You are on page 1of 94

QUIET LIGHTNING IS:

a literary nonprofit with a handful of ongoing projects,


including a monthly, submission-based reading series
featuring all forms of writing without introductions or
author banterof which sparkle + blink is a verbatim
transcript. The series moves around to a different venue
every month, appearing so far in bars, art galleries,
music halls, bookstores, night clubs, a greenhouse, a
ballroom, a theater, a mansion, a sporting goods store, a
pirate store, a print shop, a museum, a hotel, and a cave.
There are only two rules to submit:
1. you have to commit to the date to submit
2. you only get up to 8 minutes

quietlightning.org/submission-details

SUBSCRIBE
quietlightning.org/subscribe
info + updates + video of every reading

sparkle + blink 72
2016 Quiet Lightning
artwork Ariel Dunitz-Johnson
arieldraws.com
Tiens, Tian ! (Look, the sky!) by Bonnie Kwong
first published in The Pedestal
Excerpt from Pride by Gina de Vries forthcoming in Foglifter
Contexts and Imprints by Rachel Nagelberg
forthcoming in Bitterzoet Magazine
book design by j. brandon loberg
set in Absara
Promotional rights only.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form
without permission from individual authors.
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the
internet or any other means without the permission of the
author(s) is illegal.
Your support is crucial and appreciated.

quietlightning.org
su bmit @ qui e tl i g h tn i n g . o r g

CONTENTS
curated by

Evan Karp + Maisha Z. Johnson


featured artist

KITTY STRYKER

Ariel Dunitz-Johnson

Sometimes Drugs Are A Valid


Coping Mechanism

GINA DE VRIES

from Pride

BONNIE KWONG

All the Same Leaf


15
Tiens, Tian ! (Look, the sky!) 17
Lunar Parallax
21

h.b. rubin

False Starts, In

25

33
Imprints
34
Sequences
35
RACHEL NAGELBERG Contexts

BRIAN THORSTENSON

Walking Market Street

37

LIZ GREEN

A Letter to My Dildo

49

NATASHA DENNERSTEIN

Million Dollar Baby

51

Finding a Way
53
Boundless
55
Girl. 56
ANNA DAVIDSON

MIAH JEFFRA

Make Sure To See


The Exit Door

KAR JOHNSON Memento



after This Connection

of Everyone with Lungs


by Juliana Spahr

59
65
66

DANNY THANH NGUYEN Suitor

69

ED WOLF

77

Safety First

ET
QU I

G IS SPONSOR
LIGHTNIN
ED B
Y

lagunitas.com

QUIET LIGHTNING
A 501(c)3, the primary objective and purpose of Quiet
Lightning is to foster a community based on literary
expression and to provide an arena for said expression. QL
produces a monthly, submission-based reading series on
the first Monday of every month, of which these books
(sparkle + blink) are verbatim transcripts.
Formed as a nonprofit in July 2011, the board of QL is
currently:
Evan Karp
executive director
Chris Cole
managing director
Josey Lee
public relations
Meghan Thornton treasurer
Kristen Kramer
chair
Kelsey Schimmelman
Sarah Ciston
Katie Wheeler-Dubin

secretary
director of books
director of films

Laura Cern Melo


art director
Christine No
producer/assistant managing director
If you live in the Bay Area and are interested in
helpingon any levelplease send us a line:
e v an @ qui et light nin g . o rg

- SET 1 -

KKK

KKKKKKKKKK

A VALS O M E T I M E S D R U G S A R E NISM
I D C O PI N G M E C H A
I learned something really important last week.
It was not a tidy revelation, by any means. I learned it
while I was staring at my reflection in a mirror over a
dirty sink, pupils so wide I thought maybe I could fall
into them. People always compliment my eyes but I
dont think when they say I could lose myself in them
they mean theyre like an endless void oh god how did
I get here how do I get back. Thats ok, though.
Sometimes you have to lose yourself to find yourself.
I am a terrible navel gazer. Not that Im terrible at
it. On the contrary, Im very, very good at it. I reflect
on myself and my behaviour and my trauma and
my coping mechanisms. For a very long time now I
thought that was one of the better things about myself,
that I engage in constant selfcritique and try hard to
be open to others critique, taking it all in and weaving
it into my understanding of myself and how I move
through the world. And I do think its valuable.
Where others can process data with lightning
speed, I process feelings, mine and the millions of
1

possibilities of other peoples. Its led me to have a lot


of compassion, patience, empathy, and a strong desire
to help.
Im beginning to realize that this fixation on self
analysis can also end up being my fashionable new
method of cutting myself. And I see a lot of other
queer folks doing the same.
I take ownership the way other people take drugs.
Its compulsive. Sometimes its really healthy and its
a great way to uncover things about myself or unravel
bad habits. But other times, it ends up being a way that
I can anxiously pick at my self confidence the way I
sometimes pick at my skin, leaving me afraid that
every step is a misstep, that Im on some competitive
cultural ballroom floor and Im tripping over my own
feet, praying no one notices and that I dont fall on my
face. The tension must show on my face, because all
the other dancers on the floor keep giving me wider
and wider berth. Failure is inevitable, and dreaded.
***
I was straight edge for my entire teenage life and pretty
much so into my early twenties. Not for political
reasons, but because I had been told for a long time
that I was crazy, and crazy people should never, ever do
drugs and risk losing control. The first time I was given
shrooms, the guy who offered them to me, someone I
2

trusted, someone the community I was with trusted,


tried to get me into the back of his van for sex while
I was high as a kite. Thankfully, some corner of my
brain had my self-preservation intact, and I shrugged
him off to roll around in the beach sand giggling for a
couple of hours instead. Like many things happening
at that time in my life, I just chalked it up to men just
being opportunistic or misread signals and didnt
think much else of it.
Boundaries, as far as I could tell from many of my
experiences in the kink scene, the queer scene, the
porn scene, were meant to be tested, and men more
often than not pushed them with the belief that if
they went too far they could just apologize later and
youd have to be ok with that. The best way to protect
against having those boundaries crossed was to be self
assessing, all the time. Dont lose control. Dont drop
one spinning plate.
I enjoyed doing substances, and still do, but I would
rarely lose myself in the moment to them. At any
given moment I was able to sober up and take care of
business, and so even when I was having fun I was on
alert, just in case. It was a survival strategy that served
me (and others) incredibly well. I didnt do things on
drugs that I would regret sober. I was able to make sure
people got on the right public transit. I could deal with
the cops. I lauded myself for being responsible even
when partying and didnt think too deeply about it.

Ki t t y St ry ke r

When I did think about it, I pulled wariness around


me like a thick winter coat, hoping it would protect
me from male entitlement, from the worlds brutality,
from the sting of peoples insults. The coat got larger
and larger, until I felt smothered by it, so small inside.
***
When I go on vacation, I bring work with me. I dont
know how to stop working. If its not traditional work
from a boss, Im writing, or structuring future pieces
I plan to write. If its not that, Im offering emotional
support or advice to people who are struggling on a
variety of topics. If its not that, Im trying to be patient
educating people on Facebook or Twitter when they
need calling in/out. I take joy in my work. I joke its my
primary relationship.
Sometimes its difficult for me to remember to have
boundaries with my primary.
I was once asked by an ex what I wanted to do for
fun, and I just looked blankly at them. I realized that I
dont know how to have fun anymore. Ive channeled
a lot of my energy into the hustle, because writing is
barely paying the bills and not being able to afford
food is always nipping at my heels. So work has to
be fun, because if it isnt, I have to look up from the
keyboard and realize how little space is left over in
my life to breathe and relax and enjoy myself. Even at
parties I am often called upon to do emotional labour.
4

