This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
a monthly submission-based reading series with 2 stipulations:
1. you have to commit to the date to submit 2. you only get up to 8 minutes
sub scr i b e
1 year + 12 issues + 12 shows for $100
i e t q u
l i g h t n i n g
sparkle + blink 4.0
© 2012 Quiet Lightning ISBN 978-1-300-10313-4 cover art © Todd Brown toddthomasbrown.com edited by Evan Karp evankarp.com 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.
su bmit @ qui e tli g h tn i n g . o r g
curated by Ceri Bevan & Kristen Kramer featured artist Todd Brown
The Sound a Rocket Makes When It Blasts Off Into Outer Space 1 The best relationship of my life might have only existed in my head and ended when i was still a kid 7 Blue 10 Far off Place Mythical Beasts Unfuck the World Opportunity Knocks Lost in Anatolia Sunday Afternoon in Mid August Bones Fins 11 13 15 21 27 31 33 36 39 43 49
john Panzer Matt LeiBeL saqiB Mausoof MichaeL PaLMer ManjuLa Martin
rosaLeen BertoLino The Time Collector chris Peck sean tayLor
The Myth of Mystikal Sings us Both to Sleep
sor • spon
ed in part by •
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 founder + president Chris Cole managing director Josey Duncan public relations Charles Kruger secretary Meghan Thornton treasurer Kristen Kramer chair Nicole McFeely Brandon Loberg outreach design
Sarah Maria Griffin and Ceri Bevan directors of special operations If you live in the Bay Area and are interested in helping—on any level—please send us a line: email@example.com
n it B L a
s o un d a R o Cket M a k e s e
aC st s o f f in t o o u t e R s p
It was a night like this, right? One just like this. The night sky, a thin knit scarf over a swath of white stars. Chilly breezes rolling through the hills like waves, like waves. Splish splash, splish splash go the waves (and the wind). I’m so cold I have to huddle next to Chris. We take turns rubbing the chill out of each other’s arms. “It was a night just like this,” the old man says, the smack of toothless gums pulling apart. “What was?” “The greatest night of my life.” “Oh, yeah?” Chris and I both lean onto the picnic table, into the old man’s words. “I went to Harvard, you know. I had just graduated.” Yeah. Yep. Oh, we know. “It was the same summer I worked with Frank Lloyd Wright. We were designing picture frames, but I also worked with these inner city kids, smart kids.
I mean they were some of the smartest god damned kids I’d ever met, and they lived crazy lives, lives similar to mine. Maybe that’s why I liked them so much. Kids from broken homes. Daddies that beat the shit out of them. Hookers for moms. Fucked up stuff.” “No kidding.” I take a swig from the malt liquor, a big swig. Gulp, gulp, gulp. The last gulp gets stuck in my throat that way that drinks get stuck in my throat. “But these kids were smart, real math geniuses, like that movie. You know, the one with the math genius.” “Rain man?” Chris says, and he rubs the chill out of my arm. He sips from the malt liquor too, a smaller sip. “No, not the one with the retard. Forget it. Anyways, this is before I was a millionaire, before I was this rich.” He tugs at the collar of his army surplus jacket. “I told these poor, many of them Black, ten-year-olds, I said, you can work on anything you want. I figured since their daddies and mommies were all shit, I might as well give them something to work towards. They told me they wanted to go to outer space.” The old man sweeps his hand across the sky from one treetop to the next. “Can you believe it? Outer space.” (We can’t, even though it’s up there, inviting us, and
everyone wants to go to space at least once in their lives.) “So I’m like, let’s do it. Problem was I didn’t know the first thing about building a spaceship. I knew about picture frames. I knew about collegiate bullshit, but Harvard didn’t train me to build a rocket. I told the kids they had to design it, and they did. They built a big ass spaceship I mean they were NASA smart. Anyways, in a few weeks, these kids had built an eighty-foot rocket. It was like from that tree over there to the end of this table. Can you imagine?” (We can.) And Chris does that thing where he takes a sip of malt liquor to suppress his laughter, but then the booze gets stuck in his nose, and it makes my nose itch just thinking about it. The old man takes in the size of the rocket and eats a spoonful of beans. The wind tickles the branches of the redwoods. A raccoon knocks over a trashcan, and the old man takes a scratch or two at his beard. “So then,” he says, beans falling out of his mouth, mashed by his gums. “We had this rocket, from here to that tree that’s how long it was, and we had to launch it. So we bought enough gas for the thing, and we decided to let one of the black kids steer it. This was during the seventies so it was a big deal racially.” Beans keep falling out of his mouth, raining from his gums, and I want to tell him, Stop, take some time to chew (or mash or whatever) your food before you speak, but I keep quiet.
