

for mushroom risotto with chives,

it being a February Monday

and her frailty still a myth to her.

I tell her strange things happen

in Elgin when the thaw begins

and to call if the street-boys

mar the stop sign again, the red

octagon standing at the corner.

She whispers her goodbyes

to me now and forces me to fear.

Her Christmas tree still stands

in the living room, still shines

white and red. My husband

drives by after work for news:

the neighbor’s swept the slush

from the stoop; the pickled beets

in jars remain on the windowsill.

We drink whiskey after supper

and try not to cry—if we make love

I think of her blue bedspread

and the hairs that pierce it.

I think of the Fourth of July

an errant firecracker lit her blouse

on fire and what it means to live

in a house alone, what she sees

in the mirror before bed, what

85 years of the Cubs on the radio

and all that wind and seven

different priests have done to her.

The doctor says it will be gradual,

the decline, with moments

where she’s God and God is her,

and that the end will be a child’s.


This is How Delirium's Demiurge Drowns the Universe

Poetry

Jean-Sebastien Grenier

Nelson, British Columbia, Canada

face.

At last odyssey-crushed, I’m amid reincarnating

In the dismal glade as a sunflower on her

I am the spectral flame between her eyes.

I’ve been revived, so begins our entangled,

Entertainment within the dream eternal;

Let us sculpt shapes of beauty out the negative space

Between Hyde & host: a hunched madam gorging on

The brood-red carcass of an iron star.

Her cauldron’s brimming with the celestial

Sweat of a nearby brook. Between reflections,

Everything’s gurgling. Without warning,

My mad madam lurches face-first into the cauldron

And roars, regurgitates the symbolic ingredients

From my first creation; a chaos cadence,

Void-worn woes, eulogies of the logos.

The sheer paradox shock of it all shall

Spit out my near annihilation. This vixen

Of bestial visions only mouths her half-belief

In me. Not enough. Floating in the vat,

My meta mind metabolizes betrayal over

The fires of her laughter.

Strands of surreal steam rise and ensnare

The mirages, mine illumined via earthshine

Before vanishing into the black frigid sky.

And there above, making needles out moonlight,

Lung-shaped leaves on a low-hung bough

Abandon what it means to breathe.

Before the chimeric ichor in this cauldron can fully dilute me,

I’m picked apart by the cacophonous chant of her

Shadowy shawl stitched out all the masks of my past

Lives. They swirl their song around her shoulders

And welcome me home.

This is how we complete the branding of our coexistence.

70


71

a trip in space

Digital Art

Vita Nocilla

Livermore, California, USA


72

Zen Sex Metallica

Painting

Labdhi Sha

Atlanta, Georgia, USA


“Well Olivia, can I ask you some questions?”

Olivia smiled sweetly at him and with a

small giggle flipped her hair. “Of course! I’ve

been interviewed many times, I know what

I’m doing.”

The interviewer gives a tentative smile

and continues, “Do you mind if I record

this?”

“Oh, not at all!”

The interviewer clicked the start button

on a recorder. “Okay, first question. How old

are you?”

“That’s easy, I’m 18!”

“Okay. Can you tell me what happened?”

“Well, I walked into this room and then

you started asking me questions.”

“No, I mean before you got here. Why are

you here? What happened at prom?”

“Oh, you want to know what happened at

prom.”

“Yes.”

“I’ll tell you, but for the story’s sake,

I’ll start from the beginning. I was a normal

teenager, and my senior year was going

great. I had the quarterback boyfriend, I was

popular, rich, beautiful, and I had just begun

my modeling career. You might have seen me

in a few magazines and on TV commercials.

Anyway, prom was coming up. I had my dress

picked out. It was this beautiful blue gown

with silks, ribbons, and gems. It was breathtaking,

especially on me. All of my friends

had a date to prom already and I was waiting

for my boyfriend, Travis, to ask me to prom.

A few days later he did. It was so romantic.

Prom Queen

Fiction

Danika Leuenberger

Granger, Iowa, USA

He had spent so much time on it too. Oh,

it makes me blush just thinking about it.”

Olivia started to drift off with a dreamy look

on her face.

“Eh-hem, what happened next?”

“Oh, sorry. Well, when prom arrived, I was

so happy. School let out early. My girlfriends

and I all went to my house to get ready for

prom. My parents rented a limousine, and

when we were ready, we got in and rode to

prom in style. Prom was great. We danced

and talked, and when they were ready to say

who the prom king and queen were, we were

ready. We were so excited as they brought

out the crowns and sashes for the winners.

Then the class president went up, gave a

small speech about the year, and then she

took out the voting cards. She opened the

first card and said: 'This year’s prom king

is Travis!' I was so happy for him. Then she

opened the second one and said the prom

queen was me! I was so happy I almost ran

up to the stage, to Travis, and to the crown.

I was ready. I deserved this. They crowned

Travis and me prom king and queen, and

then we each gave a small speech. Then

the prom was over. Travis took me home,

kissed me goodnight, and then drove home.

I walked inside and went to bed. That’s it,

that was prom.”

“OK, thank you, Olivia. Johnathan outside

will take you to your next appointment.”

“Thank you, good day.” Olivia walked

outside to Johnathan standing outside in all

white, she reached for his arm but he shifted

away.

73

“Ready to go Olivia?” Olivia looked up at

him.

“Sure.” Olivia and Johnathan walked

down the dark halls in silence. Olivia would

try to start a conversation but would get no

response. Eventually, they got to another office

door that said, “Doctor Adams.” Johnathan

let go of Olivia’s arm.

“I’ll be right outside this door.” Olivia

nodded her head at Jonathan and walked inside.

“Oh Olivia, you’re here. Right on time.

Sit down, get comfy. Now, Olivia, do you

remember what we talked about yesterday?”

“Prom, right?”

“Yes, we talked about your prom. Do you

recall what I told you about prom yesterday?”

“No.”

“Well, I’ll tell you again. Olivia, you are

not prom queen, your boyfriend broke up

with you, and your parents are broke. You

have been living in a fantasy world. I have

reports here, on my desk, that say on the

night of prom when you didn’t win you went

crazy. Do you remember that?”

Olivia looked at Doctor Adams with wide

eyes, and shook her head, “No”

“Olivia It’s time to change out of the

dress and give back the tiara.” He gestured

towards her blue dress and the prom queen

crown on her head.

“What, NO! I won! I’m prom queen!”

“No, you’re not. It’s time you come back

to the real world.”

“NO!” Olivia stood up violently from her

chair, knocking it to the ground. Olivia start-


ed screaming curses and threats at Doctor

Adams and she moved her hand back as if to

hit him.

Doctor Adams stood up and got behind his

chair as he yelled for help,

“NURSES! JOHNATHAN! HELP!” Johnathan

comes running into the room moments later

with a few other nurses and grabs Olivia.

“LET ME GO!”

“Johnathan please take her to her room,

we are done for today.”

“Yes, sir.” Johnathan and the other nurses

pull Olivia out of the room and down the

halls with her kicking and screaming the

whole way. They stop at a steel door that

Johnathan unlocks, and takes Olivia into.

He sets her on the bed, “Olivia calm down,

you’re in your room. Away from everything,

calm down. “ Olivia slowly starts calming

down, taking deep breaths, and looks at

Johnathan, “Is it true?”

“Yes, that’s why you’re here, in this hospital.”

Olivia looks down at her hands in her

lap. “Am I okay?” Johnathan sighed.

“Not yet, but you will be.” Olivia lays

down on the bed putting her hand to her

forehead. “Please leave, I wish to be alone.”

Johnathan stands up and walks towards the

door. “See you later.” He says with a small

smile.

He shuts the door and locks it behind him,

"Oh Olivia, when will you wake up and see

reality? You’re not prom queen. Your prom

was two years ago." Johnathan walks away

from the door down the hall. He sees a nurse

and a guard struggling with a patient in the

halls. He goes to help them deal with the

situation. Before Johnathan can get there,

they knock out the patient and drag him

towards his room. Johnathan pauses and

thinks to himself, Somedays I wonder, why

did I choose to work at an asylum? He shrugs

his shoulders and walks down the dark hall,

standing out in his bright white nurses uniform,

surrounded by rooms filled with insane

people on either side. The screaming filled

the halls, but it didn't phase him anymore.

They were people needing help. That’s when

he remembers why he does this job, to help

people who need it the most.

74

Mirage

Poetry

Sarah Riensche

Castro Valley, California, USA

A glistening vision looming ahead

A dream bright with recognition and fame

Where all wrong is made right again.

A universe orbiting a sun of dreams

A realm where colorful hope

Swirls amid dancing light.

The child of a longing mind

Conceived in desperate yearning

Born of vivid fantasy.

A mirage

Just a mirage.


Invisibility

Poetry

Jennifer Schneider

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

I am a keeper of a cream parchment card stock that I alone claim. I

am a body in a wooden dining room chair, with a reserved seat and

setting at the far end of the long table. The one laden with ceramic

bowls filled of foreign and flavorful substances. Cumin and curry. Basil

and bay leaves. Savory orange and brown broths. Rectangular casserole

dishes full of sweet corn, crisp asparagus, and lean meats. Folded

cloth napkins and a pitcher of freshly brewed lemonade just out of

arm’s reach. Laughter, too. Heavy aromas blanket the air and wrap

my personhood. A dry wad of Fruit Stripe gum lodged in the cavity of

my right cheek. My tongue pushes it right, then left, then right again.

I speak and await responses I know will never present. Silent victims

of my lack for dialect, language, and charisma. A reality I’d gladly

attribute to my routine upbringing though I know it was anything but

routine. Nights counting minutes, eyes tracking night lights.

Quiet. Listen please. It’s better if you saw nothing at all.

Uttered words land on the tiny red, yellow, and pink flowers

embroidered on the cotton cardigan draped across my lap. Initially a

light dusting. Eventually a drenching cast upon the ruffled collar that

I wrap around my neck daily. Commuting to and from. I am a body on

a bus. The No. 5 on Tuesdays. The No 2. alternate Wednesdays. The

No. 32 each night, three minutes before 11. I am a hand that clutches

tokens and a head that bounces to beats of Lennon and Joel. John and

Stevens, too. Their names and their lyrics roll through the potholes

that litter the city streets. All hands clutch devices and all heads

bounce in rhythm with tunes that stream through wires in oddly shaped

ears. Three tiny bones, some of the smallest in the human body, with

an odd, oval-shaped window.

As much as I consume, I remain always looking for a way out. Beyond

the window of the standard 4 bed 2 bath in the standard suburban

town. Beyond the window of the standard bus traveling down the

standard thoroughfare. I wonder why the others seem so different.

Most eyes cast downward. Some heads covered in cloth. I see no one

and I am seen by no one. We commute, to and from. Over the greentinted

water, in and out of the city to the dwellings we call home.

To all who ask, we are city people. Yet we too flee as dusk descends.

Awaiting the morning call of the train before returning. I am an

employee whose stomach rumbles like clockwork at the top of the

hour. An employee who prefers analog to digital, thrift shop to store

brand, and late nights to early morning. Though my shift starts at 9 AM

sharp. I am a number whose work is measured also in numbers, mostly

fractions of an hour.

I am a number who output is measured in rows and columns added

daily and tracked weekly. I am body that longs for sleep yet sweat

dreams of alarms and missed deadlines. I have eyes that long to

close forever and lashes that long blink. I am a body painted of black

mascara, purple and blue shadow, and rose blush. I am a girl who grew

to a woman and who was taught to listen, say thank you, and take

orders. I am a woman who no longer thinks that what she was taught is

timely. I am a body in a wooden dining room chair, with a reserved seat

and setting at the far end of the long table. I am a keeper of cream

parchment card stock that I alone claim. I have not forgotten who

gifted me life, though they have forgotten me.

75


76

Rise From Pandemic

Acrylic and Spray Paint on Canvas

Paul Koskinen

Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Reasons not to take Quetiapine as prescribed

(an incomplete list):

Dreams.

Dreams of the dead, of the possible dead,

the probable dead. Realistic dreams with

smells and colors and music. Vivid dreams

with a lover and her beloved on the tracks

outside his house. Dreams of arguing. Of

desperation. Don’t leave me here, she says.

I’ll come with you, she tries to plead as

her voice is swallowed by a blast of sound.

Dreams of him walking away from her, face

resolved. Dreams of tripping.

Dreams of a yell, but she doesn’t hear

him. She has already turned away in tears.

Dreams of a massive force that rattles

the ground. Dreams of a shriek that pierces

through even the deafening horns. Dreams

of the last time she locked eyes with his, his

deep eyes wide in a way she has never seen

before, darting down the tracks and back at

her.

Dreams of rushing. Of reaching. Of distance

that grows with every step to close it.

Dreams of hands that touch, barely, for an

instant, before never again. Dreams of pink

spray, her spray, his spray. Dreams of body

parts, of supple skin sliced by hot metal,

of time slowing down to present each and

every tear. Even the strongest human bodies

are remarkably fragile.

Dreams of the sky opening in tears for the

two, summer rains that had left their scent

lingering on his jacket, now sealing her into

a muddy grave.

Residue

Fiction

Charity Morris

Umatilla, Oregon, USA

Dreams of one last blink, one last canopy

of stars, before submitting to sleep.

That wasn’t how it happened, though.

She had thought for a moment, lying on the

grass, staring at the canopy of stars, that she

was dead, had died, and that Mario was dead

too, but she’d been wrong. He’d woken her

gently, with a blood-spattered hand, a gash

across his cheek that made him look even

more rugged and handsome than before. He

had pulled her from the ditch, didn’t let her

look down, covered her arm with his coat,

torn and tattered and impossibly dirty but

she hadn’t been able to protest. She had

tried to hold onto consciousness as he carried

her but it was too much, it was all too

much, and she had woken up later -- months

later, it seemed -- in this bed that she now

lives in most of the day.

***

They meet on a Thursday.

End of the year parent-teacher conferences

always have poor turn out. Some of

her coworkers appreciate the several uninterrupted

hours to catch up on grading and

lesson plans, but Danielle remains hopeful

the parents of her more concerning students

will show.

She is reorganizing her paperclip drawer

when he walks in. His pants are dirty and

patched with unmatching blue squares, but

his shirt, a yellow and brown plaid button-down,

is freshly pressed.

77

“Mrs...” he extends his hand to her with a

questioning look. She stands.

“Miss Smith,” she corrects him, taking his

calloused and filthy hand in hers. She wonders

how long she needs to wait to use her

hand sanitizer without it seeming rude.

“Mario Ruiz,” he says, wiping his hands on

his pants sheepishly. “I just got off work,” he

explains.

Danielle, horrified that he has read her

expression so plainly, tries to change the

subject. “So, you’re here for…” she probes.

“Luis,” he states. She has a lot to say

about Luis. Luis is a bright boy, gifted really,

but the past few weeks have seen his bright

young face turn sullen and withdrawn. She

means to talk to his mother about it, a polished

Latinx with a sternness about her that

she knows will help him get his focus back so

he can graduate the following year, but surprisingly,

his mother hasn’t shown. Instead,

there is this mess of a man who clearly can’t

find his way to a washtub to save his life.