Being queer comes with some assumed professordom/


group therapy agreement and to step back often feels
like letting someone step off the ledge. I just rarely
go to parties anymore. I might as well get paid for the
work Im doing, because money is some tangible form
of recognition.
capitalism is fun buying things is fun
work is fun
***
I took a moment, and I really looked at myself in
the mirror, my hair a bit wild, my pupils dilated.
Youre always told not to do that on drugs, that itll
destabilize you or upset you or something. For me,
it was grounding. I saw that my cheeks still had tear
stains on them. My lips were a bit swollen from being
bitten. My clothes were a bit rumpled. I hadnt worn
makeup for days. I was kind of a mess.
I looked hard into my soul and saw that I would have a
hell of a lot of time to think about accountability and
hurt and trauma and responsible action plans. That in
this exact moment, doing the work was not actually
serving me. That I was taking far more than my share
of the burden of the emotional labour, and that it was
ok to put that burden down for a while.
I have never been one for escapism, always diving
deeper into the places where it hurts or is tense rather
Ki t t y St ry ke r

than running away. I thought that was part of being


an adult, staring your issues in the face, dealing with
things head on.
The problem with that is, there is always something
else. And you never get a break from it.
It drowns you in self-help buzzwords until you are
absolutely certain that emotionally flaying yourself
raw is actually super healthy.
***
I have a thing for Victorian medicine. One of the things
that amazed me as I read more about the history of the
medical industry of the time was that many Victorians
were vehemently anti-anesthesia because pain was
from God, and to relieve pain was to defy God. Even
though people had shown that with the use of nitrous
oxide or ether, pain could be (relatively) safely relieved
during surgery (meaning at the very least less flailing
and distress of the patient) it was considered anathema.
I kind of wonder if I have a similar distrust. Like, Im
glad I dont automatically reach for the numbing
agent, but its ok, sometimes, to say you know... Im
going to deal with this tomorrow. It was only through
disassociation from my self and my grief that I was
able to step back and put pieces together and begin to
make a plan forward.

By being outside of myself, I saw who I was, the


beginning tendrils of the boundaries I needed. I saw
where I began and ended without anyone else.
I had forgotten.
Im writing this because I bet some of you out there
have this feeling too, that the tireless fight is grim but
necessary. While yes, I think its possible to get carried
away in escapism (obviously!) and yes, of course, you
still have to be responsible about how you go about
your escapism to make sure it doesnt become a habit...
its also ok to take a break sometimes. And, as another
week passes with another queer person dead from
suicide and a community in mourning, I want to
remind you that theres other ways to take that break.
Im telling you this as much as Im reminding myself of
this. And it might not be a substance for you. It might
be lying in bed eating ice cream and watching cartoons.
It might be having casual sex. It might be going to an
animal shelter and petting animals for hours. Its ok.
Youre ok.

Ki t t y St ry ke r

GGG

GGGGGGGGGG

fr o m

PRIDE

I did not expect you to stonedly regale Kate & I with


even more stories. I did not expect us all to have an
alcoholic dad or step-dad in common, for you to implore
me to listen to The Sunset Tree by the Mountain Goats.
Oh, god, of course, anything. Anything you wanted. I
loved your joy & your exuberance, your drawl, all the
new & precious things you taught me about your life.
I saved & savored all the details. How your birthday
always fell during the worst of tornado season, and
because of that you could never have a birthday party.
Your brother had a teardrop tattoo on his facehe was
in a gang, you said. There are gangs in Oklahoma?! I
did not expect thatI thought of gangs as big-city,
urban endeavors. Well, theres not much to do out
there, you said plainly, and I nodded.
I grew up around Calabrese truckers & bikers & factory
workers, but I grew up urban, and weird-hippieparents-West-Coast-urban, at that. I did not expect
talking to you to feel like talking to a funhouse mirror
of my own possible realities: what could have been had
my parents stayed in Wyoming or Michigan, tried to
do some kind of hippie homesteading thing instead
of eventually landing a series of hippie office jobs
9

in San Francisco. Which I realized, in my stonedness,


is one of very few places where hippies do things like
have offices. What would it have been like to grow up
without my Nana, her stories & her food & her garden,
the way shed raise her eyebrows & purse her lips at
my parents antics, tuck me into her bed at night with
a prayer & a kiss? I did not expect myself to think Hed
like my grandmother, and then My grandmother would
like him and then, Wait, what the hell am I thinking? I met
this guy yesterday.
I did not expect us to crawl between the sheets as I
turned on my purple Xmas lights & prayed, prayed,
prayed that putting on my red slip with the lace
scalloping around the tits was something youd
appreciate, something youd think was sexy, and not
pressure. Not too much. I did not expect you to turn
to me in the purple half-dark and say Wait. We dont
have to go to sleep yet, do we?
And so, I found out about ten minutes before I fucked
you, that this was your first queer sex. In that all of us
were queer, and your last sex before this was with the
husband who kicked you out of the house you shared
after you came out. Youd only ever kissed a girl once, at
a bar, you said. Youd never fucked a girl, never fucked
a genderqueer person, never fucked anyone other than
straight cis men, you said. Let alone two girls at once.
I was humbled, and horny, and my head was spinning,
from the remnants of booze & pot & sleep deprivation,
10

yes, but mostly from the disclosure. Youre sure you


wanna do this? I looked you right in those wide eyes,
and you fucking grinned at me, you nodded vigorously,
you said Yes, yes, Im terrible at talking about sex, but
yes, I really do want this Youre doing a fine job of
talking right now, I said, What do you like? Whats
hot for you? I dont know Im sorry, I really dont
know what Im doing! Would you like to kiss me? I
asked, and you sounded so relieved, Please, yes!
Your mouth on mine, your arms wrapped around
methey were worth the cramped bed, worth the
stumbling, clumsy awkwardness. You kissed me like
your life depended on it. Nobody had kissed me like
that in months.
I was breathless when you pulled away from me. But I
got enough breath back to ask more questions. What
do you know you like? and May I suck your cock?
and before you said yes, you shuddered, you laughed,
you said Oh god, whats happening? Is this even real?!
Kate said Yes, a beautiful woman just offered you a
blowjob.
Shuddering in Kates arms, you said Yes to me. I slid
my hand into your boxer-briefs, pulled your cock
through the fly and into my mouth. It was a soft pack,
I realized as I touched it, spongy in my fingers & under
my tongue, and it didnt feel like you were wearing a
harness. I was careful to keep my palm rooted to you
so your cock didnt tumble off as I worked my mouth
Gi na de Vri e s

11

around it. You bucked your hips up so furiously that I


started to gag & pulled off a bit. Not that you noticed.
You just kept saying Yes.
Eventually, breathless, you asked me to fuck you. I,
ever the gracious host, said We can stop any time and
Youre in the drivers seat here, as I slid one, two, three,
four fingers into you, past the first knuckles, past the
widest part of my hand. Yes, you kept saying, Fuck,
yes, and More, yes and Harder, yes.
I did not expect the hoarse want in your voice to
ricochet against the walls of my tiny room. I did not
expect you to beg me to fuck you deeper while Kate
stroked your cock & bit your neck. I did not expect
you to exclaim Two ladies! Two ladies! Oh, my friends
back in Oklahoma are never gonna believe this! I did
not expect Kate & I to sing the song from Cabaret and
high-five over your body while my other hand was still
moving inside you. I did not expect us to laugh so hard
we shook the bed.
You shuddered & twitched & your eyes rolled back in
your head for what seemed like forever. You finally
put your hand out to signal me to stop moving my
fingers inside you. I dont know if Im coming or not?
you said, through ragged, spent breaths, I Ive never
felt anything like that before. I think Im done? You
laughed. You said it like it was a question.
When I pulled out of you, you were bleeding. In my
12

purple Xmas lights your blood against the white latex


glove looked bright orange, and I felt stupid, guilty
that I was somehow too rough. Oh, my god! I started
to apologize, but you cut me off. I feel wonderful,
you said, God, I feel amazing. You didnt hurt me. I
think Im just more likely to bleed because of the T.
I wondered how youd feel inside me, but I knew that
wasnt happening, not that night. Exhaustion was
finally starting to win out over arousal. Suddenly I
understood why so many people do speed over Pride. I
rested my face into the crook of your shoulder, kissed
your neck sleepily.
I did not expect you to leap up suddenly, to pull
your cell phone out of the pocket of the jeans youd
shucked at the foot of my bed. I did not expect you to
take a picture of the three of us curled up post-coital
and text it to your best friend in Oklahoma at 5am
with the accompanying message san francisco is
awesome & seventeen exclamation points.
But most of all, I didnt expect you to come back to my
house the next weekend, after Kate had gone back to
Boston and Pride was over. And it was just you & me.