Ma rcu s Lu nd
He continues, “The Santa Monica pier turned out to be the best place to launch the rocket, so we set up a launch date, late in the night. We didn’t have permission or anything. I told them they should invite their families, but no one showed up, not a one. We snuck the thing onto the pier. We set it up. We do the countdown. I am just praying that this thing doesn’t explode and kill all the kids. I had no idea if it was going to fly or what. It was a beautiful night just like this. One of those nights where the stars are begging you to explore them.” More beans fall out of his mouth. I grab Chris’s arm and lean into him, my ear on his shoulder. A brief moment of silence, only the old man’s fork scraping against his can of beans. “But the thing doesn’t blow up, it takes off. The black boy who was the pilot came back and said it was gorgeous. He said he saw the pyramids and the Great Wall of China. It was all up there. He drew me a picture but the picture was no good because he was only ten. He said it was really cold too.” “Wow,” I say. “Yeah, wow. The pilot should have been on the cover of TIME goddamn magazine. Instead, I got the FBI following me. They were pissed. I always have the FBI following me.” He shakes his head. I can’t believe it. We thank the old man for the story and go back to
our tent. I bring the malt liquor with us. We lie on our backs and stare up through the mesh ceiling. Chris starts laughing and laughing and laughing. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. The lantern shudders. I sip from the malt liquor and it dribbles down my chin. Chris is out of breath. The redwoods sway around us, laughing themselves. “A black,” Chris pants. “Inner city kid,” he says. “launching a rocket.” He’s running low on breath. “He built.” He chokes. “In a few weeks.” He has the hiccups. “From the Santa Monica pier.” No breath. (He’s dying.) Tears turn to waterfalls and Chris’s laughter floods our tent. I need to/want to/have to get out, so I laugh, too, and it is not long before, I’m in that rocket, blasting off, the earth below me, getting smaller and smaller. Chris’s laughter chases me. It’s not so cold. I may not be an inner city Black kid, but I am a roaming gay boy. The planet looks like a small desk globe from up here, so small I could flick it into the next galaxy. Yeah, I have that power. Maybe I will.
Ma rcu s Lu nd
fe Mig Best ReLationship of My Li ead ht h yh and e ave onLy existed in M kid nded When i Was stiLL a
Dad said to pick anywhere, I remember. Anywhere, really! This is how a date should be, he said. I said, Mom, Dad is going to take Diego and I on separate dates to teach us how dates should be. How boys should treat their dates. And he said we can pick anywhere, anywhere at all! Aren’t you proud of him? I thought I saw a flicker of appreciation, but she knew too much that I still didn’t. Where are you going to go? is all she asked. At Chevy’s, Dad said, Wait! Wait!, rushed over and pulled out my chair. “You just stand there and WAIT if they don’t pull the chair out, M’ija. He’ll get it unless he’s a bonehead, and if he’s a bonehead, you don’t want him. Bonehead, he better not be a bonehead because I’ll beat him.” He pushed my chair in with me on it and explained to the waitress, “I’m teaching her what to expect on a date.” “Can I get you anything to drink?” she asked. “Water’s good,” I said.
“No, no, M’ija. Get something you want.” I smile at him, uncertain. “You don’t worry about price on a date,” he said. “A virgin strawberry daiquiri?” He nods approvingly. “Just a water for me.” The waitress leaves. “I don’t have to get fancy drinks, Dad.” “You don’t think about that on a date. Let the guy think about it. If he doesn’t have enough money, he skimps on his meal, not yours.” Dad looks at me, isn’t satisfied with my expression. “I’m serious, M’ija! You order EXACTLY what you want and it better be expensive! Steak? You got it! Lobster? Shooot! Anything for my princess.” I am excited by his fervor for this game. “You better be careful. I’m going to order shrimp fajitas AND dessert.” “That’s right you are! Shooot. My baby is gonna get wined and dined!” He picks up his menu, reads the prices, jokes: “I’ll just have chips.” This makes me laugh and I drag out his name, giddy and speechless. “So, this is the part where the guy asks all about you and PAYS ATTENTION. He better be listening and looking at you. You only! Oh wait he starts with a compliment. He should’ve been complimenting you already. You look beautiful.”
“Thanks?” “You’re welcome. What about me?” “You look nice too?” “Como que ‘Nice’? These boots are made of alligator!” “They are not!” I giggle. “Not the point! Be impressed back, M’ija. Guys will put a lot of time into looking good for you— unless they’re boneheads—and they need to be complimented too.” “Those are sweet alligator boots, Date.” “Andale!” he chuckles. “And this shirt?” “Daaaad!” “Oh look at you, a smart one! Shooot. The guy doesn’t go fishing for compliments. Did I tell you you look very beautiful in that dress? So, what kind of things do you like to do?” “I think I like going on dates.” Dad sucks a big breath of air through his teeth. “Oooooh no.”