“And you know Luis how?” Danielle asks.

“I can’t give out student information to anyone

but a parent or guardian. It’s the law.”

The man tries to squeeze into the small

student desk across from hers before perching

on the desktop itself. “Luis’ parents…”

he begins in a low voice. “My brother and his

wife…”

“Do you need a translator?” Danielle

asks, trying to mask her impatience. It is

five minutes before the end of conferences

and it has already been a long night. All she

wants to do at this point is to wrap things up


and head home, but she can tell already this

isn’t going to be quick.

“I speak English just fine, thanks,” he says

shortly. “It’s just hard to explain why Luis is

living with me now.”

“Oh,” Danielle says, embarrassed at her

own assumption, and sits to look for Luis’

file. “Where’s Maria?” She freezes. “Did

something happen?”

“Maria is..." he seems at a loss for words.

“My brother Carlos’ wife? They were… removed.”

He shifts uncomfortably on the tiny

desk.

“I see.” Danielle comes around to sit on

the front of her desk. “And you aren’t legal,

are you.” It is more of a statement than a

question; Luis would not be her first student

lost to parental choices and political inconsistencies.

“No!” he blanches. “I have all my papers.

I go to the office and do them every time,

but my brother…” He speaks quickly, looking

panicked. “He missed his renewal deadline.

He and Maria were taken two weeks ago.

I’m documented, Luis was born here, please

don’t have them come by.” His eyes, deep

brown pools of fear, plead for understanding.

“I’m not a father. I don’t know how to do

this. I’m just trying to be a good tío to Luis

until we sort all of this out.”

Danielle notices the bags under his eyes.

He looks exhausted.

“You said you work?” she asks.

“Landscaping,” he says. “Four a.m. every

morning until it gets done. Although in

summer, fieldwork pays more. Sometimes I

do both if I can get the work.”

“It costs a lot to raise a child,” she sympathizes.

She pours him a cup of coffee from

her desk coffee-maker, a necessity for conference

nights. “Sorry the mug is pink.”

He accepts it gratefully and smiles. “I bet

it tastes just fine.”

She refills her mug and they drink in

silence for several minutes. Through the

window she sees other teachers, laden with

books and student files, heading to their

cars. Conferences are over, but she doesn’t

feel the need to rush home anymore. She

finally understands the boy wearing headphones

in her class, the hoodie cinched

tightly around his face, the times he miserably

lays his head in his arms during class

discussion, blocking out the world.

She sets down her mug. “So how can I

help?”

***

She spends the summer doing just as Mario

has asked. Every morning she comes by their

small one-bedroom home out by the rail yard

to check on Luis. She brings groceries when

Mario’s days are too long to stop by the supermarket

and extra school work for Luis to

keep up over the break. Not that he needs it

-- she has always said he is her finest student

- but because working on math and grammar

helps him focus on something other than the

fact that he hasn’t heard from his mother in

months. Often, she stays with him well into

the evening when Mario stumbles in, physically

spent and visibly grateful she is there.

He offers to make her dinner, but she never

allows it, preferring him to take a shower

and relax with Luis while the boy puts

whatever YouTuber or show he is watching

on the television, as evening trains add their

low rumble to ad jingles for toilet paper and

cars. Then, after Luis goes to bed, Danielle

awkwardly packs up her things and heads

home.

78

Until the evening Mario asks her to stay.

He brushes off a dusty bottle of wine from a

client who was particularly pleased by the

stonework on their new patio, and they drink

it together in the living room, which, as she

finds out, has doubled as his bedroom since

Luis came to stay. He is a surprisingly kind

man, a good man, to give up his bedroom

for the boy, although as the evening goes

on and their glances grow longer and more

intimate, she wishes he was slightly less kind

and good.

But he is a gentleman, she rues, and

against her better judgment she discovers

that her commitment to student achievement

has somehow evolved into feelings she

never intended, feelings she actively worked

to avoid.

Which means an uncomfortable conversation

is long overdue.

“I can’t come by anymore,” she tells Mario

as he walks her to her car.

He holds her gaze even as she fumbles for

her keys. “Sure you can,” he replies.

“No,” she insists. “This is… weird. It’s

unprofessional. It’s --”

But then he kisses her. Hard and soft and

earnest. She drops her bag on the concrete

and wraps her arms around his neck. After

a moment she pulls back, drinking in his

rich brown eyes, enraptured with his rough

strong hands in her hair and the way he

smells of cedar and lawn clippings and sweet

summer rains. The second time, she kisses

him first, fumbling with the car door and

pulling him in after her.

That was before. Before the comfortable

routine set in. Before the toothbrush in his

bathroom drawer. Before the monogrammed

coffee cups. Before the ring he found at the


second-chance shop and had his cousin, a

welder but aspiring for more, melt down

and reset to a brilliant new gleam. Before

he came home to tell her his H2-A visa was

denied and everything would change. Before

Luis had to choose between foster care and

returning to a country that claimed him,

but that he had never claimed. Before she

pulled Mario’s weeping face to her chest and

begged him to marry her and stay and before

he pulled out the token that stated for him

how much he meant to ask her first.

***

“It was so romantic,” Danielle sighed

blissfully, as she recounted the moment to

Ben and Camille the following day.

Ben shifted and adjusted his glasses, slipping

his pen back into the breast pocket of

his white coat.

“Now, Danielle, we’ve discussed this. You

were here--”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Ben,” Danielle

muttered, staring out the window at the

softly falling snow.

“You were here,” he persisted, trying to

place himself in her gaze. “You haven’t left-

-”

“NO!” Danielle looked around wildly,

looking for the door. She flung her bedspread

to the floor and meant to dart for the exit,

but was stopped by the thick canvas strap

connecting her wrist to the bed.

“Again,” Ben was getting angry. Spit flew

as he tried to reorient her: “You have not

left this bed since you were found at the ER

doors —”

“What the hell is this, Ben?!” she cried

hysterically with tears in her eyes. She

launched herself against the restraint, eyes

closed, wishing to be anywhere else. “Why?”

she moaned, her tears spotting her blue

paisley gown.

“For the last time, it’s Doctor Atkinson,”

Ben snapped. He stood and strode directly to

the exit before turning to Camille. “What’s

taking so long on those meds?” he snarled at

her.

“I’ll double-check with Pharmacy,” Camille

stated blandly, her eyes glued to the

chart on her screen as she tapped slowly on

her keyboard.

“And tighten that restraint, for chrissake,”

the doctor huffed as he left. This

rotation couldn’t end soon enough for him.

Camille finished the session notes quietly

as Danielle sobbed. Mondays were all the

same; MDs were all the same. She was the

one still here on Tuesday but no matter how

often she pointed out how fruitless their sessions

were, she didn’t have enough letters

after her last name for her opinion to count.

She turned to Danielle.

“So,” she said in her brightest voice. “You

got engaged!”

Danielle hiccuped and took a few short

breaths before giving Camille a weak smile.

“Yeah,” she sniffed.

“Let’s see the ring!” Camille said walking

around the bed to Danielle’s hygiene tote.

Camille knew their script. It was the same

every week.

Danielle beamed and obliged.

“Oooh,” Camille cooed, taking a brush to

Danielle’s matted brown nest. Weekend shift

had a lot to work on in regards to patient

care. “Is that a diamond?”

Danielle laughed and rattled off the details

- how he found it and gave it a fresh

start, like the fresh start they had given

each other after that first embarrassing

79

meeting. Camille brushed gently and smiled,

her eyes trained on the space above Danielle’s

gnarled left stump of an arm, the

space that would have contained Danielle’s

left hand, if she still had one. “He must

really love you to go to all that trouble,” she

murmured, the hair on the back of Danielle’s

head finally smooth.

“I really love him back,” Danielle sighed,

taking the cup of pills Camille handed to her

and slipping into their darkness.

***

Reasons to take Quetiapine as prescribed

(an exhaustive list):

No more anxiety. No more pain. No more

confusing conversations.

No more scratchy sheets. No more hospital

smells. No more small talk with the nurse

you secretly despise.

No more memories of bliss, of kisses under

star-canopied skies. No more smells of

coffee while locking eyes with a set that see

you and know you and love you, despite the

circumstances.

No more pain. No more searing pain in

her arm, her leg just above the knee, her

heart, her memories. No more straps on the

bed when she tries to explain what really

happened, that he isn’t dead. Do they think

she just stumbled here, flayed and out-bled,

alone? After facing down a train, she just

made it here on her own?

No more questions. Nothing more to explain.

And no more pain.


***

Danielle wakes to a heavy calloused hand

on her thigh. Ben is gone. Camille will be

back in an hour. She places her left hand on

his and opens her eyes. Her beautiful ring

glitters on her hand as it always does and

she turns to look into the eyes of the one

who comes to sit with her between all her

hourly checks, who has never left, and who

never will, as he tells her whenever the pain

gets to be too much.

“Mi amor,” he purrs, touching her face

with his hand as his other continues to hold

hers. She brings her forehead to his and closes

her eyes, drinking in the smell of cedar

and lawn clippings and sweet summer rains.

Doing Time

Poetry

A Slevin

Dublin, Ireland

Broke up last night

Broke me mentally

Broke before rent day

Broker trade? Forget about it

Break a sweat

Break the window

Break his neck

Break into a run

Back home now

Back killing me

Back out of this habit

Back into the saddle

Change out of my bloody clothes

Change behind the couch

Change of scenery

Change my name

Drink away the old

Drink in the new

Drink of water in the hotel bar

Drink is on him, I tell the barman

Knocking at my bedroom door

Knocking my resolve for six

Knocking shop owner that I didn’t pay

Knocks me out cold

Head into the bathroom

Head is banging

Head of my beer comes back up

Heads up! The world goes dark

Night Prayer

Sonnet

Richard Stimac

Maplewood, Missouri, USA

This cloudy, new moon night, the star-like

lights

Of grain silos and elevators shine

Across the river, water black as wine,

As if constellations fell from their heights,

Sky, earth, in exchange. A dry bulk barge

rights

Itself as feed grain mounds send up a fine

Dust, and the watery stars shimmer, a sign,

That God, awoke, has put us in his sights,

Or nature is indifferent. To you,

As you walk across heaven’s floor, your soles

Singed by seraphic heat, you turn your eyes

Up to hell’s glory. And me, in my fuss

For banks and cars and who leads in the polls,

I pray fallen words never reach the skies.

80


High Beams (GET OFF THE ROAD)

Poetry

Brianna Fay

Henrietta, New York, USA

I have dreams

every other full moon or so

that I’m driving down middle road

and the sun had already set

and there’s a car driving towards me

he flashes his high beams at me.

On, off, and on. Three times.

I’m driving down the dip in the road

He’s coming at it from the other direction

His high beams light up the cabin of my Chevy Trailblazer

They illuminate the yellow dashes in the road

They light up the wheat on either side of the street.

On, off, and on. Three times.

What are you trying to tell me?

They light up the abandoned machinery in the field.

It’s been abandoned;

every time I pass,

every time the car drives by in my dreams.

The fields by this road are my favorite part of this town.

My family used to watch fireworks from that hill at the top of the road

and when the sun is setting

the city skyline lights up over the trees.

I used to take that road as a short cut to get home from Jay’s Diner.

It’s where I got pulled over for the first time.

It’s where I drove the car to the side of the road to spend three hours

crying

just because everything was falling apart.

I have these dreams

81

every full moon or so

that I’m driving down middle road

and the sun has already set

and there’s a car driving towards me

and he flashes his high beams.

On, off, and on. Three times.

What are you trying to tell me?

Is there something wrong with my car?

YOU’RE DRIVING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION

Lately, the landscape has changed

but I still take that route home.

The machinery has been moving dirt.

Dad says they’re building soon

and we might not be able to see

the skyline from that hill

GET OFF THE ROAD

I never go to Jay’s Diner anymore.

BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE

I don’t even know if this route is really a short cut.

GET OUT

On, off, and on again.

IT’S NOT TOO LATE


Fossil Fuel Relic

Painting

Carolyn Lord

Livermore, California, USA

82


Earth

Painting

Aydin Ermolaev

Pleasanton, California, USA

83


I am not a person.

I am a disappointment. Fathers don’t

want daughters. They want a son to play

sports, earn trophies, and score during the

championship game. They can call him “Junior”

and teach him all he’ll need to know.

Sons can get a scholarship for throwing a ball

and running around with other sons. Dad will

be so proud. He’ll tell all his buddies at the

next poker game about how his son has done

the family name well.

Fathers want a son who will be looked up

to and popular amongst the ladies. “That’s

my boy,” he’ll say. They’d worry too much

about their daughters going out with the

type of boy they would have raised.

Fathers want a son who can be a successful

businessman. They can provide for the

family while wearing a suit. They’ll buy nice

Christmas gifts and drink expensive scotch

while out with their pals. Daughters won’t

be corporate CEOs and have a large paycheck.

They’ll be secretaries, maybe.

Better yet, a housewife.

Daughters aren’t the ones bragged about

at family reunions, unless they’re beautiful,

with a husband who resembles the son

they’ve always dreamed of. Fathers want

a son who will follow in their footsteps and

give them a sense of pride. Fathers don’t

want daughters.

I am a piece of property. My boyfriend will

choose me based upon specific expectations

[ I am ]

Fiction

Jessica Garrison

Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, USA

he has set. I need to look the part in order

to fit in with whatever crowd I’m needed

for. I have to be dumb enough so he can be

the center of conversation, but still pretty

enough to be worth the time. I can’t do the

same to him. I don’t want to seem shallow.

He needs to have his arm around me to

show the other guys that I’m his and they

can’t have me; I’m an ornament that’s

supposed to look nice and show off his best

features. I laugh on cue and act like I’m OK

with his buddies’ side comments on my body.

I’m only there to prove he has someone.

Has something.

I am a sex object. My body needs to stay

in its best possible shape so my husband

isn’t ashamed to sleep with me. Whatever

his request may be, I should be willing to do

it because he’s my husband, and I want him

to be happy, don’t I? If it makes me uncomfortable,

then I should get over it. I’m being

silly. Maybe even a little selfish. He’s just

trying to spice things up. He’s my husband

and I should be more understanding of his

needs.

The beginning years are like a fairytale

with long talks about our glowing future.

The touches are gentle, and my heart swells

when he looks into my eyes.

Now it has just become a routine of

quickly undressing and avoiding eye contact.

A way for him to unwind after a long day at

work while I stayed home and read romance

novels. There will be no story of that nature

with us. No rose petals or champagne or

84

scented candles. Just used sheets and empty

kisses.

I am a womb. It’s my job to have children.

I’m the one with the uterus. I’m supposed to

carry my husband’s children and give him an

excuse not to have sex with me.

It doesn’t matter whether or not I wanted

this child, I’m having it. I’m keeping it. It’s

my fate to be impregnated, carry said child

for 9 months, and be forced to do everything

for two. To eat right, go to doctor’s appointments,

and have my body ripped from the

inside out for the sake of a perfect family.