Gi na de Vri e s

13

BB

BBBBBBBBBB

ALL THE SAME LEAF



if the stem

of a
calla
lily
unfurls
casually

into leaf
green

to verdant green
and
splays
into petal
where
green
pales

to white
all

the same
leaf
if

an arm

can reach
like

a fin
or

a wing
if

young
if i place

mammals
my hand
sometimes
on a waist naked
wear curved
15

gills like my own



if I allow her

to wear

my dress
and
undress

her myself

do I need
to take

another name

16

TIENS, TIAN ! (LOOK, THE SKY!)


I spent too much time thinking about the sky:
I began to forget how to walk,
I began to forget how to crawl.
What do I know of gravity?
I only say: Sky, come down to me.
Watch me walk again:
sway my arms with my feet,
remember the wave of my own body.
Hear me sing again....
Sky, come down to me.
I am returning to my feet.
Ive lived where the sky was narrow,
where clouds hung low,
sensed imminent storms like drunken breath,
tasted the fog with my tongue in spring,
I fixed my gaze on the sky so long
I forgot the animal in me.

Bonni e Kwong

17

The stars in the night sky formed a map I couldnt read.


There were too many stories, too many castles.
I cleared the sky again:
Tiens, Tian !
Look, the sky!
Tian kung, the empty sky.
I can move again.
I remember my limbs.
More than a tree, I am animate,
arms and legs swaying,
the wind flowing through me,
sweeping high and low,
clouds distant as a fourth language:
ciel, nauges.
Clouds like the swipe of a paint brush.
Sky, come down to me.
Tiens, Tian !
Look, the sky!
If you wish to make love to me,
I must tell you this:
I was born a nomad,
18

the sky my only constant.


By the age of four,
I had moved four times.
My first memory is of moving again,
the sky, my only constant.
There were times the sky seemed too large
and I too small, like a meteor, liu xing .
liu : flowing xing : star
When I close my eyes at night, I am no where:
in the cradle of the ocean
(I fall through the bottom);
in the cradle of the sky
(with flight, the fear of falling).
Yet the moon stays.
I am so far away.
What do I know of gravity?
exile:
liu : flowing

wang : death

Sky, come down to me.


Home is where you see me.
If you wish to make love to me,
Bonni e Kwong

19

think of me as the moon:


halfway between sky and earth.
Sky, I speak to you as I would a lover
I dare not name.
Tian kung ,
the empty sky.
Come closer.
Ill sing you a song.

20

LUNAR PARALLAX


yue liang

yuet leung
a lua
tsuki
la lune

la luna

I send

a map

of the moon

to Paris
to a lover
of
he
one
sends
night

one back
we
may

never meet
again
how

I touch

and lay

no claim
how

I translate
the night
from one
of the
to
fullest
the
moon
next

I bare
myself

with another
by

the lake

Bonni e Kwong

21


my fingers
read

shivers on

his body
from


my touch

on his skin
or the graze
of
an
arrow

the chill
of the night

what

do we use

to write on the moon

the axe

of a woodcutter
the lance

of So Jorge

the arrow

of Oxssi
the

arrow of hou yi
before

we share
chang es

the dark silence
flight
with
stirring ducks

I tone my
cries

of pleasure


one lover
teaches me
a word

in his language
saudade


I try
to
translate
longing

like the wet
wick

of a candle

the scuff
of another

lovers stubble
22

against
my
thigh
forgive
me
if

I miscarry

from one language

to the next

some maps
are

of
a history
mis nomers

Mare Imbrium
Mare Frigoris
Mare
Nubium
Mare

Humorum Mare
Mare
Serenitatis
Crisium
Oceanus
Procellarum


there are
no seas
on the moon

if
only

I could
measure
be
two places at once
the true
distance
from
earth
to
moon

Bonni e Kwong

23

hhhhhhhhhh

FALSE STARTS, IN
we were in a parking lot in san bernardino.
there was an arrow, it was blinking with lights of
all different sizes and colors, it brought us to the
parking lot, but not to san bernardino. we were in san
bernardino because we both have the urge to know
things, and we felt that there was something to know
here in san bernardino.
there was nothing to know in san bernardino,
at least not off right. it was a smoggy day, a brown haze.
the mountains like sludge. jangling between radio
stations looking for something that wasnt gravel,
advertisement.
last night you asked me how you could make me cum, and
i mumbled something again
im always mumbling to people how to make me cum
what i want to say is, how the hell do i know
not say it, shout it
shout:
///
25

the day after we made out for six hours, you and i
drove to san bernardino together, alone, and walked
around the inland regional center where last week
everyone was shot. it was surrounded by fencing, a
security theatre that said, there is something here that
is important. that said, there is something here youre just
not allowed to see it. that said, were taking care of it. it
spoke louder than anything else cuz everything else
was still and dry and i wondered how grey it would be
to come work here everyday. mauve building, wrapped
by highways and now this dark green fence that said
nothing other than: you can try to have feelings right
now but good fucking luck.
there was a construction site next door with piles of
broken rocks. everything sorted by color and size. we
stood at that fence for a long time looking. waiting.
there were still some news vans parked in circles, a big
truck with ten porta-pottys wheeled in at some point.
we looked at each other: who needs to shit so bad?
theres nobody even here.
///
I dont know what its like to experience hunger, you told
me last night. Once, I didnt eat for a few days to see what
would happen, but the pangs never came. I felt delirious,
but not exactly hungry. But maybe Im understanding
hunger wrong.
///
26

san bernardino is a strip mall within a strip mall


within a four-lane intersection that has a 7-Eleven, a
quik food mart, a gas station and a christmas tree lot
on its four corners. all we could find to eat were those
little neon orange crackers that have a dab of plastic
cheese in the middle.
///
what were the news trucks waiting for? it already
happened.
ominous, the sky having no stick like that. i read this
poem at a show last night and the guys in the band
hugged me.
Were from San Bernardino they said And wow. Its so
smoggy down there that half my town has asthma. you
mean that smog is down there like that all the time?
Yeah. We havent been back in five years. Its been a weird
time for us.
IT already happened, and we walked around the fences
in a big loop, trying to figure out what it even was. id
close my eyes and try to feel it: masks and long guns
and shouting. and blood. the feeling of panic. the
merging of life and video game. you said, but everybody
dies and i agree with you, i do, but not everybody has
to die in this way.

h .b. ru bi n

27

we dont need to go searching through their house and look


for their arabic textbooks. there was one t- shirt hanging in
their closet. i looked at thirty different pictures, but thats
the only one i remember.
maybe its nothing new, maybe the history of people
is being afraid all the time. it feeds me like metal, sick.
all thats coming:
the guy behind the counter at the liquor store on my
corner listens to tv in arabic and sells green squares
of halva. for how much longer? where are the words
for mental illness that were so prominent last week,
and the week before, and the week before: when guns
went off. white ones.
Soon, well all know someone whos been killed in a mass
shooting, my neighbor said to me, as we sat outside
our windows smoking little rolled cigarettes. the
moon hung like a fingernail between us. he had just
spent four months up north trimming and was feeling
overwhelmed in the city. You ever feel like your energy
has the power to change other peoples energy?
i looked at him. no.
Oh.
///
we just stopped at a rest stop 12 miles from pumpkin
28

city, so i think i will go to the bathroom and stare at


my face in the tin mirror. perhaps ill lay two pieces
of toilet paper down and try to take a shit. doubtful
though. constipation has been my only confidante this
trip.
maybe taking a shit right now would be good practice
in making the words come out even when i dont know
how to. like last night, when i stuttered too hard trying
to tell you why i feel so afraid when you look into my
eyes like you want to know me.
///
drake is playing in the car as we drive into the parking
lot. do you want this to be playing? i ask.
Lets turn it off. I dont want to ruin Drake.
we turn it off and adjust our eyes to the silence. were
looking for what to look at.
there are three bowls of cat food in the parking lot,
each a different shade of jewel. Theres your picture,
you say.
i reach for the camera around my neck, but keep
walking. no i say. its too easy.
we watch a man in a truck move big slabs of blue stone
from one pile to another pile. Somehow every color at a
h .b. ru bi n

29

construction site is tinged with grey you say. i kiss you,


when you say that, because its so beautifully observed.
///
originally, i had wanted to go to their home. i had
wanted to trace the route they had driven while the
police had chased them. i wanted to go to the spot
where the bullets entered their bodies in their car and
they stopped driving cuz they were dead. i wanted to
touch the pavement. hungry for blood. i like to touch
things. its the only way I know how to know.
but i forgot that i wanted to do those things, and
instead we peed at the gas station on the corner and
drove back the long highway traffic, brown sky, sun
setting along lanes and lanes of cars with identical
lights moving back and forth. and you were telling me
about a story you were writing, about a poisonous fish
you ate in tanzania. and i was trying to listen.
///
in a parking lot in san bernardino the first line
you wanted me to write, when i write about what
happened, which you know i will.
///
can i kiss you you asked me the night before, you had
never asked that before. today it was my turn, reaching
30

over the cup holders in the parking lot, pulling you to


me with hands, t-shirt always too big on your small
frame.
there are four men outside the car with construction
hats on, eating skittles.
i think i always looked to you to be the wise one.
yesterday, in our parking lot in san bernardino, you
told me that sometimes you needed space to be the
baby. i said i would take care of you, i think thats
when i reached over to kiss you.
///
the magic mike soundtrack is bumping on the speakers
and the seltzer i just drank has woken up the gas in
my stomach and is calling upon it all to press as hard
and fast as it can. my insides are plastic. my insides are
those kids who blow air into balloons and five fingered
gloves and condoms.
i want to talk about the land but i dont know how
to. how do you talk about something that is obvious,
unremarkable. how do you talk about the fact that what
is remarkable about something is how unremarkable it
is.

h .b. ru bi n

31

R
RR

RRRRRRRRRRRR

C ONTEXTS
its not enough occurrences have origins do you
know what Im saying? a story is a corpse until its
architecture is apparent its never enough there is
no present you know there are proven experiments
where the future determines the past sometimes I feel
nostalgia for circumstances that havent happened
bright AM light caffeine chest aflutter still processing
dreams a swollen stomach a lightness overwhelms
like an invisible hand that if touched could allow total
forgetting to be free becomes not the illusion of choice
but total annihilation where you are from is important
to me how and where you spend your time it gives me
the building blocks to form a map of then to now
San Franciscans dont subscribe to these kind of
questions perhaps thats why body parts are found
in suitcases in gentrified neighborhoods at 11 AM but
thats just one example (the horror of the every day)
there is a man who drags around a human-sized stuffed
goat attached to a golf caddie once at a bus stop late
at night I asked him to tell me the goat story as if there
was an easy then to now goat narrative that could have
been orated in the three minutes before my bus arrived
as if the stuffed goat was a symbol and the man was an
archetype and the city was a curtain that could be
lifted to reveal a scaffolding that made sense
YOURE NOT A TRUE ARTIST he screamed at me
(this is a true story) and then he called me beautiful
as I boarded the bus in tears this was my situation
33

IMPRINTS
2
hypocritically speaking as a work of art it reveals
humankinds need for imaginative sickness they
say suffering builds character but what if ones
suffering builds a species of porpoises that kill
their young? what Im saying to you is this there
are wildfires in Northern California that have no
discernible origins there are specifically X number
of diseases that havent been discovered linguistically
speaking doctors like to name syndromes after
themselves what does this say about black sites in
Afghanistan? an infinite number of correlations can
be shaped the properties of its contents are irrelevant

34

SEQUENCES
to act on impulses the body tells us things
we form narratives we imagine voiceovers
you dont go back from cinema
Modern America tells us this right now
scientists are engineering mosquito embryos towards
extinction while international summits meet to
discuss the Future of the Now journalists
try to place us in a time of revolution of a never before if
capitalism engineers freedom then will a body
engineered without sickness dream?
we schedule meetings we post blog articles
we shift ever so slightly towards compulsion and even
then
is it language thats failed us?

Ra ch e l Na ge lbe rg

35

B
BBB

BBBBBBBBBB

BB

WA L K I N G

M A R K E T ST R E E T
Across the City
buildings rise
shrouded
in black netting
nylon widows weeds
Blue and yellow cranes swivel the skyline
Im walking Market
Castro to Van Ness
trying to reside
in the practical
the apparent
looking
for patterns
Cross street
echoes of new
and old rooflines
The pit is gone
Filled
37

Five stories of
bay windows
mondrian squares
After Trinity Episcopal Church burned
leaving a hole, it was just called the pit.
A sign on the corner with a design
for a new church never built.
Occasionally a Christmas tree lot.
Or an art installation. Three sides
of chain link, always a ready place
for demo and club flyers.
The practical
The apparent
The patterns
This mid summer late
afternoon almost
evening surprising
new shifts in street wind
in sidewalk sun sidewalk shade
White and blue cranes swivel above trenches of rebar
The pit was where I met friends
the evening of the 89 earthquake.
We watched a queen direct traffic
through the three-way intersection.
38

A troop of pg&e workers,


all hardhats, all walkie talkies,
marched to the Castro, then returned,
same formation, an hour later.
We couldnt stop laughing.
The Sanchez twins
76 and Shell
no more or
the Buchanan pumps
A Castro station following
Where will locals buy gas?
The patterns
practical the
apparent but
My ipods on
shuffle
Blind Faith playing
Cant Find My Way Home
Somebody must change Somebody holds the key
Got my first smog test at the 76.
Blue Honda Civic, my college car.
Barely passed. Rented my first
Bri an Th orst e nson

39

Zipcar there too. It was parked


behind, down and to the left.
A steep angle reverse onto
Market. Zipcars have names.
That one was McHenry.
Six stories
bury Shell
Diagonally
five stories
wipe out the Thai House
And Im wasted and I cant find my way home
The Thai House used to be Leticias
which used to be another Thai House
which used to be a burger place
which used to be the original Thai House.
All the incarnations had the same
sweeping curve, the upturned eaves.
A blind date during its burger
days. We both knew it was a no
go but we still ate a meal together.
Still I cant find my way home
Second shuffle
Shawn Colvin
singing
40

A Matter of Minutes
All of my old world and all the things in it
A Whole Foods
at Dolores
The jokes been
whole paycheck
now its whole city block
are hard to find if they ever were mine
Buchanan rising
seven eight stories
next to Sushi Delight
The Mint Bar
The Alliance Health Project
Singing sashimi test results under shadows
Hard hats, Safety Glasses
And Safety Vests are
mandatory
On this job site.
boots in black magic marker added above
By who? A supervisor? worker? pedestrian?

Bri an Th orst e nson

41

Dolores street was where I fell in love,


with a man, and a woman,
with hot coffee in white mugs,
with quesadillas and guacamole.
Where I dropped acid for the first time,
rolled on E the second time,
where the friends Ive know
since 1980 still live.
The apparent
The patterns
The practical
I cant have it my way and I cant give up without a fight
Lady Ward used to live
on Buchanan in one of the best
apartments Ive ever seen in the city.
Two levels, the upper floor one big room,
a view of Civic Center, downtown, Bay Bridge,
beyond. Year after year wed gather there at a
long long long table for thanksgiving.

Half a block times eight


the lgbts floor to
ceiling louvers
loom the air at
Octavia boulevard

42

The word behemoth surfaces a harmony line to my shuffle


24 hours a day
Video surveillance
No Trespassing
No Onsite Hiring
Hiring crossed out, fucking scrawled below in blue
marker
The fucking that fucking that I recognize
The days after the earthquake
were good for cruising. Balma
and I drove the length of Van Ness,
not a light on, then to an alley
south of market for blowjobs in the dark.
Yellow and blue cranes swivel the skyline length of Market
This is the street where I tested negative,
and tested negative again, and again, and
then didnt, the news broken by a volunteer
in their 20s who wanted to talk.
My friends outside waiting, I need
to talk to him, and another friend,
I need to call my doctor.
Behemoth Mammoth Leviathan
Bri an Th orst e nson

43

Ive walked Market in January


heat and January rain, Indian
Summer and June Gloom, as
the fog roiled Twin Peaks,
night wind, day wind, afternoon wind.
I cant find
any sense
The buildings
dont fit
their neighbors
Maybe I was just seeing what I wanted to see
A new gallery
Personal trainer
Group exercise
Werent those homes
for books until now
everything changed in a matter of minutes
Ive walked Market going
to work at Zuni, rushing to
the film festival, for groceries,
for screw drivers, for sex parties,
for dinner, for home.