Even after all of this, I must prove myself

worthy. My husband will be a great dad

for remembering his (or her) birthday and

sometimes seeing him (or her) before bed.

I could give my life for him (or her), and it

still wouldn’t be enough.

I will be responsible for making sure this

child turns out OK.

If she doesn’t, I have failed as a womb.

A sad head shake. “Turned out just like her

mother.”

If he does, it was because he had a strong,

supportive father. A pat on the back. “Just

like his old man.”

I am a machine. I have to rise earlier than

anyone else and creep down the stairs before

the sun begins to peek over the horizon.

Brew the coffee and make breakfast. My

husband needs a big breakfast to keep his

energy up during an exhausting day at work.

Of course I’ll clean up the dishes. Of course


I’ll get the kids up and ready for school. Of

course.

I only have fifteen minutes to get ready

for work because I needed to help them put

on their shoes. I wanted to take a shower

this morning. I ran out of time.

Drop the kids off at school and head to

work. I have to speed to get there on time.

I go thirty over, fingers crossed that a cop

doesn’t see me. I’m still late. My boss says

it’s strike three. I have to be careful. He

doesn’t have children.

It’s eight hours later, and school is out.

Their assignments are done before dinner,

and they eat all the vegetables on their

plates.

“Daddy’s working late again tonight.” It

was his turn to do the dishes.

“No, I don’t know when he’ll be home.”

He promised to help fold the laundry.

But he has to stay late. He is providing for

the family.

Time for baths and pajamas and bedtime

stories. I was supposed to take a shower

while he got the kids ready for bed. Maybe

tomorrow morning.

He comes home late, too tired to talk.

We go to bed, but I don’t fall asleep. I need

more time.

I wish he’d help me like he says he will. If

I nag about it, he’ll tell me to quit my job so

I can get more done. If I quit my job, he’ll

resent me for the budget cuts. He doesn’t

think of my feelings. Because machines don’t

have feelings.

I am not a person. I am a woman. And

they are not the same.

I’ve wandered into some old church

On a rundown street, the dive bar

Next door for those left in the lurch

By idled engines, empty rail cars,

Closed foundries, cold kilns, dead steel yards.

The tar-roofed shotgun shacks still blaze

With the ghosts of the refuse and discards

Of what we call the simpler days.

Simple is not what I’d call the people

Who measured weeks by Sunday mass.

Like Uriel, set to guard the steeple,

They kept ward over broken glass,

Cracked blacktop with hopscotch crosses,

Rusted chains of bent iron hoops.

Score was kept of wins and losses.

They rocked and watched from sagging

stoops.

With their mute mouths, glass eyes, deaf

ears,

Like faded pastel plaster saints,

They marked and shed plaster-like tears

For coal girl’s pleas, brakeman’s complaints.

Who would hear them? The whiskey priest?

All he did was preach the divine.

That was something, he thought, at least,

To clear black lung, straighten a spine.

Visitation

Sonnet

Richard Stimac

Maplewood, Missouri, USA

When you . . . when I, I meant to say,

Like an angel, make my visit,

Up steps, through doors, a passageway,

Maybe I will ask, “What is it

That led these poor to drop their cents

Into the plate to build this place?

What empty cupboard, past due rents,

Went unpaid in lieu of this grace?”

Above the altar of gold leaf,

Mary holds a small man, Jesus,

And signs to all the way from grief,

As if seeing itself frees us

From misery. The senses save

More than the mind. They understood,

The old, who wore black, and were grave,

Life is for grief and not for good.

85


Green

Poetry

Jilli Penner

Citrus Heights, California, USA

I’m the type of girl

That’s only “loved” at night

More interested in

The color of my panties

Than the shade of my eyes

They prefer

Ripping off my clothes

To uncovering the mysteries of my mind

Fulfilling my need for connection

But only for a moment

In exchange for violating my insides

You’re gone before I wake up

My skin may be soft

But so is my smile

My eyes are green by the way

Zardozi

زَردوزی

Poetry

Vinit Kurup

New York, New York, USA

It is with suspense that I watched

a seam of intricate half-truths

symmetrically pour out of metallic lips.

The waving crease between them

pouring consistent threads of precious

comfort

tied to manipulated golden smiles.

The art of misleading is as exquisite as

the zardozi weavers whose fingertips leave

treasured dust on the fabrics they métier.

Such dedication is so seamlessly passed

from threads of embroidered luxuries

to the serrated malice of falsities.

The incredible affinity

to source distrust and pain

is plated into patterns of floral paisley aptly

crafted to to take after

the shapes of blooming tear drops.

Perhaps it’s why this morning,

the edges of my mouth undid their selvage

and began shedding gold flakes -

a sign that I too had recently indulged in a

lie.

Faceswarp

Poetry

Lance Nizami

Palo Alto, California, USA

Distortions

They were all around me

The faces—they were pretty, too symmetrical

The faces —they were smiling, too made-up

They failed to show the underlying feelings

They failed to show emotions underneath

The feelings were not pretty or symmetrical

The feelings were lopsided, ugly, mean

The feelings hid behind How-can-I-help-you’s

The feelings hid behind How-nice-to-meetyou’s

The feelings hid behind What-do-I-call-you’s

The feelings hid behind the formal

handshakes

The feelings hid behind—the feelings hid;

How often has this happened, do you think

How often has this happened to you too

Do you suspect a darkness under skin

Do you suspect black water in their veins?

Indeed, you might —instead of blood, that is—

It’s not the ink of creativity

It’s slow resentment from antiquity

It’s flowing fluid negativity

Hidden behind faces—they were smiling, too

made-up

The faces—they were pretty, too symmetrical

They were all around me

Distortions

86


87

In the Sky Above

Dublin Hills

Painting

Olga Sushchik

Pleasanton, California, USA


3AM

Poetry

Micaela Walley

Hanover, Maryland, USA

in our worst moments, I try

not to spill words like empty

houses—vacant, inviting you

to fill in the blanks. I try not to

disown myself in these ways,

like standing by what I said

when I didn’t know what else to

say or relying on the benefits of me

to outweigh the risks of you. If I am

a broken home on a busy street

that no one looks twice at, then you

are a prime piece of real estate with

an unstable foundation. I wonder about

the way your lips quiver when mad,

like earthquakes shed pictures from our walls.

Like God himself might fall from your mouth.

I wonder about the home we’ve built with

our broken words, how fragile they sound

when repeated back to me, how easily they

could blow away in the midnight wind.

Michael's Music

Poetry

John Grey

Johnston, Rhode Island, USA

Abused by keyboard,

cuffed round the head by keys,

his father had paid for the damn thing –

at least he was sending a monthly check

to the appliance store –

so somebody better be on that stool

and practicing their scales for hours.

He grew up terrified of music.

It was the monster that dwelled

beneath the shiny black lid.

Its claws were ivory.

Its mouth a heavy fallboard.

And, down below,

where his feet hung loosely,

pedals nipped at his toes.

But he survived.

Even played a mean “Für Elise”

in his teens.

But his friends all craved guitars.

Saw them in store windows.

Not in nightmares.

a love poem for

someone who

doesn't like love

poems

Poetry

Shanna Merceron

Palm Coast, Florida, USA

i don’t like it when you call my written

feelings

c r i n g e

still i burn, the Crackle of fires you never

cease tending to

the Ring ringing of our phones continue, we

milk these unlimited minutes

i brush off the Interruptions, always trying to

nestle inside our limbo

soothed by the Nicorette you snap between

your teeth, just for me

i don’t think i could count all the Gas

stations we’ve visited, don’t worry i’ll

keep the truck running, or don’t worry, i’ll

see you

soon, Everything will be packed away from

your place, and from mine, to move into

somewhere called ours

cringe if you'd like to, i’ll trace the shiver

down your spine, capture it in my hands

and whisper into my cupped palms all the

things i cannot speak aloud

but mostly i just say that i love you

88


Adieu

Poetry

Jean-Sebastien Grenier

Nelson, British Colombia, Canada

IDIOT

Poetry

Shahriar Danesh

Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi, Iran

“Just as an embryo passes through the evolutionary

animal stages, so we carry with us archaic ‘memories’

which can be brought to light.” — J.E. Cirlot

I shed hallucinations like Paris fashions. Despite my efforts, like

some carpenter’s calloused thumbprint, your porcelain persona reemerges

overnight, replaces my true face with that dense dead identity.

Persistent as a bad cough, my morning routine seduces me into

the ritual obsession of a prophet invoking the horrors of an obsolete

apocalypse; before I’ve even woken, shaken off the rust, I’ve already

glued your grotesque fragments into another mosaic that, against all

evidence, I end up calling mine, my mask. I haven’t recognized myself

in the mirror for a decade proper. I must’ve shattered your plateau a

million times over by now, but haven’t yet let die our arcane charade.

Why? I lost count at twelve double-images multiplying, reflecting off

the broken glass. Staring. What’s worse, your shards are more intoxicating

than sugar dreams. Before I can manage to wear you out, you’ve

gone and reconfigured yourself into some neurotic nuance, whatever

noire nightmare that’s been nagging me that week. There aren’t

enough chemicals in hell, nor the apothecary’s medicine cabinet to

melt you away for good. It’s been too easy to fall for the make-believe

of your masquerade. It’s my fault, I started this. As your séance surgeon,

I carved your fixed expression out of bad land exhaustion. You’re

just a metaphoric character I attached too much meaning to, that I

summoned when I didn’t know what it meant to be human. Raw. Now

I’m just weary with our game, the one where I half-heartedly try to

remove you again, you cling, and then recede back into me like some

shell-shocked hermit crab. You fabricated thing, you cling to exist, but

you’re not even real. It’s Lovecraftian unknowns you fear most, getting

locked in the vault without love, but it’s your hollow head, your hollow

words, you’re hollowed out by the howling worm you call soul. Neither

of us knows this yet. And so, for the first time again, I’ll slice myself

shaving with your thin halves; you’ll bleed for lucidity. And this time,

I’ll leave it alone because your sentience is cheap; it’s just a set of

stale sentences that no longer have anything to do with who I want to

be.

89

I’m the life of a shadow, the shadow of despair,

Made a life inspired by hell and “it ain’t fair,”

On the corpse of my hopes, rotten roots, lethal pride,

Rapping rolling rocking, on the bed of Cyrus, every night.

I tell Cyrus: “take a nap, I am up,”

Cyrus peeks from the breach of his coffin,

Then he cries: “I am burning, help me, god!”

Jeez, Cyrus, what the fuck? (I look admonishing).

I chill the temperature, by the cold gaze I share, every day; in metro,

taxi, a rusty bus,

While walking, crawling, howling, and running,

To the park, with a bud, buy a drug; to the dorm, runny walk, cheap

weed, in a suck, yuck!

It smells like yuck! and works like yuck! and feeds us up, with one

more puff, a big fat puff.

We then laugh a little, cry a little, nag a little, nothing a bit, less a

little, then go to sleep.

Wake up! erected, go to college,

meet some ugly make-uped girls who deep down I want to piss on,

But I’m rejected continually by the whores of Babylon. (I’m the oldest

wrinkly cock of Persia)

But I keep on,

the same bullshit again, over again, over again,

Till I get graduated, with a “U-stupid” degree, that I can marry or call

a bitch,

But never a dick, to fuck a job with. (“behave yourself,” Cyrus says)

Sorry, I’m pissed.

Shit shit, popped up, my girlfriend’s knocked up.

Other dudes fucked her too, but I showed up with her, so shut up.

(Cyrus laughs)

now her brothers and cousins are coming to kill me.

She was a saint, apparently, keenly,

Sewing her virginity clit to butt, while repenting to a funky god.


Lady X

Digital Art

Edward Supranowicz

Lancaster, Ohio, USA

90


He is not the kind of person whom you

merely have a "crush on." You slowly and

deeply fall in love with him, deeply, so very

deeply. And that was the way it was for me

with Ji Hoo. But this was no passive affair.

A person has to be self-cultivated enough

to be able to appreciate his worth. I had

to transform myself into the kind of person

capable of appreciating — truly appreciate —

the countless virtues he exemplifies. Much in

the way a Cezanne can’t be appreciated by

a beer swigging lug, people of a higher cast

can only be understood by people who have

nurtured the higher ideals within themselves.

To illustrate the work I'd done toward that

end, he’d mentioned once in some interview

I saw that he’d read Dostoevsky and I started

on Crime & Punishment straightaway.

Another instance evincing the self-cultivation

I'd done, in a joint interview with

several other actors during a press flack

quite a few years back, Ji Hoo stated that in

preparing for the period piece he had recently

filmed he'd read Iris Murdoch simply

because the screenwriter had mentioned

in passing to him that he'd had one of her

novels in mind when he wrote the screenplay.

I read the novel he mentioned for my

own edification, but I imagined also that by

doing so I was further cultivating the psychic

connection I shared by Ji Hoo. I realize of

course that most would consider that fanciful

thinking, but there are many things the

blinkered crowd know nothing about. And as

it happens, I took a liking to Murdoch. This

Vicissitudes

Fiction

Sam Sohn

Glendale, California, USA

led me to move onto Anthony Powell and

then later Evelyn Waugh. So I felt like Ji Hoo

then had put me on to timeless literature

and really could such a thing ever be said of

just another trivial actor? Doesn't that alone

demonstrate the numinous nature of our

connection?

I think you must believe me at this point

that I'm no mere "fan girl." I don't think it

would be so mad of me to say I'm a connoisseur

if you'll indulge me of a kind of person

who embodies exalted ideals like chasteness,

soberness, artistic integrity. While I've

focused my attention on Ji Hoo solely, is that

so different from one say who has made it

her life's undertaking to chronicle the works

and life of a consequential artist or some

literary giant? And am I not in fact more than

these creditable stodgy souls?

Isn’t someone who interjects themselves

into a subject's life, shapes the course of

events rather than meekly cataloging them

at very least someone of consequence as

well? And it’s not as though I do this out of

vainglory but rather from the sincerely held

belief that the object of my machinations

will himself realize untold benefit by being

with one who can interpret and understand

even his most delicate sensibility.

What was it which initially started this

fascination? I must admit, it started from

reading those stupid magazines as a young

girl. His was a story which stood out, one

which was immediately arresting to me. Being

an immigrant of mixed lineage — he had

a Korean mother and his father was an Amer-

91

ican soldier who had abandoned him and

his mother — he bore all manner of taunts

and epithets in his small town. In spite of

that, he diligently practiced his cello all the

way through his teen years with unflagging

ardor. His story certainly wasn't the standard

fare. He garnered entrance to Julliard, and

during his first year a casting director who

was spotted him during a first year's student

performance at the Lincoln Center asked

him to audition for a role as an adoptee in

Your Family Is Your Family. These things just

don't happen haphazardly, not in my view. Ji

Hoo's fate as it were had sought him out, and

it so happened that he met it with aplomb.

He of course decided to pursue acting and

drop out of Julliard. It was of course only

after self-immolating deliberating that he

decided acting was his calling, according to

the article. The brevity of the description of

his decision-making process tantalized me.