44

and nothing was saved in time


Behemoth: an enormous creature.
Its mentioned in Job. Not a good sign.
At Franklin an
exterior mirrors
the curve of turning
traffic one pattern
apparent echo
Mammoth: a thing of huge size.
A large extinct elephant.
At Van Ness a triangle
donut shop next to
a parking lot
On the chain link fence
pink painted
padlocks
in a heart shape world
wide called love
locks
Pre-leasing And
Happiness
This Way Please
Bri an Th orst e nson

45

An arrow after please pointing the way


Who knew Happiness capital H was that simple?
Leviathan: an aquatic animal
of enormous size; a sea monster.
My ipods shuffled
again
to Bach
A prelude
slow and sad
solo cello
White and blue and yellow the cranes swivel the skyline

46

- SET 2 -

LLLLLLLLL

A L ET T E R

T O M Y DI L D O
You are only for special occasions.
Everyday use is external, anxious rub-out high
powered
Hitachi Magic Wand.
But you, dear dildo, pink and soft, pseudo-skin
Bendable coreyou
Live in a harness
Ready for the nights I am feeding you to anothers
welcoming maw
But you, dear dildo, have not found much occasion to
do this of late.
Dear dildo, curious model of an appendage
That is usually shrunken
Comically large, extended, and chronically hard
Most recently I have found you inside of me at the
hands
Of a lover who would have me worship his cock.
Dear dildo, you are not an ersatz penis.
You are not a faux phallus.
You are not Pinocchio.
You thrill the Blue Fairy just as you are.

49

When this man could embrace your utility


Pleasure and engulfment of my core
Without concern for his raw nerve
This was magic and beauty.
And when we put you away, dear dildo
My heart went with you.
His body shrunk down to eight inches of flesh
Sweating and holding and forcing
I mention this as a brick, a Bible, and a block of wood
I have few other words but these here.
Dear dildo, I missed you while I was away
He asked me if Id used you on another woman.
(Typical)
Yes, Id said.
But no, not use.
Dear dildo, you are a gift.
You parody the paradox.
You sweet grace,
You plastic, elastic, ecstatic thing,
Dear dildo, at best you make us sing,
Dear dildo, this is my offering
From a body who goes in with you
and will take you in, too.
With your selfless generosity,
You are what the cock should be

50

NN

NN
NN

NNNNNNNNN

NN

NN

MILLION

D OLLAR BAB Y
I stand here before you the result of six figures of
cosmetic procedures,
appearance medicine and surgical enhancement
yes
one million American dollars and worth every cent,
every cent.
For their sweet sixteenths some kids got a vehicle
but my mommy and daddy gave me
a new nose: Id always wanted one.
The sound of the surgical trolley wheels squeaking
along the waxed lino floors,
the kindly surgeons eyes above his green gauze mask,
the sharp odor of the alcohol swab where the needle
went in:
I entered a new world where everything was clean. I
had gurney fever.
I woke up and it hurt like hell; I looked like a
monster;
it was kind of gross with all the snot and hella
stitches:
but the transformation! The bruising turned from
black
51

to purple to green to yellow and I emerged a butterfly


with an almost-perfect profile. I was a convert.
By twenty-one Id had my boobs done three times
around the aureolesaline C cups the first time,
then up to the Ds.
Pick your surgeon very carefully girls, thats all I can
say,
for legal reasons. I have recently had butt implants
that have given new meaning to the phrase
shaking what your mamma gave ya.
I see and hear the results daily, walking down the
street,
the appreciative glances, the wolf whistles.
I have really good self-esteem.
I dont need no therapist. Just my aesthetician
and appearance medicine surgeon and Im sweet.
Im an advocate for preventative Botox and fillers,
yall.
I know its hard to believe but Im almost thirty. It
happens to all of us.
I am standing testament for girls who want to take
charge
of their own bodies, their own futures. I want to
inspire young girls.
Like me, you can be exactly who you want to be.
My own grandparents dont even recognize me
and I see that as a sign of success, wouldnt you?

52

AA

AAAAAAAAAAA

FINDING A WAY
they choose to
separate their closets and
find other
hiding places for dirty
laundry to wilt there are
ways to love
a stubborn door
open but neither
has the patience for remembering
and youre starting to wonder
how long promises can live
without clean air or
vegetables or
heart what if
every room they repainted
secretly wants to just
breathe in
bright there are
ways to love
a stubborn wall
down but both are too scared of

53

being seen of
letting linens lie limp of
never getting that stain out of
getting out or
finding a way back in

54

BOUNDLESS
her eyes rolled she arched back like Oshun had joined
us and i licked her neck in black ink we tuck

words behind each exhale and leave
ourselves like
teabags steeping in holy water
and it wouldnt even matter if the windows were
open the door left unlocked because our
closets hold
the dirtiest secrets
anyways her bottomless
song wraps me in inarticulate melodies we
congregate our tongues into one wish only the deaf
can hear we high pitch ideas
back and forth like
fairytales and it
wouldnt even matter if monsters hid
beneath the sheets because our dancing frame(s)
would soothe them anyways
my boundless beauty she receives kisses in mahogany
lipstick like im planting future knots
between her
roots in this
crystallized smoky room rocking on her
tidal waves on her
bittersweet

island sighs
Anna Davi dson

55

GIRL.
you are born into a number destined for curves like an
eight and they tell you dream big
you can have anything you want baby girl shoot for
the stars because you havent learned the moon (yet)
because youre number one youre straight and young
and unbroken and so you grow
stretching like promises and the ends of sentences
after midnight you grow
into an eight with curves because the moon found
you because youre not as straight as they assumed you
were (at all) or untouched or smooth and they start
telling you stop growing with an open mouth
curves and opinions dont mix dont be batter and they
call you chick girl chica because inquiring a name hits
too close to individual and they sweaty-palm your
shoulder while
saying this because chick(en) you inevitably will make
them hungry inevitably theyll say

56

your blood is not your own (baby girl) your uterus


is our home and we prefer to rearrange furniture
unannounced and vacuum on Sundays you learn
you were born destined for these curves
as if depth could only nurse comfortably when
challenged so you sit and sit massaging insides to keep
your promises warm
soaking individual on the back of your tongue mouth
open curved and opinionated because mixing makes
you feel beautiful from your source chocolate-chipped
and they still
hunt your happy like founding four fathers but you
grow yourself outside the lines and kiss the moon
like youre more than friends whispering in her ear
numbers never really were your thing

Anna Davi dson

57

MMMMMMMMMMM

M A K E SU R E T O

S E E T H E E XIT D O O R
for Keith Haring
Dear Keith:
Im on Craigslist again. I am angry, ten years ago.
And this is Hollywood.
The Casual Encounters ads are scrolling faster than
usual; every few minutes a host of two dozen or so
repopulate the interface, almost the same rate I am
pounding plastic-bottle Gin gimlets, Nina Simone
lamenting the whip of Parisian wind amidst the
clanging AC of my dilapidated pseudo-Craftsman
Hollywood cottage. The hot windless day broke open
some rising needin not only me, it seems; there is
a flurry of M4Ms, of the typical photoshairy chests
and waxed chests, dangling and clenched dicks, fingerspread ass-cheeks and slightly parted lips filling the
screen with overt sexual demands. I want to feel like a
bandit, a punk, a renegade. Like you, Keith.
I first saw your artwork when I signed up for Best
Buddies at a community service fair my Freshman
year in college. Your work was the poster image for
59

the organization: simple faceless figuresone yellow,


one orangearms over shoulder in that classic buddy
embrace, against a flat blue backdrop. Best Buddies
paired students with mentally disabled adults to go
on outings in the community: the zoo, Six Flags. I
always took mineBobbyto the Krispy Kreme and
Kentucky Fried Chicken on Ponce De Leon Avenue
in Atlanta. We would take our pink box and family
bucket to Piedmont Park and eat it all, lick sugary glaze
off fingers and chew cartilage from bone after I got
stoned on my cheap eighth of shake. I think we had a
good time, me and Bobby. I was probably breaking the
Best Buddies rules. Im sure you would have, too, Keith.
That Best Buddies poster always made me feel, whats
the word, jubilant. Perhaps it was the short black
lines emanating out from the figures, like vibrations,
suggesting movement. Bursting joy? Adolescent
jittering? Like ever some kind of possibility. The bold
colorful strokes told me you were simple, resolute. I
was young.
I thought there was some kind of possibility with
a senior named Kent McKay, the other tenor in
the University Singers chorale, who sat next to
me, who tickled me during warm-up, the palest boy
you could ever imagine. His thinning hair, the same
color as his skin, resembled rough brushstrokes of a
monochromatic portrait. He always wore ripped jean
shorts and no shoes, his feet cleft and mucky. His eyes
bulged out, like a Boston Terriers, lips swollen and
60

cracked like a glazed donut. And, I loved him. I even


told Bobby about him while I smoked my schwaggy
weed in the park, about the time when Kent and I
were alone in the auditorium hanging lights for a
Christmas concert, and we discussed Judith Butler like
we understood it, and he argued that Kinsey was right,
and he kissed me and slipped his hands under my shirt,
and we went back to his dormroom and I licked his
fingers and we cuddled and fell asleep in each others
arms. My first hookup with a boy: a revelation.
Your animal drawings were always my favorite, Keith,
especially the dogs, cats and chickens. Again, jubilant. I
am an animal activist, too. Did you know that in order
for a chicken to be certified free-range, all it needs is
a minimum of five minutes of access to the outside?
At Polyface Farmsa certified free-range operation
in Virginiathe outdoors comprises 5x10-feet
fenced-in gravel pits available through a doggie door
at the end of the coop, a space to share with no less
than 1,000 other chickens.
Most Craiglist ads present a litany of raw tingling
dangers: Lubed Ass in the Air, Waiting for Stud. I
reply with a sepia-toned dick pic. Who Wants Their
Cock Drained? Sure! Young Hung Straight Dick for
Generous. BBC For Tight Asian Butt. Bear Wants
to Train His Cub. I Wanna Drink Your Piss and Jizz.
Glory-hole Cum Dump. Fuck Me While I Wear My
Girlfriends Panties. Let Me Lick Your Feet While You
Take a Shit on My Mothers Glamourshot Senior Prom
Mi a h Je f f ra

61

Photograph. That one sounds punk rock. I click it; what


do I get? A blurry cock flopped over the waistband of
gym shorts. I reply with my body shot, flexing whatever
little muscle I have. Another ad implores, Are There
Any Nice Men on Here Anymore? I skip. Cum on My
Face? That sounds fun. I repeat with the sepia dick pic.
I get a rather truncated response almost immediately:
he asks me, You a top? I write, sometimes. He
asks me, You masculine? I write, What does that
mean? He asks me, Stats? I write back that I prefer
Analytical Geometry. He ceases correspondence.
After my sleepover with Kent, I spent three weeks
worth of nights on the grass of the residential quad,
sitting under Kents window, waiting until his light
went out, hoping hed glance out the window, spot me
under the flourescence with my face of yearning, that
romantic Hollywood someplace-far-away face. But he
never did. You see, he never acknowledged that night
in his dorm-room, not even when we woke up the next
morning, limbs and sweat, a tangled bed. He quietly
pulled himself away from the naked embrace while I
pretended to sleep, pulled on a pair of sweatpants, and
began studying at his desk, his broad stretch of back
shielding the rest of him from my waking. The back
told me that I needed to go, and I slunk out. At the end
of chorale practice the next day, I touched his shoulder;
he spun around and dared me. He whispered through
his soft face, Im not like you. I want a family. Within
24 hours, he had a girlfriend. I wrote him poetry, would
leave it in his mailbox.
62

I remember a first line of one of the poems: What does


it mean to be like me?
I remember a last line of one of the poems: I could love
your paradox!
I once told a guy at the end of a pleasant date that we
could only make love for as long as a Nina Simone
song. He asked me, Who is that? which is when
I should have kicked him out. He asked me, Why
should we fuck so quickly? He asked me, Are you a
top or bottom? I said, I like sex to be like a poem. He
said, you cant write poetic butt-sex. He said to me,
Men arent supposed to be the poetic ones. He asked
me, arent you liberated? I kicked him out. I sat under
my window, and wondered if he was right. About the
lyrical. About the liberated.
I didnt discover how you really felt about all of it
until much later, Keith, when I saw your other images.
It wasnt until I saw one in particular, of a headless
body being stranglednot at the neck, but at the
gutsall muscles and penis against a pink and glitter
backgroundthat I knew you were angry, after you
had been checked in a bunch of het boxes, after you
had been rejected by countless lovers as too fem or too
butch, too top or too bottom, too one way or the other,
one or the other, apron or sledgehammer. How much
liberation has there really been, that we still liken
ourselves to Lucy and Ricky, to Ozzie and Harriet, to
high heels and work boots?

Mi a h Je f f ra

63

Did you know, Keith, that even when the coop door
opens for those free-range chickens at Polyface
that five-minute opportunity to splay their chicken
feet on that wide-open gravel and take in the
sunshinethey dont move? You would think theyd
ache with the liberation, and scuttle towards the door,
clucking loudly until that first sliver of light cracks at
the bottom of their coop, feathers pouncing in that
push to the great big liberty. But, no. The door opens
and they sit there, stunned and still, clucking like fools.
Even now, Keith, after all these years.
Im angry, Keith. Im wound, just like your own
strangled gut. Liberty is a poly-face.
I am certified, now. I have rights. I can get married.
The door has opened and the crack of light is bright
and glaring. I get my five minutes of sunshine. But I
want more than the five minutes anyone is offering. I
dont want to be a certified free-range faggot. I want
to roam the whole fucking farm. I want to wear the
boots when I want, the apron when I want, to wield
the sledgehammer while scuttling in the highest of
heels, but more than that. I want none of it, so I can
be all of it. I want to splay my feet on the grass of that
college quad, only not looking up with a someplacefar-away face, but head-on. I want the frontier.

64

KKK

KKKKKKKK

MEMENTO
I cut off all my hair and kept a lock in a rubber band
and told my parents I would mail it to them and they
were on the same phone line in different rooms when
I told them this meant I wasnt a woman anymore
and Dad said that was just my opinion and Mom
cleared her throat in that way that she did when
she already knew something and all the while I was
holding the hair in my hand so I could remember
what it might sound like and when I hung up I
halved the strands and smoothed both pieces into
nautilus shells around my finger and fossilized each
as two black glass brooches like Victorian mourning
jewelry austere because it came from an era which
made grieving a science based on calculations of time
as both tonic and tincture and the note I slipped
in the package for my folks said the jewelry would
show they bore the weight of a ghost and whether or
not they wore it would tell how many children they
really thought they lost with my haircut so they left
the brooches on display out of sight until the glass on
one shattered from a short fall to the floor and in the
moments before it was interrupted by the broom
the hair lay still in its spiral moving further from
its origin with each turn in on itself and after its
pieces were discarded its twin remained canonized
a fractal just setting out on a curve.