I wondered how he must have agonized and

struggled, how he must wandered the New

York streets trying to clear his head in order

to decide what to do.

Reading about his trials, I felt a kinship

with Ji Hoo. That's not to say that I had an

even remotely similar background. Mine was

fraught in altogether different ways. While I

also hailed from a small town, I had a chaotic

household. Julliard was not the kind of

place certainly which I would have had a

chance to attend. I had an absent father as

well and a mother who had taken to drink in

order to stop remembering her dread past,

one replete with truly hateful things better


left undiscussed. But she couldn't keep her

memories at bay, and she abused herself

beyond drink with her sundry boyfriends and

made me object of her anger, a repository of

all the betrayals in her life. I don't despise

the woman anymore. She is just a non-entity

to me, and I don't think about her any longer.

I’m well aware therefore that fate can

come for one much less felicitously.,

But back to Ji Hoo. Ah, yes, yes, at first

maybe you could have called it a crush, but

I was no mere pre-teen with a simple infatuation.

When there were dark times, I could

take refuge in inhabiting elaborate dreamscapes

with Ji Hoo. He wasn’t fully formed

himself mind you when he played the friend

in that soulful series about troubled teens,

but you saw glimpses of his depth, the

profundity at his core which a person could

burrow toward ceaselessly only to uncover

further depths to plumb. I subsequently became

acutely aware of whatever project he

took part in or was even mulling taking part

in regardless of how minor the role. I didn't,

however, do as some frivolous girls did and

tackily hang his image on my bedroom wall

as though such paltry homage accomplished

anything whatsoever.

On that score, that Ji Hoo was treated by

many as some teen sensation in the mold of

sundry doltish boys who were his contemporaries

— those who in fact fit perfectly well

on mindless teens' walls — was to me like

some oaf taking a Stradivarius and plucking

away like it were banjo.

I on the other hand from the very first noticed

the traces of the soulfulness to which

he naturally inclined even amidst the youthful

playfulness he exhibited in that somewhat

silly, early role. And over the years, I

observed how his artistry and poet's sensibility

were emerging, and it seemed to me that

his development was in lockstep with my

own maturation. I witnessed this through his

many roles, his evolution, the realization of

his artistic potential. We grew together over

the years you could say.

Then I saw him once in a coffee shop in

Santa Monica a year ago. I'd just gotten back

from a long solitary amble by the water. He

was there all of a sudden in all his corporeal

reality. It was a shock.

My fandom — certainly that word doesn't

do my affinity for Ji Hoo justice, but one

which does doesn't readily come to mind —

had waned some over the years what with all

the troubles I'd had. Getting turned out from

my place not long after being let go from

the shop in West Hollywood for instance, this

only after wage garnishments and numerous

enervating court appearances in which I

fought against inhumane eviction practices;

there was that whole ordeal when my identity

was stolen by my ex, and it took years

(years!) to disentangle myself from that

situation. There were long stretches where

there was hardly even a whiff of an audition

to speak of. Sidelines such as selling merchandise

at concerts were hardly any help

especially when taking into account evenings

like the Pixies show when I was robbed of

all the cash I’d made. I had been whipsawed

every which way.

These are just some of the travails which

spring to mind over the near decade after

I'd moved to Los Angeles from the Pacific

Northwest. It is ironic that while the physical

distance separating us had lessened substantially,

the intensity of my feelings for Ji Hoo

had diminished a great deal. In retrospect,

now that I've had time to reflect, I realize

92

that the harshness of life beats the desire to

contemplate the higher things out of a person,

renders one unable in fact to remember

that higher things exist at all. My waning

fandom, or ardor more appropriately perhaps,

stemmed from this in my estimation.

But when I saw Ji Hoo in the coffee shop

that day, I was immediately reminded of all

of my former feelings for him, my ruminations

over his performances, and all the insights

about the human condition which such

cogitating had stimulated. And my emotions

overflowed and left me dumbstruck.

As I stood there stupidly, slackjawed,

gaze fixed, something occurred to me like it

were a revelation. As he fumbled in his pants

pockets for his wallet, it occurred to me that

he was just a person, someone who like all

of us inhabited a physical body. Until now,

for me, he had been like a celestial being

whom I'd only had contact with through a

bedimming medium such as a movie screen

or television set. In this moment, however, I

saw the real person. It occurred to me that

just like all of the rest of us, he, too, deals

with the thudding banalities and indignities

of everyday living. When the barista smiled

her unctuous smile, lavished praise on him

for his work in his recent desultory sci-fi

film, Worlds Apart, I was aghast. I stood

there in stockstill silence, mouth agape.

But he dealt with it with aplomb, with a

grace only the truly humble and great can

exhibit in my view. So at the very moment

his humanity was revealed to me. In dealing

with the everydayness, the whatness, with

which all humans at the most elemental

level must contend, that which makes him

so sublime came to light. There he was in his

sunglasses. No awkward disguise. There he

was out in the open. There was no affecting


sangfroid. He was just who I'd always imagined

he'd be in a mundane setting, gregarious

and unaffected. In short, true and open

and pure. After all the muck and grime of

Hollywood and being traduced by tabloids,

hounded by paparazzi, and dealing with all

manner vermin pullulating this world, I could

see that he remained unsullied and was still

a free spirit, luminous and unburdened.

It was at this moment that I sensed that

he and I were destined to be together, that

our preordained paths were intertwined,

and this very moment was the point at

which they merged. He smilingly received

his coffee, and he ambled out the back exit

where there was a small parking lot. I had

parked on the street next to the shop, and I

decided at that moment to follow Ji Hoo. I

went out the front door and got into my car,

and when I saw the Porsche convertible in

my rear view window, I followed as if drawn

to an irresistible shiny black object. I followed,

however, at enough of a distance to

avoid detection and made my way onto the

freeway as he did and exited the freeway

on his heels and ultimately followed him

into a neighborhood with stylized homes of

modern design most of which were largely

concealed by large trees. Ji Hoo ascended a

steep incline, and I was leery that he would

be suspicious of me, but nothing in his placid

style of driving suggested he was even aware

of me. I saw him pull into a driveway which

was at a significantly greater distance from

the nearest neighbor's home than even the

generous distances separating all of the

other homes I had seen in this neighborhood.

I couldn't see his home which seemed to rest

atop a hill judging by the upward ascent of

Ji Hoo' s vehicle. His home, or the entrance

to it anyway, was hardly inviting what with

its seclusion, but what immediately struck

me was that there was no gate. Moreover,

no one stood guard. It occurred to me that

a person could with no fuss make her way toward

his home and initiate contact with him.

During the drive back to my much less

impressive abode, I thought to myself that

that is precisely how I imagined Ji Hoo would

live — in private, understated fashion, without

ostentation and excessive security. And

I thought during this drive that I needed to

seize this opportunity. It hadn't just haphazardly

appeared. Fate had come to me in the

form of a deux ex machina, one which I had

divined as a child.

The more I meditated on it, the clearer it

became to me that Ji Hoo and I were fated

to be integral figures in each other's lives.

How could it be that he and I just happened

upon each other so serendipitously, he an actor

of international renown and me his most

penetrating critic? And there was a cosmic

justice to it all, too. All of the hardships I'd

endured could be cleared away like detritus

from a road. All of the unpleasantness

inflicted on me by my mother's boyfriends,

while incapable of ever being rendered null

could be assuaged, counteracted to some

degree if you'll allow. While I had been hard

done by to say the least, I could finally be

done right by by the propulsive forces driving

the universe. Surely there is such a force

I mused. I had this premonitory sense that

that which had been fated to transpire was

in the midst of coming to pass and that an

abiding joyfulness was upon me.

I went to work the next few days. I was

doing cashier work at a drugstore for the

time being. I didn't formulate any concrete

plans just because I now knew where Ji Hoo

93

lived, but I marveled that no elaborate planning

was in fact necessary. One evening, a

customer argued with me about the amount

she was charged, and I was obliged to call

my manager, which was not out of the ordinary

but this customer was so angry, grossly

out of proportion to the amount at issue. As I

got off from work and drove home, I decided

that I couldn't wait any longer. I showered,

put on a nice ensemble, a sweater and

jeans, and put on makeup, made myself as

comely and yet unassuming as possible.

I got into my car and drove to his place. I

was going to knock on his door, beguile him

with my self-effacing introduction, and he

would ask me inside because I believed fate

had irrevocably put into motion our union. I

was simply hastening the inevitable conclusion.

I knocked on the door tremulously, feeling

that this was an occasion of great moment.

No one answered. I rang the doorbell, and I

waited for a good minute. I was crestfallen.

As I contemplated driving forlornly back to

my hovel in the dusk, my pulse quickened,

and I walked to a large bay type window

20 feet from the entrance on a hunch, and

when I pulled on it, lo and behold it opened!

I was acting purely on instinct at this juncture.

I jumped in. It was dark, and as I

mentioned the house was concealed by trees

and far enough away from the next closest

home that I wasn’t being surveilled so far as

I knew.

Inside what must have been the living

room was wall art with a scene from Lover’s

Symphony, a role in which Ji Hoo brought

to bear his considerable musical talents, a

movie which upon first viewing had sent me

into raptures and which in subsequent years

served as balm to a wounded psyche. (On


the opposite end, we need not talk about

that comic book adaptation he acted in a

couple years ago. I don’t begrudge someone

making a living. But commerce is debasing,

and if someone goes too far, it can forever

tarnish an artist.)

Suddenly, I heard noises and rumblings as

though a door had opened upstairs. There

were stirrings from above. Then there were

footfalls on the stairwell. I was like prey in

the jungle, utterly paralyzed. Slippered feet

came into view. Then a robe. When we made

eye contact, there was a moment when

space time was suspended, and then there

was bedlam.

“Ji Hoo! Come down here!” she railed as

she scurried quickly back up the stairs, and

then there were all manner of hyena like

shrieking noises.

An athletic male bounded down the stairs.

He stared at me wildly. I saw fear. At first I

didn’t recognize him. He was like an animal

in his crazed state. How could he be fearful

of me? How could he be so utterly lacking

in perspicacity and devoid of the sensitivity

with which I’d treated him?

“Ji Hoo, please, my apologies. I just let

myself in," I spluttered. "Please Ji Hoo, just

speak to me for a moment. I've all these

things I'd like to share with you. If only you

would allow me to introduce myself.” He

was feral. I had never seen him like this.

Even in A Debt Paid in which he played a

member of a special ops unit deployed to

carry out an assassination (and endured

torture as a POW), I had never seen him this

wild. He demanded that I leave in maniacal,

crazed fashion, his eyes ablaze with malevolence.

But I couldn’t leave just then, so

unceremoniously, without so much as making

a true human connection. I approached

him pleadingly, and he blenched backward

as though I were a grotesque spider snake

hybrid, and he then retreated several steps

away from my advance. When I reached him

in the foyer, he thrust forward with stunning

alacrity, grabbed hold of me and tossed me

to the ground over his shoulder like a judo

master (I know he is not in reality; he does

have some tae kwon do training); we fell

to the ground, and I felt the full brunt of

his weight and mine as we slammed onto

the floor. When I awoke, he was still resting

atop me. I made a sudden movement,

and my right shoulder throbbed with a pain

I had never before experienced and have

not since. The robe was again present. Not

someone I would have ever have imagined

he would have been interested in. Buxom

blonde, she could have one of scores of

girls I’d seen just like her on auditions. She

mentioned that the police should be arriving

in any moment. Every time I tried to

say a word, he yelled, “Don’t Speak! Don’t

speak!” and the ferocity with which he exhorted

me quickly induced me to comply.

The police when they handcuffed me

nearly sent me in to convulsive fits because

of my shoulder. As I was being taken away,

the one coherent thought I managed at the

time, one which fills me with rue to this very

moment, was that I had never got to say my

piece to Ji Hoo.

I’m set to be released next Tuesday. I need

to see about where I’ll live, how I’ll get on.

Once I become settled, however, make no

mistake, I will see Ji Hoo again. I won't be so

clumsy as to just go to him as before mind

you. That was clearly the height of stupidity.

I now have a plan, meticulous and elaborate,

so this time he won’t be taken by surprise.

You see, I have recognized my error. Foisting

94

myself upon Ji Hoo as crudely as I did introduced

an element of outsize terror into our

interaction which prevented those things

which would have transpired naturally, which

necessarily would have happened, from occurring.

Some artistry and delicacy were required

on my part, and I failed spectacularly

on this front. I’ve learned, however, from

the experience. Part of my plan involves

writing Ji Hoo anonymously. I will write him

with a light, airy tone, but in succeeding

letters, I will make literary allusions, quote

moral philosophers such as Iris Murdoch. I

will beguile Ji Hoo with erudition which will

set the stage for our second meeting.

Ji Hoo’s destiny and mine are intertwined.

I am no less convinced of the truth of this

so in some fashion, our union will be consummated.

I am certain of it. Therefore, of

course I take issue with the notion I have

some "obsessive fixation" and an "addled,

deranged, mind" as that unimaginative judge

put it. I understand his way of thinking, however.

It’s just that there are certain forces

at work to which only a privileged minority

are privy. I am one such person, and Ji Hoo,

if he is not one already, will be one as well

shortly.


She lounged with lassitude

At the corner café

While people lingered

Staring at her lurid red hair

Her, oblivious to the labyrinth around her

A libidinous choice, red.

This bright, intense, loud hair

Was her scream for liberation

Her languish for lust and limitless levity

Was laden on her shoulders

The longing for luxury, latitude and

lasciviousness

Was pulling her away from her leash

Of love, loyalty and a labeled lifestyle

Temptation loath to leave

She finds herself getting lax

She misses the lunacy of dating

The lechers and larks

Oh, to be flush and lush at once would be

legendary

But instead, there is lambaste

A plea to return to the lacquer of the lasting

The L Train

Poetry

Lindsey Wentzel

Montgomery, Texas, USA

Now the games are more lethal

To be caught would be

to be lynched

no lenient judge will preside

Liability is unquestionable

Lacerate these lustful lies!

Before lachrymose loathing takes over

Alas, the hair, was a wasted labor

She still finds herself

Learning to break the lock

One step closer to the ledge now…

What’s that on the other side?

She can almost see it…almost

For now the limbo continues

Lamenting in her lair

She dreams of latent promises

A league beyond her own

Dreams of libations, lingerie and riches

Leery of the danger

Her phone a loaded gun

Deadbeat

Dinner Party

Poetry

TA Harrison

Olympia, Washington, USA

We were in love once

It was beautiful and perfect

Perfect if only for a moment

If only for that night

On that dance floor

Under those lights and in that smoke

High on vodka, pills, and emotion

Our bodies perfectly in sync

Locked into the rhythm of heaven

Of our ancestors and their gods

Speaking forgotten human languages with

our hips

Ancient melodies and poem pouring from our

bodies

Two lovers caught

Trapped between this world and the next

Deep in a trance

A hypnotic black hole of sex

Of deviance and passion

Pulling everything inside

Leaving only us

The two lovers

And the one dance floor

Moving forever in perfect harmony

It is true, this loyal, logical union is

what she had longed for, for so long

But…no more of the fast pace

The heart aches and heart breaks

No more libel, no more innocent games.