65

after

THIS CONNECTION OF EVERYONE WITH


LUNGS

by Juliana Spahr
Theres an outside and an inside and an in between
and there are maps and veins and there is circulation and
I would love to love your blood and this bed where
we keep our world but

here you go, here we go, here it is
with the other space,

the other space which is always in our bed
because remember?
Remember sitting on that chair, in class so attentive,
and the splinters

the splinters were from San Quentin
Remember when we could slide those tokens in their
slot because our money is good

now that Caitlyn is out
Remember how we loved that Drake track
and that hot line brought us together and our wire
synapses lit,

sparked and hes all cute

telling someone how to live her life

that she doesnt know herself because

she used to call him on his
66

And remember this is just a snapshot



and remember this is just this week

and remember how angry we are

and we dont want to be, we dont want to be,

we dont want to be angry or tired
And remember, remember how were connected with
space
and time and dust and we have to believe that
and when we saw those grown-ass adults
lets call them kids because theyre everywhere, they multiply
and theyre taking photos

in the back of a squad car on 16th St. and it was
funny,

it was so fucking funny
And remember
Remember when we thought about this, our lungs,
space
kept our feet on the ground, thought of our sheets
thought of everyone in our sheets
Remember
Remember when we wanted to be good

So we thought about everyone

Then we gave up

Ka r Joh nson

67

PETITE GRENADE
This is how you carry your friend made of teeth.
This is how you calm her when she tells you shes a
wolf. This is how she bites back at your wrist. This
is how ducklings imprint onto who or what. This is
how you stroke her hair in your lap. This is how you
story away her hangover. This is how she asks what
happened next. This is how you talk to her parents
on the phone. This is how you talk to her parents
when they havent seen her in weeks. This is how
you open her wine again. This is how you block out
the sun. This is how her clocks align. This is what
bedsprings sound like. This is why consciousness
has a body. This is how her chest vibrates from the
inside. This is how you place her in your palm. This
is how you call her pomegranate in French. This is
how seeds burst into wishes in her wake. This is how
she looks barefoot on the highway. This is how you
rope her back. This is how you promise to burn her
journals. This is how you prevent her from being a
sance. This is why she cares for you. This is how you
start at the beginning.

68

D
DD

DDDDDDDDDDDD

DD

S UIT O R

When he speaks, the words fall out of his mouth


strung together with steel chain-links like the tether
for a pitbull.
-You-look-really-good-tonight-, he says.
-Where-does-your-family-live-and-do-you-have-anybrothers-or-sisters-?, he spits into his hands. The bar
is dark, but you can see the silhouette of his throat
through the shadows. His Adams apple bobs as the
words roll up. He coughs them into his palm.
The man notices you staring. He smiles coyly and
sips his drink to avoid eye contact. His sigh is a warm
whiskey kiss on the tip of your nose.
-Sorry-, he says.
Dont be, you say.
-Thank-you-. The two words fall onto his lap.
He scoops it into his hand with the others.
Sentences sit in his large fist like piles of bracelets.
He holds them out, palms up, a bowl of him. The
69

metal reflects a dull glint from the bars neon lights.


Around you, men are chattering and ordering more
beer. Through the speakers above, a voice is singing
about falling in love on a Friday. It is a Tuesday night.
He is unlike the other gay men youve been chatting
with online. Those flakey boys from GrindR, those
removed hookups on Adam4Adam, and self-absorbed
gym queens on Scruff.
Youve had a string of bad luck lately. Last week you
went out with a musician who couldnt stop boasting
about himself between bites of pasta. Trust me, he
said, Im internet famous. Before him was a man who
claimed you would love his lake house outside of
Yosemite, the rental he owns on Maui, and how he
found himself in India over the summer, you really
should go sometime. Everything these men said felt
like moats they were building around themselves.
Their words came out unchained and existing only as
noise.
But this man is different. He is listening intently
to what you have to say; he even reflects your own
questions back at you. He has hazel eyes and no
wrinkles yet.
-I-went-to-school-out-east-, he says. -What-about-you-?
-What-is-it-that-you-like-about-being-a-case-worker-?

70

He shares so little about himself that you take to filling


in the gaps with what you can observethe tone of
his voice, his different facial expressions, his body
language. You understand who he is in generalized
terms, vague but a welcomed relief: he is kind, he is
patient, he likes to laugh, he doesnt drive a car, hes
athletic, he doesnt care about money.
-You-use-to-perform-in-your-high-school-choir-,
repeats after you.

he

When his hands are full, he loads the chains into the
pockets of his coat. When those pockets fill, he piles
them onto the bar counter.
-Here-why-dont-you-wear-this-?
He holds out the sentence to you. At the end of the
chain is a small padlock, dangling like an opened
charm. He uses it to close the loop around your wrist
when you hold your hand out.
He pulls out -I-dont-really-go-out-anymore- and
-Should-I-get-us-another-round-? from his pockets and clasps them around your
biceps, a pair of heavy metal armbands.
-How-would-you-like-to-come-back-to-my-place-andfinish-the-

Danny Th anh Ng u y e n

71

-night-there-? he takes from his mouth and drapes


around your neck. The chain is warm from the heat
of his insides.
Sure, you say. You notice you are now a little dizzy.
Either from the drinks or his words or possibly both.
He clicks the padlock closed around your neck and
it sits on your sternum. You dont own necklaces or
scarves, so wearing this collar feels unfamiliar to you.
It itches, but its weight is full of gravity and comfort.
You feel protected wearing it, looked after. You reach
up to touch the padlock and think you are the worlds
sexiest storage unit.
Soon you are making out in a taxi headed to his
neighborhood up the hills in the center of the city.
Between kisses, you rattle the chain-links to make sure
you are really there. You are normally shy and going
home with a man you have just met is not like you. His
words jangle against your skin like rain.
When you step into his apartment, his lips and hands
are all over you. You both stumble towards his room
between gasps for air. Streetlamps beam through
the windows, making bent squares of light along the
hallway walls. You peel off his shirt and drop it to the
floor. You wrap your arms around him. He presses
the fur on his chest against yours. The image of the
wolfman bubbles up like a comic book thoughtof
animal instincts and earthiness wearing jeans and a
72

pair of Converses while groping you.


When he pins your wrist against the headboard above
your head, act surprised. Breathe out a soft gasp of
excitement.
-Are-you-okay-? he kisses into your mouth. You almost
gag from his words slipping onto your tongue. You
swallow them whole and continue kissing him further
and deeper, because physics dictates that you must
obey the laws of momentum. Playfully push back with
your wrists in his hands.
He says, -You-are-so-fucking-sexy-you-know-that-?
and -Im-very-glad-we-finally-got-to-meet-up-tonight.
He gathers them from his mouth and makes a matching
pair of cuffs for your ankles.
He adds more words, more chains, adorning you from
head to toe until you feel anchored to his bed, which
is where youve wanted to be all night, havent you?
As he explores your body, you tense your arms and
thighs, appreciating how your muscles strain against
his sentences. When the orgasm comes, your bodies
shudder and buck. You both make guttural sounds like
youre prayers to some primal god of thunder.
If you werent wrapped up in so much metal, you could
just lift away right there. You would glide along the
ceiling, out a cracked window, past antennas on roofs
and cable wires on poles, out into an icy midnight
Danny Th anh Ng u y e n

73

wind that cocoons you above a city that is lit up and


dreaming.
-You-are-amazing-.
When he finally speaks, you float back down into
your body again. You are tangled in sheets and words,
cuddled by a man you hardly know. You notice how
heavy his head is, resting on your chest. The curls of
his hair tickle your cheek. You smell of sweat and the
iron insides of a hardware store.
-Would-you-like-to-spend-the-night-?, he asks.
This invitation surprises you. You dont want to
respond, so you begin petting him instead. As if you
can sooth away your newfound discomfort in this
manner. The skin on his back is smooth against your
palm. His neck has a small rounded mole and fine
brown fuzz at the nape.
Shhh, you coo, petting. Shhh.
-Id-like-to-see-you-again-, he says. He pulls this string
of words from his lips and lays it on your stomach by
your navel. You cant see the chain from where youre
lying, head on pillow, but its coated in saliva like a wet
fat worm.
You distract yourself by looking around his room,
filling in the gaps of who he must be based upon his
74

possessions. A small flatscreen TV, a bookshelf, street


signs mounted on the wall, two antique dressers, an
old framed photo of him in a boyscout uniform with
his hand help up, pinky finger pinned down by his
thumb.
-I-think-I-might-love-you-, he blurts out.
And you are now seized by an urge to take flight. The
need to get the hell out of here is vast, sweeping. You
figure you will excuse yourself to the bathroom. You
will wash your face and call for a ride. You will put on
your clothes in the dark and tell him you had a great
time.
I need to pee, you say. And as you sit up, you notice
how light the chains are. They feel suddenly brittle.
You hold up your left arm and shake it. The -Whatkind-of-movies-do-you-like-? around your wrist clinks
weakly. You dont mean to reach up and pluck at the
padlock around you neck; you just want to test its hold.
But when you pull, the links break. They all break
the halo of words on your head, the cuffed sentiments
up and down your limbseverything crumbles like
chalky, hollowed out nickels.
The air is now thick with metallic dust and debris.
You both cough.
When everything settles, your bodies are covered
Danny Th anh Ng u y e n

75

in powdery rust and words disconnected from their


context: made, cool, bakery, guys, running, buses, grab,
pups. The lone word And is sticking to the side of the
mans shoulder like a meaningless clue.
It is not until you glimpse into his face that you notice
him wearing a muted wide-eyed look of shame. The
room is cold. For the first time tonight, you are truly
naked. And even though there is nothing holding you
there, you find yourself unable to move.