95


You told me you loved me

on a spring evening

when the sun had already set

and the flowers outside were fast asleep.

Their petals bloomed beautifully,

displayed like a rainbow cast after a rainy

day,

even though there was no light to be shed.

Scarlets, emeralds, indigos,

all frozen in time.

But then our ship capsized,

flipped from the suddenness

of the uneven weight

we held.

Of all the weight

I held.

Our previously potted garden,

the one too lovely for words,

had drowned along with everything else.

A New Beginning

Poetry

Jessica Garrison

Charlottesville, Virginia, USA

How is it possible

that I felt more alone with you

than I did when I was on my own.

Like a single firefly

left to brighten the entire sky

on the Fourth of July

after the last few fireworks

have faded away,

and nothing but silence remains.

However, the isolated autumn stretched on,

the quiet winter flurried away,

and, once again, the spring settled in,

smelling like fresh soil and new beginnings.

So here I am

with a fresh spotlight of sun on my face,

in a newborn garden of my own,

as I continue to replant the seeds of a new

flower.

Sweet Song

Poetry

Michael Stentz

Bristol, Pennsylvania, USA

The way she sang

He’d give every last dollar

Then just keep walking on

The sky behind her

Her hair so bright

Nothing to do

But just keep walking on

So light and sweet

So simple, with such grace

After all the words are spilled

Just walking on

Never to hear her voice

Outside that fated song

Humming the tune, shambles left

Of the words

Just keep walking on

I didn’t think I could feel so much regret

over something that I didn’t say,

something that I didn’t do,

something that truly never was.

But you left me standing there

with an open heart

and empty hands,

stranded in a treacherous storm,

wild sobs and crying thunder

over the new summer sky.

96


dreaming of the cosmos

Sketch/Drawing

Vita Nocilla

Livermore, California, USA

97


Moonflowers on Arthur Street

Fiction

Clare Nee

Marshfield, Massachusetts, USA

It was the turn of a new decade, and

sheer optimism fell over the prosperous

suburb of Clifton Park, a developing area

just outside of the outskirts of the city of

Schenectady. The late January cold of 1970

drifted its way into the Colonial frame of the

Stiller residence on Arthur Street in Upstate

New York. This was the home of Louis and

Madeline Stiller, a young, married couple

in their early twenties. A young couple who

dreamt of gardens and dinner parties; sports

cars with the top down, kind of leisure. So

much leisure time to be enraptured in youth

and love, and remain endless in the state of

bliss and excitement that their marriage was

founded upon. However, their reality would

be quite different.

Madeline was a beautifully bright, twentyyear-old

waitress at a popular restaurant on

State Street called Ricky’s Restaurant and

Bar in Schenectady when she met Louis. She

loved the atmosphere of Ricky’s: energetic,

but never too rowdy. She enjoyed people

watching while learning to memorize the

menu on her breaks. The chef always made

sure she was taken care of, as she was one

of the hardest workers he had ever seen

there in the fifteen years that they had been

open. Before she landed the restaurant gig,

she wasn’t sure what she’d do, and if it

wasn’t for the money she had saved prior,

she wouldn’t have been able to survive. At

18 years old, she moved out of her parents'

house; she was determined to do it on her

own. She rented a room from a couple in

Schenectady who owned the whole second

floor of a Brownstone. The sink in her room

barely had running water, but it was good

enough for what it was: a place to lay her

head. She was willing to make sacrifices

in order to remain her own. She dreamt of

being a writer: a novelist and a poet. Like

the ones she had studied in school. To engulf

in her art and exist within the margins of

society, was good enough for her, or so she

thought. She was smart and quick-witted.

These were qualities that were apparent to

those around her, including her customers.

A couple years getting gawked at by men

for her charming looks and quick wit was

enough for her to feel the exhaustion and

frustration within her bones. The city life

of Schenectady was not as glamorous as she

thought it would be, and she barely had the

energy to write when she wasn’t working.

When Louis Stiller walked into the bar that

night, she was ready to call it quits. He was

the answer to her prayer: a respectful man

— a tax accountant — who, in the beginning,

worshiped the ground that she walked on.

He came from money, was educated, and

well dressed with a charming smile that

seemingly brought out the blue in his eyes

that much more. That night he asked her to

sit with him for a drink. Three months later,

they were married. It all happened so quickly.

Louis was willing to take care of the expenses,

and before she really knew what she

had gotten herself into, they were looking at

homes in the suburbs in Saratoga County.

Clifton Park was a place where everyone

who's anyone desired to be. It had been

98

robustly booming towards the mid-sixties

with an influx of people into the once small

town, and by the turn of the 1970s, it was

solidified as a suburban first-class town in

Saratoga County with over fourteen thousand

inhabitants. The town would now be in

control of voting on taxes, speed limits, and

other changes. This was a big deal for Clifton

Park and its emergence into the world as an

official suburb, and Louis Stiller moving into

this area did not go unnoticed. The Stiller

family was well known, particularly with

their involvement in the Saratoga Horse Races.

Alongside the family’s legacy, Louis was a

particularly social man. The kind of man who

could hardly go anywhere without running

into someone that he knew, which often ran

into rather lengthy conversations, during

which Madeline learned to smile and nod.

Of course she remembered each person and

had heard so many wonderful things about

them from Louie. She was the only person

who called him that, which seemed rather

uncharacteristic of his pristine, put-together

self. He was a member of the Ballston Spa

Country Club, a frequent churchgoer, and an

avid donor to Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

in Scotia. There wasn’t a charity event that

he missed. He was as social and outwardly

humble in the presence of his community,

which was one of the most charming parts

about him.

The Stiller couple moved into 93 Arthur

Street on the third day of the new year.

There wasn’t too much to unpack or move

since most of the homes in this neighbor-


hood came furnished, with the exception of

the Stiller family china and hope chests. He

would allow Madeline to take charge in purchasing

the bedding and other small items

to give her something to look forward to and

to plan while he was working. For the first

time since she was a child, Madeline did not

have a job. Growing up in the city, she was

unaccustomed to this new lifestyle; all she

knew was to be overworked and underpaid.

But Louie had asked her to quit her job once

they were engaged. It was a given; no proper

woman would be schlepping dirty dishes

or dodging skeezy men. She was a married

woman now. Perhaps once she got the house

settled she would begin to write again.

Since the couple moved, it had been the

buzz of the town. “Did you hear that Louis

Stiller married a beautiful redhead over at

the Lutheran church down in Scotia? She is

such a doll that girl, a real looker. I heard

they moved into a Colonial over on Arthur

Street. Yes, that gorgeous white one with

the navy shutters and the big yard. They

have about ten acres. Well, it’s only time

before he gets nominated as a new town

board member. Oh, without a doubt he

will.” The gossip had been right; it felt as

though the Stillers had only been present in

the suburbs for a few brief moments before

Louis was asked to join the town board as

the town’s tax assessor and supervisor. He’d

work in a big office building in town and

earn a salary of $7,000 a year, which placed

the couple nicely amongst the upper-middle

class. There would be a celebratory dinner

following in honor of the new board members,

and it was the chance for the couple to

make their big social entrance into the world

of suburbia.

Louie insisted that they go shopping as

soon as the weekend rolled around. They

needed to look the part, or rather she did,

which was lightly implied. Madeline had put

on a few love pounds since the first time

they had met, and her clothing, as Louie

revealed, “Just didn’t fit quite right. It was

too city,” and he refused to have his wife

dressed in anything but the best... They

drove into Schenectady in his 1968 Plymouth

Sport Satellite: a fiery red, automatic

two-door vehicle with a hardtop. The two

strutted down State Street hand and hand

and exchanged their hidden anxieties with

new extravagances. Wool suits, pocket

squares, and leather shoes were purchased

from Bond’s clothing store for Louie, and

they finished the day off at Carl’s bargain

outlet. Although they had the money, they

were cautious about saving now since they

had a mortgage to pay. She didn’t feel quite

comfortable, but he insisted. She settled on

a simple, white, sheath dress with blue flowers

that came down to her knees, but Louie

insisted upon a black dress with three-quarter

length sleeves, a string of pearls. She

began to drape expensive garments over her

arm that she had seen in the magazines and

advertisements and finished her look with

a fur-trimmed winter coat. Elegant, classy,

with an otherworldly tilt of her head, she

felt ready to take on the night.

After the excitement had settled, she

filled her time with daily rituals of searching

the advertisements for the best deals and

the latest trends. It was important for her to

stay relevant, so she made a growing list of

what to buy for the weekend, during which

Louie would accompany her to the stores or

go off to Saratoga Horse Races with some of

the men from the country club and leave the

car behind for her use. As more and more

99

time went on, she realized the quantity of

items that she had procured in her house.

She found herself sifting through the goods

without spirit in their bedroom. Everything

was in its place, but nothing felt right. In

fact, she didn’t feel much of anything at all.

She ran her hands over the smoothness of

the gold, moonflower bed sheets and comforter,

and wondered how she had gotten

there. Hadn’t she wanted this? She wondered.

Hadn’t she dreamt of the stillness

of a home and the comfort of stability? The

emptiness hollowed her as she wallowed in

the voicelessness of her bed. She spent days

at a time there, but Louie hadn’t realized,

at least at first, because she always got up

with enough time to make his dinner. But

when his meetings seemingly ran later and

later, eventually she just began to give up

on forcing this interaction with her husband.

The office became his life, and when he

came home, she was already in bed, and he

began drinking heavily to fill the void. More

and more bottles of top-shelf Scotch began

to pile up by the week.

One morning, she convinced herself to

get out of bed and to write. She wasn’t

sure what she yearned to create; she just

knew that she had to fuel her energy into

something, and today felt as good of a day

to start. She began with poetry, and by the

second week, she grew tired of writing the

same lifeless prose. A novel was in order. She

worked tirelessly at the table for months,

adding a few pages each day and editing

down the previous ones. She began to pull

the life back out of herself, and she was

excited this time around to share her passion

of writing with Louie. It was during this time

that she began to notice his excessive drinking,

and when she questioned him about


it, he grew aggressive towards her. She had

never seen him angry before, but after a

handful of disturbing displays of this side of

him, it became the norm within the home.

Out in Clifton Park, they were the couple of

the decade; a couple of lovebirds nestled

quietly in their nest and making appearances

when necessary. She didn’t need much, just

to fulfill her desire to write each day, but

shortly that luxury would end too. She began

to feel queasy in the mornings and tired in

the afternoons. She held the First Response

pregnancy test and sank to the floor when

the second pink strip appeared. She felt the

walls around her begin to crumble and give

out on the floor. It was all over now; the life

that she was beginning to pull out of herself

vanished.

Seven years later, they were the textbook

image of a hopelessly tumultuous marriage

filled with void and utter despair, all of

which being concealed within the privacy of

the home. Their children would later wonder

why their dad was always so angry and why

their mother had chosen to marry such a

man, but they hadn’t always been this way,

though, she would tell them. There once

was love and a deep spark of connection

between the two, but that all seemed so far

away now. A far-off memory hidden beneath

the dusk of suburbia.

This Place

Poetry

David Grubb

Cumberland, Maine, USA

If ever there was a place like this, it existed when my mind could sort out

the delusional from the rational, the despondent moments from the cherished.

A blue sky so vibrant and relenting I could only imagine it from childhood or

in films or created by the brushless stokes of Monet, Gogh, Pisarro, Canaletto.

If not, then in my dreams before the trumpet swans broke free, the trees grew toward heaven

while being pulled toward hell, the clouds pillowed in dramatic shapes that delight and terrify.

I yearn to go back for a visit, to stroll along the riverbank and re-immerse myself in memories

of life without added girth, darkened eyes with sagging bags around them, a diminished libido,

and cognitive dissonance. To lie next to you in the cool grass and let our minds wander, our

bodies inflate, deflate, inflate— Ask you frivolous questions I’ve asked before while eating

endlessly from a gilded picnic basket. Sing the songs from yesteryear and dance the silliest

dances in history, the Humpty, the Macarena, the La Bomba, Tootsee Roll.

If ever there was a place like this, then I bequeath it to the world, to the brown-haired girl

who sat next to me in detention and wrote haikus, to the loners who never catch a break, to

the urban dwellers whose endless sprawl rarely lets them breathe easily, and to the misguided

who need sanctuary anywhere they can find it, especially in nature’s boldest landscapes.

Freely, without dues, fees, or compensation, I give it to ensure it doesn’t vanish into the vapid

recesses of my mind or become lost in time or disintegrate from climate change.

If ever there was a place like this, I may have been there before, could’ve been there

yesterday or today, but I’m certain I’ll find myself there when the time is right.

100


We Could've Been a Poem

Poetry

Naomi Capacete

San Francisco, California, USA

We were something special from the moment we met

You were the quiet one

Always sitting in the back away from the world

I was the loud one

Burning with a flame of passion

Your soul was full of music

Your heart lost in songs

Mine was full of books

My mind filled with pages of never ending stories

It was the perfect duo

We exchanged words but our eyes never met

But when they did

Oh, when they did

A spark flickered between us

We could’ve been a poem

Our nights were never boring

It was always an adventure

Walking around the city

The midnight breeze blowing through our hair

Drinks in our hands

We would sometimes end up on the beach

Running around in the sand

Or dance around in my empty apartment

Until the sunlight peeked through the windows

We were spontaneous like that

Do Not Insist on

Departing Today

Poetry

Ravichandra Chittampalli

Kajang, Selangor, Malaysia

(After listening to Farida Khannum’s rendering of “Aaj jaane ki zid na karo”)

Do not insist on departing today

For tomorrow I may not be around

Or you may have a few grey hairs,

And the bridge may wash away in floods.

Do not insist on departing today

For I may be struck by lightning

When eyes brighter glance at me

Or be poisoned by rumours about you.

Do not insist on departing today

For I am scared you will never return,

And I grow too old to fall in love again,

Though there are lovelier women yet.

Do not insist on departing today,

For it is the last day of autumn

And the snow storm is swirling

Up in the high mountain pass.

Do not insist on departing today

For there may never be another spring

And we might never go looking

For wild strawberries together again.

You in your ripped jeans

And worn out converse

Me in a leather jacket

And combat boots

We could’ve been a poem

101


Connection

Screenprint

Ariel Cooper

Jacksonville, Florida, USA

102


My memory couldn’t hold on to your face,

but onto the day we met, it clutches like

pirate unto gold. It feels like this one won’t

get away, but I am writing it down nonetheless.

After all, memories fade.

#

The clock was ticking, the short hand

about to strike twelve, soon to be overshadowed

by the longer and faster arm, now only

a fraction of a degree behind. My head was

spinning.

Then I heard you — bang, bang, bang!

Strong, rhythmic, and loud, especially at an

hour when nothing was awake.

I turned my spinning head from my never-ending

thick volume towards the pale

entrance to my apartment, seeming somewhat

gloomy in the dark. In the dead of the

night, only the silent humming of my heater,

mixed with the quiet hissing of my breath,

was audible.

Bang, bang, bang! Stronger, faster, and

more urgent than the last round.

Are you kidding me? I was starting to get

annoyed.

In my head, you must’ve taken a shot

of espresso — or ten — to be performing a

series of drumming on my neighbour’s door.

For God’s sake, I’m trying to read. I walked

toward the pale exit that now seemed to

glow outrageously in the dark.

I knew you didn’t hear the door creaking

open, drowned by your thundering rhythm.

Also, you jumped at the slightly aggressive

“Hi” as I stuck out my head into the warmly

lit corridor.

Knock at Midnight

Fiction

Bill Yuan

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

As it turned out, you were no artist, no

drummer. And you were certainly no — as I

initially imagined — angry disturber of the

holy sleep, not that I was having any. The

moment I saw your eyes, all the thoughts

of my thick volume and the big deadline

the next day went straight out of my head.

Through the window of your soul, a telling

emerged — you were worried, extremely.

You were a student, anxiety-stricken, didn’t

know what else to do other than drumming

on your friend’s door.

With all my previous expectations of you

knocked out of me, I now was embarrassed

by the secret grudge I held against you.

For a moment, I thought about sticking to

the original cranky plan. But alas, an invisible

barrier held back those scolding words.

One inch below the throat — was high as

they ever got. I had to say something, partly

out of etiquette, partly out of genuine

curiosity.

“Hey... Is everything okay out here?” I

suddenly ran out of words, so I stuck to the

cliché.

Your lips parted slightly, about to spill out

the mysteries hidden in your midnight drum

solo. Yet only one word came out, “Um...”

You looked away, at your friend’s door, pale

as your face.

I felt and knew your inner stirrings: I, once

too, parted my lips, only to swallow the

thousand words that wanted to pour out; I,

once too, looked back to the source of those

thousand words and considered spilling them

out, anyway. You knew everything wasn’t

103

okay — actually, nothing was — but you were

too polite to drag a stranger into whatever

muddy water you were treading in.

Just a little nudge is all it takes, I

thought. “What’s going on?” I frowned.

“My friend,” you exhaled heavily and

looked anxiously at my neighbour’s door and

finally let out the words you stomached,

“she hasn’t been replying to any of my

texts.”

A bit dramatic, no? I squinted.

“Does...she do that...often?” I tried not to

appear judgmental.

No idea if it was working, though.

“No!” you snapped a little, “...Well, I

mean, sometimes...”

But...? I knew there was a “but” coming. I

could sense it in the air.

“But,” there it is. You paused. “But...

what?”

You continued with a sigh, “She’s been

not herself lately. She lost her appetite,

her energy, her mood... She would watch

her favourite show and just stare blankly

into the screen — it’s like she’s not even

there...” your dam of words went down, and

they flooded out. You wanted to say some

more but stopped short. You turned to me,

your inquiring eyes searching for any signs

of comprehension in mine, and gave up the

final two words with a sigh, “...You know?”

I see; your friend isn’t the only one with

mountains of feelings bottled up. You wanted

to pour them all out, but only found yourself

at a loss for words. You looked at me,

frowning. Your anxiety sunk to my stomach


with every breath I took.

“Yeah...” I did know what you were

talking about. My neighbour, a girl about the

same age as me from China — I could tell

from her accent, did always seem a little

gloomy to me.

What you described to me was like a case

from my psychology textbook. But even so,

I still couldn’t see exactly what you were

getting at. Nay, truth is, a part of me didn’t

want to look at it.

As if you knew all of that and were afraid

I’d keep my gaze distracted when you said,

“I’m just afraid that she’d do something

stupid.” You glanced at her door again, your

hand clutching onto your arm while squeezing

your shoulders closer together as if protecting

yourself from a cold breeze.

With those revealing words, you forced

upon me the conspicuous image of that

which I didn’t want to look at. Yes, I had to

admit to myself, I know precisely what you

mean.

Like any good friend, or a nosy neighbour,

we stood in that warm hallway and

exchanged ideas on a plan of action. By the

third round of back-and-forth, it became

clear to me we wouldn’t get anywhere

without further information to tilt the scale.

You obviously shared the same sentiment.

You gave me your phone number just in case

your friend comes out of her shell while you

were away and in case she texts you back

and you didn’t need a watchman anymore...

or in case of something else — neither of us

could muster the strength to say it, though.

I doubt if we even wanted to. I saved your

number, and we went our separate ways.

#

As a good college student, of course I

pulled an all-nighter for the deadline that

was in less than twelve hours.

From time to time, I went to check in on

your friend. I pounded on her door, loudly,

like a drum. Part of me wanted to know

what had happened to your friend and part

of me wanted to keep my promise to you.

Yet another part of me thought it a good

distraction from my deadline.

It was almost noon when you texted to

tell me that you’d be on your way back to

your friend soon and that I should move on

to my day. I kind of needed to, since my

class is beginning soon. So, I decided to let it

go. But fate is mischievous. It was precisely

at the moment when I started to move on,

you came back to haunt me in the form of

another text.

“She texted back,” it read.

“And? What did she say?” I promptly replied.

“She said, ’Everything will be okay.’” I

frowned at your friend’s response.

Your next text followed in an instant, “I

have a bad feeling about this.” Frankly, so

did I.

“Well, maybe things are okay, she’s just

having a down day?” half of me really believed

what I said, while the other half

wanted to call myself out.

“Maybe... I’ll try calling her again.”

“Yeah. Good idea.” Strangely, it felt like

you made a decision for me and lifted a rock

off my chest.

As you attempted to reach her, I again

tried to move on.

Half an hour flew by as I freshened up,

made my coffee, and got ready to head

out for class. If the Fates were real, they

must’ve really wanted me to see your business

through to the end. You see, I don’t

104

carry my phone as I do things around the

apartment. It helps me stay present. The

moment I came back sitting down at my

desk, placing my coffee on the table, the

black liquid inside formed a series of shaking

concentric circles, then settled back down

to a shiny, smooth surface. I reached for

my phone after taking a sip as if those few

seconds of delay would make a difference in

the outcome.

“Something’s wrong,” your alarming words

were inevitable. “She didn’t answer?”

“She did... Uh, hold on, I’ll call you.” As

soon as I felt the vibration, I picked up.

“Hello?” Your voice came through the

speaker.

“Hi,” Mine went through the microphone,

“what happened?”

“Well, I tried to call her a couple of times.

She didn’t pick up. But like... five minutes

ago she did, but... she wasn’t speaking.

It was just dead silence. I kept calling her

name, I was almost yelling... but she didn’t

say a word.” I could hear your voice trembling,

and with it, my stomach shakily seized

up tight.

I was waiting for something like, “Then

she finally said something...” and then it

would be the part which led you to believe

something was wrong.

Yet, you blurted, “Then she just hung up.”

Immediately an alarm went off in my head,

trying to process what you just said.

She hung up? That doesn’t sound right.

Why would she do that after picking up? A

chill shot up from my spine. Sleeping buttcall?

That’s just ridiculous... Well, then...

A strong stream of electricity spread

through my body. I see why you sound so

worried. It’s the “something stupid,” isn’t it?

It’s that thing neither of us wanted to make


real by speaking of it in plain words.

Silence creeped into the air. Neither of us

knew what to say or what to do. I knew I had

to say something, anything.

“I can call the security and get them to

open her doors for me,” I broke the icy silence,

“...if you want,” I added.

“But what if she’s just sleeping? Then

we’re just intruding on her for no reason...

She did always sleep in a lot. And,” you

hesitated, “I don’t think she’s the kind of

person who would...you know, do something

stupid?” Your shaky conviction in your own

words was made unequivocal by the long

drag in your tone.

No reason? My thought started racing

again. I’d say there’s plenty. But you are

right — she could just be sleeping. What

should I do? Insist and persuade you? That

feels like stepping over the line. Back off?

But what if she’s not “just sleeping”?

From a probability perspective...

“Hello? Are you still there?” Your voice

broke off my train of thought.

“Yes, yes, I’m still here. Well, listen, I

think you should get here as soon as possible.

I’m gonna go downstairs to the security

and get them to open her doors for me.”

“But, what if...”

“Well, then I’ll make a fool of myself. She

might just be sleeping, and all this worry

and scenarios may just be in our heads, and

all that... But what if she’s not? I don’t think

that’s something we should be betting on.”

I drew in a deep breath and continued, “It

could happen, and I don’t wanna risk that.

So I’m going in, okay?”

You made some unsure, undecipherable

sounds. Ding! I turned my head to see the

doors slide open, “Okay, the elevator’s here;

I gotta go. You coming?”

“Yeah, yeah,” you snapped out of it, “I’m

on my way.”

#

Even with her face pale like my door, lips

blue like the glacial ice, I recognized her.

She lay on the yellow-and-white cart, pushed

by the paramedics, overdosed on sleeping

pills, on the verge of breathing the last

breath. I’ve heard it, I’ve seen it on television,

I’ve even imagined it in my head, but

the real thing weighed down on me heavier

than all the others combined.

Even when I went about my usual business,

this unusually long night — you, her,

our texts, the paramedics — kept playing in

my head out of its own accord.

Oh, how things could’ve turned out so

differently. What if I did try and persuade?

What if I did back off? Believe me — things

could’ve been a lot different. She could’ve

not recovered. She could’ve not received

psychological intervention. You probably

would hate yourself for it, even though you

weren’t guilty of much.

I wish things had turned out as I wrote it —

what a true relief it would be! But it didn’t.

My neighbour did recover, and she did get

psychological help, but I know that you were

the one who chose not to risk it, not me. You

took that crucial step forward when I chose

to take one backward. It was cutting close.

She could’ve been gone if it weren’t for you.

I wonder, to this day, what did that silent

phone call mean? What did that text mean —

“Everything will be okay”? Of course, there’s

no way for me to know now. But I wonder if

the reason was you? Because your unrelentingness

had lit up a little hope in her despairing

heart?

I wonder this, too, sometimes: Where

are you? Are you still disturbing others’ holy

105

sleep for your friends? Are you still reaching

out to them relentlessly? Are you still barging

in with security when they pick up the

phone but speak not?

For their sake, I hope you are.

But for yours, I hope you didn’t — and will

not — have the need to.


Won't You Run

Away?

Poetry

Ellaheh Gohari

Pembroke Pimes, Florida, USA

Where do you hide when you don’t want to

be found?

In the muddy, gritty streets of the city,

In the blue, silver lakes on the plains,

In the slippery, tall trees in the rainforest,

Or the dry, sandy desert far, far away?

Why do you hide when you think you’re

unwanted?

Why do you hide when you think you’re a

freak?

Why do you leave me to deal with your

problems?

Why is it so hard to keep you with me?

Is it funny, to you, when you run away?

Do you laugh at my frantic walk?

Do you enjoy watching me suffer?

Do you relish in the way my heart drops?

Well, I’ll tell you, dear one,

I’m done with it all,

You think you’ve had it bad?

Well, trust me, dear,

When you leave once again,

Don’t bother coming back.

Night

Poetry

Kilmeny MacMichael

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

Night was nearly over

the sky was already brightening

formless void assuming identity and shape

The track, rock strewn moonscape

Mysterious

Ditch nettles sour

Torn

Fit territory for murder

It was a mistake to have come,

ignoble connoisseur of death

he briefly crossed himself

His sister told him about her lover

the affair was over

he hadn’t any evidence under the

fingernails.

From Ex Wit - a collection of poems using

borrowed text from the first 100 pages of

P.D. James’ Death of An Expert Witness

Salt Lick

Poetry

Eunhee Soh

Pleasanton, California, USA

I’ve been long loving you

rainy or dusty,

not dawdling at nights, I go.

You are there

magnetizing, giant, cavernous,

like a temple.

Since I could clamber next to my parents

I heard we shall love you

on volcanic dikes, spiral cliffs.

Kneeling and clinging with my cleft hooves

I chew on you and brood over you.

The sun buzzes on fly wings.

You don’t know how you taste of,

the nearby rock falling.

You are too loose to hold me tight

but my bones will shatter without you.

My pink-flecked tongue sings your maculated

ditch.

I don’t mind falling off.

You are fatally lovable,

sat there on my map.

When later my blind eyes will lead me to you

I can see you dissolved in the dark.

The journey to the high mountain

scourges my veins.

106


107

#533

Painting

Matt Gold

Brooklyn, New York, USA


Where the Sea Swallows the Sky

Fiction

Olivia Larson

Manteca, California, USA

The dull vibration of my phone lulled me

out of my sleep. My mind and body weren’t

quite in the same place yet, the former still

swirling around the latter while my hand felt

its way around the edge of my bed for the

device that was demanding my attention.

My fingers grasped it and found their way to

the button to stop the noise. My eyes forced

themselves open as colors and shapes sharpened

for a few seconds and allowed me to

make out the numbers across the top.

1:01 a.m.

Sleep had only held me in its embrace

for the last two hours. I stayed in bed for

another 20 minutes, staring at the wall and

contemplating letting sleep take my mind

again. I glanced at the neatly folded note

kept unceremoniously in a plastic bag resting

on my nightstand, my name lazily scrawled

across it in black ink. I dragged myself out

from under the comforter. The brisk air from

my open window was a sudden shock on my

bare legs. I collected myself, stood, then

searched for some appropriate clothing.

The note called me again, and I stared at it

for a few seconds. Finally I picked it up and

placed it carefully into the outer pouch of

my backpack, instantly feeling the increase

in weight. I inhaled and let out a sharp

breath, standing at my bedroom door. The

creature swung open effortlessly on recently

oiled hinges.

My eyes closed, and my ears opened,

searching for the rhythmic snores of Uncle

Callum downstairs. I found them, and

tiptoed my way out and to the top of the

stairs. I listened at the door of Aunt Elaine’s

bedroom. It sounded like sleep. Not quite

silence or the sound of breathing, simply the

heavy sound of a body at rest existing within

a space. I was safe. I made my way down

the wooden stairs, running my hand along

the worn bannister and wincing with every

step. The slow rise and fall of Uncle Callum's

chest on the living room couch assured me

that I could likely have stomped down the

stairs yelling without disturbing him, but I

didn’t want to risk anything. Normal sounds

seem so amplified in the thirteenth hour that

simply walking around might warrant the

neighbors calling in a noise complaint.

My next enemy was the front door. A slow

turn of the brass knob and a quick pull on

the door let out just a small squeal. I locked

the door behind me slowly and made it to

the car. It was a summer night, and the air

had a bite but wasn’t uncomfortable. The

dim yellow street lamps illuminated the

street in a twisted sort of way, turning it into

a strange reflection of its usual self, littered

with uncertain shadows. I took a final

glance at the house before sliding the key

into the car door and unlocking it. I sat down

and stared down at the wheel for a minute

before the key met the ignition, and I gave

them a twist. My teeth gritted together, and

my eyes clenched shut as the engine roared

to life.