76

EEEEEEE

S A F E T Y FI RS T
Sometimes good things happen, youre fortunate,
opportunities appear. Youve been invited to St.
Petersburg Russia to participate in their annual gay
film festival. Youve seen the videos of queers being
beaten and arrested for waving rainbow flags and
though you consider yourself an activist you dont
want to be dragged off by goons in fur hats. And
now that youre older with titanium knees you have
comrades watching when you walk down steps, just
in case you stumble. You appreciate their concern
but decide to go to St. Petersburg anyway and assure
them that youll practice your old backpacking mantra,
Safety First and someone will say Yes, but if you
hadnt been a backpacker you would still have your
original knees and youll say Well, yes, thats a point.
This is how you find yourself walking through the
frozen Russian November air that cracks like a mirror
with every step. Your sunglasses are too cold to wear
and the bright white sky has no warmth and you squint
as youre led along by the young festival volunteer.
Her name is Olga and shes become your constant
companion. She watches you, like your comrades
back home, as you take those first steps down into
77

the deepest subway station in the world.


The festival organizers have been warned that there
may be trouble at tonights screening of the lesbian
coming-out drama Blue Is the Warmest Colour. Its
showing at a mainstream cinema, and the time and
place has been well advertised. The authorities suggest
it would be better to cancel the film than risk harm to
the audience. The organizers refuse. You try to imagine
what it would be like to walk through an angry crowd
who might be throwing things at you. You ask Olga
if shes afraid and she says Worried, but not afraid.
And, she adds, Ive brought this for us. She opens a
big black umbrella.
As you wait on the massive museum-like station
platform youve got that tight feeling in your stomach.
Youve had this feeling before: pissing blood the night
your appendix burst, crushing your finger in a printing
press, telling your mother youre gay, marching in the
1972 Christopher Street parade in New York City,
the first time you saw a mans chest covered with KS
lesions, that flight on the way to Hawaii when the
planes engine blew up and there was an emergency
landing at SFO where everyone had to take their shoes
off and put theirs heads in their laps, the three times
youve had a gun pointed at you, when the bear came
roaring into your camp in the Lost Canyon, and of
course being rolled through the hospital corridors to
have your knees replaced.

78

Its dark when you both come up from underground


into a neighborhood Olga doesnt recognize. She
pulls out her cell phone and calls for directions to
the theatre while you stand shivering from the cold
and anticipation. Olga says, We are close, and then
leads the way through the dark streets until you
come out onto a busy avenue. You can see the cinema,
a multiplex theater like any other, except theres a
large number of policemen out front and a group
of people chanting behind them. As you get closer
you see those in the crowd with cameras and videos
photographing everyone going into the theatre. You
also see a young man standing in a doorway; hes
painting his fingernails bright red.
Olga readies her umbrella as you pass by the crowd.
Several women are yelling at you and holding up Bibles.
Olga translates: We have sold our souls to the Devil.
When we get to the entrance a gigantic policeman
takes Olgas bag and looks into it. You empty your
pockets and then step into a lobby full of brave queers.
The crowd is mostly women. Theres a long line
to check coats before going up to the counter and
ordering a bright blue drink you think is in honor
of the film. Several young dykes have dyed their hair
blue as well. Youre relieved to have gotten into the
theatre without something being thrown at you. Olga
introduces you to several people, tells them youre
from San Francisco and will be attending the week
long festival. You shake lots of hands.
Ed Wolf

79

The lobby lights flash and the crowd enters the theatre.
Its large, full of stylish sofas on increasingly higher
levels, stadium style. Each seats two people and you
find the perfect spot where you can stick your long
legs out into the aisle. Olga sits next to you while
listening to the British Consulate to St. Petersburg
welcome everyone. The lights dim, the film begins.
The soundtrack is in French and the subtitles in
Russian so you wont be able to understand whats
being said, but the film is gorgeous to look at and
you settle in to do the best you can. The couches are
comfortable and you start to drift off.
Suddenly there are loud voices, lights come on, doors
thrown open. Policemen with fur hats the color of
their German shepherds run in shouting. Olga leans
over. They say theres a bomb and we need to leave
immediately. The audience calmly forms one line and
heads into the lobby. Olga says this a typical strategy
of the authorities: disrupting queer films with bomb
threats. As you wait to get your coat you can see
through the windows out onto the street. The people
with cameras are still there, waiting to photograph
everyone as they leave. But others have joined them
and they look back at you through the glass, gesturing
for you to come outside. Their smiles are terrifying;
you feel that tightness in your belly again. One of the
blue-haired dykes leaves the coat check line and stands
in front of the window, facing the crowd outside. The
group presses forward, encouraging her to come out.
80

She stands there and flashes her middle fingers.


You retrieve your coat, a policeman shouts. Olga says,
Hes telling us we cant go out the front doors where
the crowd waits for us. Were led instead through
the rear of the cinema, into a small back courtyard
surrounded by tall dark buildings. Everything is
locked; there is no way out except through the front
doors of the theatre.
Everyone is cold and tense and you can hear the crowd
still screaming that we are sinners. Olga says checking
for bombs could take several hours. You find some steps
to sit on, can feel the frozen concrete immediately, but
its better than standing on your metal knees; theyre
beginning to ache. You wonder if titanium can freeze.
You remember your promise to your comrades back
home: Safety First! And now, here you are, trapped.
You can no longer run and theres no place to hide. You
want a cigarette for the first time in 25 years.
The young man with the red nail polish comes over
and gestures you to follow him. He leads you into a
dark alley which ends at a metal gate. Its locked with
a chain but when he pulls it back, theres just enough
room to squeeze through. He pulls it forward for you,
but you need to find Olga. You hold it for him and he
escapes. He looks back at you, makes a V sign with
his fingers, and disappears.
You go back to the courtyard, tell Olga about the gate
Ed Wolf

81

and she spreads the word. The crowd moves down the
narrow alley and takes turns pulling the gate open for
one another. When its your turn you slip through
onto the street. Its a dead end. Olga says theres no
way to go but out onto the main avenue where the
theatre entrance is. Two blocks beyond will be an
entrance to the subway.
You stand outside the gate with the others. You watch
as they turn onto the main street in groups of two or
three; they move slowly, dont draw attention. You and
Olga follow. The threatening crowd is moving on; its
late, its cold, theyre losing interest. And then youre
all walking along together, audience and protesters,
heading towards the warmth of the subway.
You and Olga reach the station and head down to
the platform. The danger is over. Olga gives you her
subway map, shows you how to get from the red line
to the blue to the green. Her train comes, she hugs
you, says shell see you at tomorrows screening. When
your train comes, you easily get a seat.
Its late and youre tired. The angry mob, the bomb scare,
the fear, the relief. Youre glad nothing was thrown at
you, but theres still the week ahead. How will you stay
safe? Dont travel alone, carry an umbrella, stay calm,
hold the gate for one another, blend in on the street
when you can.
You cant run but you can still walk.
82

Subscribe q u i e t l i gh t n i n g . o rg

info + updates + video of every reading


Read quietlightning.org/sparkle-blink

every past show

Scene l i tseen . co m

calendar + reviews + interviews + purviews

Also by Quiet Lightning


quietlightning.org/books

by

Breast Milk
tupelo hassman

if you want to be one of them


playing in the streets
by zack haber

- february 7, 2016 -

Related Interests