I let the car sit idle for a moment as stale

air began to blow, making sure no lights

were coming on in the house, then pulled

away. I rode down the street in silence, then

108

out of the neighborhood, through downtown,

and finally onto the interstate. I felt my bag

in the passenger seat, not with my hand but

as a physical thing taking up space next to

me. Darby, Pennsylvania passed my windows

as the orchestra of engines and old tires

against older roads crashed in my head. My

stomach was low in my body, socializing with

my intestines. I released part of the tension

that had been holding me since my eyes

first opened, then moved for the radio and

twisted a dial until static became notes. It

was an older song playing, probably a classic

rock station. I recognized it as one of my

dad’s favorite bands, but couldn’t place the

name. The endless road stretched onward

in front of me, headlights illuminating a few

dozen feet ahead of me while the velvet sky

enveloped everything else. Faceless drivers

in nondescript cars made the trip with me.

Who knew where any of them were really

going, but it felt nice to have some company.

Looking at the other strangers driving

with me, I felt a part of something greater, a

member of some religious pilgrimage.

After a short while, I turned the music off

and listened once again to the sounds of the

road. I felt eternities pass as the gas meter

inched counter-clockwise. I had crossed the

state line into New Jersey a while ago, taking

some backroads to bypass the toll. It only

added a few extra minutes, and while I had

the cash, I despised the thought of interacting

with another human being. Now the Delaware

state line was coming up. I was about

halfway there. Boredom was hitting hard,


and I reached over into the center console

and took out Uncle Callum’s nearly-empty

pack of cigarettes. I had never been much

of a smoker, never really gotten a taste for

it, but it could be somewhat comforting at

times. The scent reminded me of him, and it

seemed to scratch an itch I hadn’t been able

to reach with anything else. The cigarette

calmed me for a few minutes, and I had another.

Two turned into four, and I didn’t even

realize until I was lighting the final one that

I had emptied the pack completely. I beat

myself up mentally over my lack of self control.

It was just something to do, an activity

to pass the time. They’d just been so sweet,

euphoria shifting black to navy. I promised

myself I’d buy a new pack in the morning for

him. I wallowed a bit longer in a place that

was somewhere at the corner of self pity and

hatred. I licked my lips and sighed, looking

out at the passing signs that offered brief

illumination between the crushing black.

Phantoms held vigil at the edges of my vision,

flying past at impossible speed.

When I finally arrived, the place looked

deserted. I’d never seen so few cars in the

lot. There were signs of life in one, looked

like a few kids getting high. I ignored them

and got out of the car. It was a lot colder

here, the sea air sharp with salt and rot. The

breeze was light, and the air was heavy. I

swung my backpack on and locked the door,

making my way to the concrete stairs. At the

bottom step, I sat and tugged off my shoes

and socks, leaving them there.

The chilled sand made its way between

my toes as I stood there. This beach that had

once been so full of life, so bright and vibrant,

was now cold and desolate. The early

morning hours had transformed it into a sort

of liminal space, a space between spaces,

that was simply wrong, like a familiar upbeat

song played in a minor key. It felt as if I was

taking a peek behind the curtain. The moon

hung half-heartedly in the sky, casting a hazy

reflection on the infinite water and turning

the sand indigo. The sky merged perfectly

with the black water on the horizon, so one

could not tell where one met the other. The

moonlight had a sort of ethereal quality

about it that made me feel weightless. The

whole situation felt forbidden, not by any

mortal laws but by something universal.

The ocean was breathing. The waves

crashing onto an ever-changing shoreline,

in and out like the labored gasps of some

wounded beast. I stood by myself at the

edge of the world, oblivion lapping at the

sand. Debris covered the beach, seaweed

and cigarette butts breaking up the otherwise

smooth surface. This place was beautiful.

I was more alone than I’d ever felt, the

ocean my last living companion.

I dug into my backpack and removed the

plastic bag that held the paper note. It was

heavier than it had felt in my hand before. I

took it out and held the folded square in my

hand as a tear found a path to my chin and

fell onto the sand. I sat down, and the sand

likely filled every pocket of my jeans, but I

didn’t mind. I squeezed lightly on the yellow

note.

“Do you remember this place?” I asked

him.

There was, of course, no response.

“I thought you might like it more here.

You always used to say you wanted to get

a beach house here when you retired.” I

paused, thinking. “I love you. I don’t think I

said that enough. I wish I had.”

I stuck the note in the sand in front of me

and stared at it.

109

“I’m glad we made it back here. I wanted

to spend one more moment with you in this

place.” A cold wind suddenly picked up. It

wasn’t harsh, but almost comforting. A thousand

tiny soldiers marched down my spine as

the breeze found its way through my hair.

“I never read your note, you know. I guess

there was some part of me that thought

maybe if I still had this part of you, unopened,

unspoken, you’d still be here. I

know it’s stupid, but I just thought that if

I didn’t read it, there was still a piece of

you left, one last thing to say, and since you

haven’t said it yet, it’s like you’re still here.

I guess I brought you here to release you. I

want to set your soul free.”

I closed my eyes, letting twin rivers carve

their way down my cheeks. My breath stuttered.

“Sorry I don’t talk much anymore. I’m 19

now. Things are so different now. I’m still living

with your brother, but I’m not sure how

much longer that’ll last.”

I listened to the waves and let my words

hang, hoping that someone was there to collect

them. A coppery scent entered my nose

as I filled my lungs with frigid air.

“You were pretty fucked up, you know

that?” The tears had stopped. Heat was

coming off my face now. “I think another

part of not reading the note was that I didn’t

want to give you the satisfaction. Do you

remember the night you tried to kill yourself?

I found you on the sofa, whiskey in one

hand, painkillers in the other. You wanted

me to find your body. I thought you were

dead. I was fucking 12!” I paused again,

teeth clenching my lower lip, “And I guess

the last part of me didn’t want to read the

note because I didn’t want to believe that

the crash was your fault. I know it’s stupid to


think it was anything else. Why the hell else

would you leave a note?” I gazed out at the

universe and forced myself to breathe.

“Part of me couldn’t accept that the man

who raised me could do such a thing. The

rest of me knows that’s a lie. I’m not here

to talk about that now though. I’m here to

forgive you. I think. I want to forgive you. In

reality, I want nothing more than for you to

just come back home. You wouldn’t have to

say a single word; I don’t need any explanation.

I just want you back.”

I bent over in the sand, placing my hands

against the cold. The tears flowed again,

staining the beach. My breath caught, and I

leaned back and screamed. The sky screamed

back. I looked up at the moon again as my

breathing slowed. I closed my eyes to clear

them and took a breath, collecting myself. I

stood, removing the paper from the sand and

walking to the edge of the water. I stared out

into the blackness as the foam threatened

my toes.

“You know, all things considered,” I sniffled,

burning my nostrils, “there have been

worse dads. You were here for me for 16

years. You were supportive. You helped me

realize who I was. And I like to think I’m a

better person because of you. I am the child

of a good man. A man that will never die.”

I grasped at the edges of the paper. I unfolded

it, then crumpled it into a messy ball.

I brought it behind my head and lobbed it as

hard as possible into the Atlantic. I watched

it bob and soak with water, then sink beneath

the inky sea. I imagined it falling, filling with

water and being torn apart and dissolved by

the currents. I imagined his words drifting off

into the water. I imagined the final remnants

of the man’s soul reduced to nothing more

than yellow pulp.

Joshua Trees

Poetry

W.F. Lantry

Silver Spring, Maryland, USA

Their arms upright as if to hold the sun

in place, unmoving past its angled height,

making this day unlike another, still

persisting through the hours as the steep

shadows grow permanent, as if their will

could outline, in this darkness and this light,

the motionless formations of a day.

Dry yucca leaves twist, cluster, and betray,

in moving with the breeze, this passing time:

the sun moves with them, shadows

lengthening

presage an hour when arid winds will sweep

sand, shadow, leaf, from stone near evening.

When all has been made smooth, the moon

will climb

above these broken shadows, and restore

the transience of dusk. This desert floor

is paved with stone. There is no place to lie

or each place is the same, so you must lift

the stones away to form a space for sleep

and place them in a circle. Sand will drift

between them, but the circle will supply

protection of a sort from rattlesnakes

and scorpions. No Gila monster breaks,

some say, the walls of spirit, or at least

the circle gives no place for them to cross,

and if the curve's meticulous, its deep

shadows will comfort even during loss

of moonlight, and protect until the east

brightens again, when the last starlight's

done.

110

Juniper Berries

Poetry

W.F. Lantry

Silver Spring, Maryland, USA

These mountains clothe themselves in

juniper.

I've heard their berries make excellent gin,

but how could I distill their essence here

beneath a sky made turquoise by these wings

twisting away? I'm sightless in this clear

abandoned air. Beneath my fingers spin

those berries. If I hold them in my hand

a moment longer, I may understand

both wings and air, the dry rust-heavy dust,

the twisted branches wrought by absent

snow

which must have fed these disappearing

springs

in other seasons. Beneath this earth, I know

they must be moving still, the hollow crust

hiding both salt and sweetness from these

roots

which, stunted, cannot nurture lowland

fruits

but only push the junipers to bear

their nearly iridescent blue and red

thorned berries, where a mockingbird now

sings

his stolen measures, where someone had

bled

almost my own blood into dust, and where

even my sharpened eyes in this wind blur.


Quilting Whimsy

Fabric

Kathleen URBAN

Alamo, California, USA

111


She can taste sorrow in her morning omelet.

The red streak blended in by a fast-moving fork,

but bits of red pepper remind of life snatched away,

god-like, no remorse.

Unhappy Chickens, Good Breeders

Poetry

David Grubb

Cumberland, Maine, USA

In the cool coop at night, she stirs the slumbering hen,

docile enough to get off the eggs without fight,

but her bare henpecked neck and quizzical look haunts.

Worse, she waddles over to hop on the roost, next to,

yet far away from her sisters, who treat her cruelly, an untouchable.

Eggs in basket, she walks to the house unaware

of the bats flittering overheard, but hyper aware of the parallel

when she came out of the clinic twenty years ago,

god-like, no remorse.

In the bright lit kitchen, two young kids scream and fight, make up,

whine for snacks, throw tantrums, dash off to their bedroom giggling.

Hubby asks what’s wrong with his kind eyes,

yet eagerness to get back to his iPhone is palpable.

She hesitates, shakes her head as she cracks an egg then another

and flips on the mixer. The familiar sound, now foreign like a faulty

vacuum,

fuses remembrance with the present more solidly than advanced

metallurgy.

Her knees almost buckle, yet the disdained hen’s resolve holds her up,

suspended anime.

The over excited kids ask, “who’s birthday is it?” A murmur, “No one.”

“Then why did you make a cake?” A bit more quip-like, “No reason

cake, see no candles.”

Hubby’s become keen to no reason cake—on the same day, every year—

for quite some time, he never asks, not even with his eyes anymore.

112

After one last potty trip, after snoring ensues, she creeps downstairs

and gets out two hidden candles: one shaped as the number two, the

other a zero.

The flames melt gluey white wax onto the black ganache,

now cracked from cutting off slices. She draws in a deep breath,

but waits for someone else to blow them out.

Minutes, hours, perhaps even half the night passes when a shadow

moves past her.

Wind, like Air from a turbine extinguishes the failing flames.

Hubby appears, an apparition fades, he pauses as if waiting

for entry into a fortified castle.

If he missteps or misspeaks she’ll beat him for being a fertile cock

that procreated before they met; beat him for being the non-factor

in their dogged pursuit of bonding their own dna; beat him as the

stand-in for the young lover who jilted her. Beat him for gifting her

with children’s love and adoration even though she’ll never deserve it.

He won’t fuck up, never does, but if he did, he’d absorb her fury,

maddeningly let her destroy his body, mind, soul, let her seethe

until heaven fell, hell rose up—till widowhood. He’s not perfect,

not by any mythic standard, yet in this he’s infallible...

and God help him if he was anything but.

She relents. He embraces her before the formidable tower gate

has the slightest crack. For a while they swoon, as if yin and yang

spin top-like, endlessly through time. When the calmness abates,

she casts him aside and assails the cake: Tears large handfuls from the

pan

and smashes the moist deliciousness on the island, again, again, again.

Rage to blackness, in the morning there’s no mess.

Her fingernails are void of incriminating evidence.

The kitchen’s spotlessness seems implausible,


but the half-eaten cake under the glass defies all reality.

She stares at hubby sipping coffee, fingers casually caressing his smart

phone.

Their eyes meet and his gentle eyes ask what’s wrong,

an apathy to resume his tech addiction is the only thing amiss,

and the missing feathers around his neck.

Sequoia

Poetry

W.F. Lantry

Silver Spring, Maryland, USA

Small fires burning forest litter- bark

and fallen leaves- are common here. They run

in lines up hillsides, clearing ground for seed

of giant redwoods whose low branches hold

their cones above the flames. Sequoias need

bare ground for germination, open sun

and constant water when they're small. But when

they've grown for a few centuries, the glen

becomes a place unlike any on earth:

the trees make red cathedral columns, bark

grows three feet thick, and curved ridges enfold

ten meter trunks, their tallest branches arc

a hundred meters up: the widest girth,

the largest things alive are in this place.

And yet, through smooth proportions, their light grace

seems natural, as if all earth should be

a grove like this, a place unbounded by

our expectations, forests uncontrolled

by any force. Their limbs buttress the sky,

their upper boughs forming a canopy

like Chartres' ceiling. Sometimes sunlit rays

slant through the forest's shadowed morning haze,

as light slants though rose windows, and our eyes

can't help but lift themselves, as if, remade

by seeing light refracted, red and gold,

we find a different form of seeing, shade

receding, and the multicolored skies

make even desert sunlight appear dark.

113


IF WE ARE NOT

ALLOWED TO

PREFORM GRIEF-

WHAT IS IT FOR?

Poetry

Micaela Walley

Hanover, Maryland, USA

The Time Of Your Child

Poetry

John Grey

Johnston, Rhode Island, USA

how else should we call attention to

what haunts us? anything less

than standing on a stage

seems frail. We aren’t

supposed to acknowledge pain

beyond its designated day,

though I can’t breathe when loss

enters the room and never leaves,

never releases its tight hold, fingers

around on my throat. Choked up,

I tell someone I miss them because

it is true, because I am allowed

to live this life as it comes to me

regardless of perception. I am here,

and I am hurting, and you are not

too good to know about it.

it’s your choice of how to respond,

but it is mine to show it to you

anyway, to accept love wherever

I can get it, when I might need it

the most.

Time is supposed to heal.

Maybe it just hasn’t read up

on its job description lately.

The dead are as dead as they have ever been.

The surgeon’s words still turn

his understanding into your bitterness.

A pale human face said sorry

when it should have been God.

Now every room is a wailing room,

even the silent ones.

Every other child

takes care to remind you of

but not be your own.

And the love of all these mothers

exhausts you.

They’ve no idea that the opposite

of three-year-old

is emptiness.

Then there’s the time

that’s your personal time,

the one that announces to you,

and you alone,

that it’s time to move on.

This is time as starting gun

for some marathon

that you feel as if

you’ve already run.

And then there’s your husband,

more caring than he’s been in years.

He wraps an arm around you

every chance he gets.

This is time trying to make up

for all that it’s lost.

The attention leaves you as cold as the fish in

the freezer.

Can time do anything right, you wonder.

114


115

Facing it Together

Mixed Media: Digital and Sculpture

jack bordnick

Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA


Reading has always been Ssalongo’s second

love. Never mind that his wife Nnalongo

abhorred the sight of his reading-chair

and detested his heinous reading culture at

the dinner table — left foot tucked under

right thigh, a thumb jammed in each ear.

He had a knack for ignoring her cooking and

her signature perfume: the smell of sweaty

roses enfolded in her brown skin. Pity, it was

she who needed reading-glasses, not him.

Greater pity still that she was disgruntled

even with the knowledge that she came first

place.

‘You’re not listening, Mzee — Old man,’

the little sovereign reproaches, sprawled on

her back on a papyrus mat by his bedside.

She is dressed in jeans so shredded, they

should belong on a garbage heap, and an

overlarge tee-shirt with the words ‘Straight

Outta...’ he can’t make out the tiny words

at the bottom. The words are locked up in a

yellow box. She holds her telephone aloft in

front of her creased brow, her leg crossed at

the knee.

In that drowsy waking moment, he sees

her face again. Every evening for three

years, as night slithers in, he sees her--his

past — in vivid color. As usual, he shakes the

specter from his eyes. He rubs the glowing,

bald patch on the crown of his head, and

guiltily wipes a hint of drool from his face.

‘Nzuukuse — I’ve woken up.’ He says too

quickly.

She clucks her tongue disapprovingly.

One morning, three years ago, when

his eyes still drank thirstily, Nnalongo his

SWEATY ROSES

Fiction

Justin Nagundi

Kampala, Uganda

oppressor-in- chief (in her most intricate

scheme) died in her sleep (on Easter Sunday

no less) right after ironing nine of his least

favorite pairs of khaki trousers and burning

a jagged hole in his newest shirt. A few

weeks later, still reeling from this chain of

upsetting events, as he supped on a piece

of steamed matooke—plantain—and groundnuts,

his heart hiccupped for a few seconds

warranting a necessary visit to a hospital in

a screeching van. From that day on, he had

a new tyrant in the form of his youngest

daughter, Nakato Joanna. With teenage enthusiasm,

she threw herself wholly into monitoring

every beat of his crumbling heart.

For his benefit, Nakato scrupulously hides

iodized salt, sugar and all unhealthy foods,

namely: any foodstuff that may accidentally

or otherwise arouse his appetite. Every

morning, she shoos him out of bed at seven

o’clock for brisk walks on uneven ground,

escorts/drags him to the supermarket to

buy vegetables for green smoothies which

she shrewdly watches him gag down. For his

ailing heart, she purchases medicines that

nibble away at what remains of his retirement

fund after Nnalongo’s burial expenses.

Since his wife’s memory still torments

him, he swallows prescribed sleeping pills,

appetite pills and anti-anxiety pills (by a

cardiologist who a man of Ssalongo’s middle-class,

retired-professor social standing

should not reasonably afford) to cope with

his bereavement. These drugs as a mild

side-effect make him dizzy in the morning,

deprive him of his zest for life and worst of

116

all, impair his evening sight.

Like a magpie, he feverishly stores heaps

and heaps of old metallic strips of nebilong,

amoldac-5, cardiac aspirin and God-knowswhat-else

in a small drawer and pockets the

golden key. These drugs are the currency in

which he pays for this expensive lifestyle. He

cracks open the drawer now and then to see

how much life he has consumed, but more

often than not, he wonders how much more

of it he must bear.

During the day, he writes his cheques,

pays his bills and watches CNN while he can

still see the words Breaking News snake past.

At night, Nakato is his sight—his insolent,

dictatorial, opinionated sight.

On days when he bears her mistreatment

stoically—days which are sadly far

between—Nakato pats him on the back and

affectionately declares him a ‘good boy’. You

wouldn’t believe how pleased these words

make Ssalongo. He hides his puffed chest

behind a Bukedde newspaper and a gruff

remark.

On such days, she rewards him further by

reading to him any book she has read and he

hasn’t. It is shocking, he thinks, how many

books there are having lived through a few

wars followed by that deceptive spell of

peace in the early nineties.

The first time he was a ‘good boy’, they

read a book called Mulligan’s Yard riddled

with lecherous clergymen and an unrealistically

handsome protagonist. Their next was

a book in Luganda called Zinunula Omunaku

about the trials of a spectacularly unfortu-


nate lad. They only got as far as the second

page, largely because Nakato’s reading of

her mother-tongue resembles the nervous

stuttering of a shrill toad. He cannot tell her

that. Foolish old man that he has become,

he awaits these hours of hearing her narrate

lives outside his own like Uganda awaits an

end to political ennui.

Lately, with death squatting on his heart

and hammering at his chest, his congested

lungs whining for air all night, he reflects

that perhaps ennui is a luxury of youth.

Besides, irritable bladders do not leave room

for excessive introspection.

“‘…Deeper and deeper the silence

seemed to become, like the deepening

night,’ Nakato reads aloud again, ‘ while

the jurymen’s names were called over, and

the prisoner was made to hold up her hand,

and the jury were asked for their verdict.

“Guilty.” ...’

‘—but she’s a child.’ Ssalongo protests.

‘They should forgive her.’

‘She’s almost my age.’ Nakato scoffs. He

doesn’t tell her that nineteen is a drop in

the bucket of piss called life. ‘She knew

what she was doing when she and Arthur…

you know...’

Ssalongo chuckles. Since they started

reading Adam Bede, Ssalongo has been

entertained by their debates on morality,

justice and (to him) what morally upstanding

Adam Bede requires in a wife. There are

two candidates for the job. The first is Dinah

Morris, a Quaker. Ssalongo does not hesitate

to point out she’s too boring for Adam. The

second is her seventeen-year-old cousin

Hetty Sorrel, a beautiful girl who Adam loves

too wholeheartedly for his own good. Ssalongo

has his money on her. The conflict takes

the form of the wealthy Arthur Donnithorne

who eclipses Adam. His handsome money

and handsomer looks win over Hetty (Adam’s

heart’s desire) easily.

While Nakato harbors an undiluted disgust

for Hetty, Ssalongo sees in the girl a child,

much like Nakato; a child not much wiser

and with the same infatuation for shiny

things. Evil inside Nakato’s untrained mind,

however, never pushes good from her loins,

never turns to you one night after thirty

years of coldness, begging to do better.

‘Young girls should make mistakes, Joanna.

There is no better time.’

‘Why do you support her, Mzee?’ Nakato

wants to know. ‘She played hard-to-get with

Adam, just because she could. And then

Mzee, and then,’ she pounds her fist against

her thigh, ‘she dumped him because she had

found a rich guy. Then, she threw Arthur’s

child—Arthur who she pretends to love—in

the lake, and left it to die.’

‘She went back for it,’ Ssalongo points

out pragmatically, ‘and listen Joanna; times

have changed. It was an abomination in our

days for unmarried women to have children.

Even the writer knows that.’

‘If George Elliot had wanted us to feel

sorry for Hetty,’ Nakato proclaims, ‘she

wouldn’t have made her so bad. Mschwww!’

she twists her mouth and jeers, ‘She’s such a

slay-queen.’

She is uncannily like her mother. An argument

with Nakato can take up the rest of

their reading hour before his show on Radio

Simba begins. Ssalongo, eager to know

what happens to young Hetty, forestalls her.

‘You’ve read the book before. What happened

next?’

‘Let’s stop here today,’ she pouts. ‘I’m

expecting someone on WhatsApp…’

His protest cools in his throat. He stands

117

no chance against the boy inside her telephone.

And yet—‘Same time tomorrow?’

‘Same time,’ she chirps. He imagines she

has closed the page. He can’t wrap his mind

around the shape of a book inside a mobile

telephone. She skips off to her bedroom. The

green velvet curtains blacken in the waning

light. Gloom settles amidst their inky folds.

Each day since Nalongo’s death, in the depth

of his first nightly hour of despair, he has

longed to cry out to his mother. He suspects

his heart wouldn’t withstand the shock of

seeing his long-dead parent. The doctors call

it congestive heart-failure. And yet…

It is eight o’clock again. One whole hour

before his radio program and darkness has

descended indeed.

*

‘Where did we stop yesterday?’ Nakato

quips, tucking her left foot under her right

thigh at the dinner table. She’s wearing an

oversized grey jumper he did not buy for her.

A modest supper of rice, boiled beans outnumbered

by eggplants and peppered with

rock salt, lies partially demolished on both

plates. Ssalongo has no motivation to listen

to the news. It is the same dreadful song.

Death and Disease. Fires and Floods. His

reality is all that should concern him. If only

it weren’t so draining to live this drudgery

one day at a time. If only he could live it all

at once. Like a character in a book.

‘Ahhh. They found Hetty guilty.’ The smug

note in Nakato’s voice is unmistakable.

He props his elbows on the cotton tablecloth.

Cradling his cheeks expectantly in his

hands, he waits like he did five decades ago

when, having trekked five miles to school for

the first time, he discovered you could not

learn how to read a hymn-book in a day.

When Nakato reads, you can hear in her


robust voice that she never had to walk

barefoot to school. That he made sure of

that with every pay-cheque. ‘‘“…Adam...I’m

very sorry...’ she reads, ‘I behaved very

wrong to you...will you forgive me...before

I die?” Adam answered with a half-sob, “Yes,

I forgive thee Hetty. I forgave thee long

ago.”’—’

‘You see!’ Ssalongo cuts in with a sly grin,

‘If Adam can forgive her…’

His daughter rolls her mother’s large

brown eyes, ‘Humph. You and Adam are so

soft…’ . She reads on, ‘“…It had seemed to

Adam as if his brain would burst with the

anguish of meeting Hetty’s eyes in the first

moments, but the sound of her voice uttering

these penitent words touched a chord

which had been less strained. There was a

sense of relief from what was becoming unbearable,

and the rare tears came—. Hetty

made an involuntary movement towards

him, some of the love that she had once

lived in the midst of was come near her

again. She kept hold of Dinah’s hand, but

she went up to Adam and said timidly, “Will

you kiss me again, Adam, for all I’ve been so

wicke—Daddy!’ Nakato has noticed his rapid

blinking. ‘Stop feeling sorry for her. She

doesn’t deserve it.’

‘Nobody should enjoy seeing others in

pain, Joanna, ’he chides, ‘Nobody deserves

to die.’

‘…she’s just a character,’ she mumbles

tossing the synthetic ropes over her shoulder

petulantly. If vanity were an offence, she

too would perish by the sword she wishes

for Hetty Sorrel. When she’s taking selfers

on her telephone she gathers the ropes over

one eye, raises that telephone high over her

head, twitches her mouth and urges him to

smile. He didn’t realize how much of a chore

it is to smile until he saw all his frozen grimaces

stored in her phone for all posterity.

Vanity, he reflects, only looks endearing

on inexperienced girls. Her smiles, her

bossy reprimands, each toss of her artificial

hair is perfectly in order. It is her birthright

to flaunt her face and figure. Let the unfortunate

boys who cannot afford her gaze

at a respectful distance. The world is her

looking-glass, and looking at her, even now,

makes his heart swell with fierce pride… his

beautiful child. See what we did, Nalongo,

he thinks. See what I contributed to. She is

a part of you that you couldn’t take away.

Every evening, he watches her sorting

out his medicine (heart meds from anxiety

meds), warming her fingers on the drinking-water

in a ceramic cup, grating ginger

and slicing a banana should the medicine

make him nauseous or get stuck in his

throat. In her, he sees another face painted

with different strokes; imbued in love. It has

crossed his mind that in a spurt of kindred

feeling with her mother, she could poison

him. She might name the lethal drug epilim,

nebilong, amoldac-5 but he knows, and so

does she, that from her, he would take poison

gladly. See the gift you left me Nalongo.

See the disastrous miracle we made together…

Unable to endure her coy suspense any

longer, he demands with urgency his daughter

will never understand before she learns

the crushing burden of unadulterated love,

‘Does she live or die Joanna? Did they show a

little mercy or did they hang poor Hetty?’

At his plea, Joanna flips the page on her

phone, a knowing smile on her lips. He

knows that smile. He lived with it for thirty

years. She holds him captive. This time he

doesn’t mind.

118

‘It was a sight that some people remembered

better even than their own sorrows—‘

she reads reverently, doing the scene of Hetty’s

possible execution, justice. With each

pause, each cunningly calculated breath, she

binds him to Hetty Sorrel, to all women cruelly

snatched away by the clawed hands of

fate, before the men who loved them were

ready.

‘--the sight in that grey clear morning,

when the fatal cart with the two young

women in it was descried by the waiting

watching multitude, cleaving its way towards

the hideous symbol of a deliberately

inflicted sudden death. All Stoniton had

heard of Dinah Morris, the young Methodist

woman who had brought the obstinate

criminal to confess, and there was as much

eagerness to see her as to see the wretched

Hetty. But Dinah was hardly conscious of

the multitude. When Hetty had caught sight

of the vast crowd in the distance, she had

clutched Dinah convulsively.

“Close your eyes, Hetty,” Dinah said,

“and let us pray without ceasing to God.”

And in a low voice, as the cart went

slowly along through the midst of the gazing

crowd, she poured forth her soul with

the wrestling intensity of a last pleading,

for the trembling creature that clung to

her and clutched her as the only visible

sign of love and pity.

Dinah did not know that the crowd was

silent, gazing at her with a sort of awe—

she did not even know how near they

were to the fatal spot, when the cart

stopped, and she shrank appalled at a

loud shout hideous to her ear, like a vast

yell of demons. Hetty’s shriek mingled

with the sound, and they clasped each

other in mutual horror.


But it was not a shout of execration—

not a yell of exultant cruelty. It was a

shout of sudden excitement at the appearance

of a horseman cleaving the

crowd at full gallop. The horse is hot

and distressed, but answers to the desperate

spurring; the rider looks as if his

eyes were glazed by madness, and he saw

nothing but what was unseen by others.

See, he has something in his hand—he is

holding it up as if it were a signal.

The Sheriff knows him: it is Arthur Donnithorne,

carrying in his hand a hard-won

release from death.

This time, Ssalongo unabashedly allows

the tears to snake down his cheeks, the iron

fist that has kneaded his heart for three

years unclenched. He has edema of the feet

and the hands; edema of the heart and the

eyes.

He never could confess to Nnalongo how

hollow his life was without her. It was not

their way, the African way, the Ugandan

way or even the Ssalongo Zacharias way to

express affection for one’s wife… but she

knew. His bachelorhood was a multitude of

days waiting upon the mercy of just one of

her self-satisfied smiles—his marriage, an

eternity of wondering how to rekindle the