Mi qu i La a Le jandre
Blue eyes are illuminating. Certain people were born blessed or cursed with their souls upon their faces. Reddened cheeks indicate embarrassment. Dad’s eyes glowed the day he cried and apologized for choosing drugs over his family. Months before, when Auntie found drugs hidden in Grandma’s house, his eyes were gray. “Everyone used to say he had such pretty blue eyes,” she thought as he stammered lies about not knowing there were drugs in the garage, “but they aren’t even blue.” Justin’s eyes are blue, but that day on the hillside, toes planted in mud and our naked bodies ornamenting a view already perfect, it was as though he had been given two little circles of sky to hold within his own body. After pinning him on the grass, I held his eyelids wider between my fingers. What a perfect blue! I said out loud. That day you were happy. One of the happiest days of our lives.
faR off pLaCe
I am writing to you from a far off place And I can’t quite remember How I arrived Surely delivered Through a series of transportation devices And monetary transactions I didn’t think I’d miss you. Still I ache, full of regret I am writing to you from a far off place I am sorry it has taken this distance in time and space And the loss of your existence And your presence, inhaling, exhaling on earth To understand The soul-cracking details which led me to where I am And where you are not. I am writing to you from a far off place A place of finally understanding Of letting it dissolve But still grasping and clawing At anything And everything
That reminds me that you did, in fact, exist. Your high school yearbooks, photographs Your old Jimmy Cliff album and of course Our daughter I am writing to you from a far off place And want you to know we are OK Your old t-shirt, A ten-year-old’s nightgown Your sixth grade science report on manatees, A treasured part of the family library Your gross tongue-ring Where you left it In a glass jar of pennies That I save For a rainy day.
Fill in the pages of the Mythical Beast Coloring Book that I bought at the craft store. Draw out insecurities worries fears regrets. Catalog them along with the creatures of imagination. Color them in the pages following centaurs and dragons and unicorns and beasts. They are just shadows not barriers between your heart and mine.
dani Bu rLi son
u n f u C k th e W o R L d
My family was born under the flag of Red Sox Nation. We’re constantly playing baseball. All the guys throw and catch everything perfectly. Cans of beer, pens, glasses full of wine, babies, plants, books, lit blow torches, tools, broken glass, fish, freshly shot game, and everything at the grocery store. When my Dad was a boy, he stood across the 25-foot kitchen in my grandparent’s house as his father tossed him the dinner dishes to put away after they were washed and dried. Four plates, four knives, four forks, each glass – tossed carefully through the air, for my father to catch and put away on the sideboard. Maybe thirty items every night. My grandmother was furious when the dish tossing began and stood stone-faced washing the dishes at the sink, handing them to my grandfather to dry waiting for a dish to drop. 9 years and 65,000 dishes later, my father left home having enlisted in the Navy. He and my grandfather never dropped a dish. My grandmother loved to recount this story to me over and over again with New England family pride. When I came out as gay to my family, it was the dish that hit the floor. They looked at me like I was dropping all 65,000 of them.
1 Years later, my mother called to invite Toshi and me to Thanksgiving dinner. It had been a few years since I had attended a family event. Mom finally figured out I wasn’t coming home until my boyfriend was included. My dad, a retired WWII veteran, picked up the phone and asked me to explain karma, he seemed bewildered by my explanation but happy we were coming. Ensconced in my parent’s very Norman Rockwell living room with coffee, my father asked Toshi, “Where are you from?” “Nagoya, Japan,” Toshi replied. “Oh yes, Nagoya,” my father responded. “Oh,” Toshi inquired, “you know Nagoya?” “Yes,” my father said, “Nagoya was the next target for the atomic bomb.” I felt my self implode. We’ve been in my parent’s house exactly seven minutes with my Japanese boyfriend and we’re at the atomic bomb. My mother, in her red Christmas sweater with little reindeer, sipped her coffee, turned to me, and without skipping a beat said, “This is going well.”
ii Jamie was blond-haired Italian. We were on our way to his parent’s home in New Rochelle for his sister’s wedding. We arrived to what looked like the wedding scene from The Godfather. Large estate, exceptional
wealth, hundreds of people, and obvious surprise in my eyes, to which Jamie replied, “Honey, can we please talk about this later, just don’t be left alone with my father.” A little later came the red leather chairs, dark woods, ceiling-high bookshelves in the library with glasses of scotch and Jamie’s father. I look around to see that Jamie wasn’t there just then, and everyone else had busied themselves away, so I stood to go introduce myself. “Please, have a seat,” Jamie’s father offers/ commands, as he refills my scotch with gentlemanly grace. As I sit down on a handsome couch the color of inquisition, he sits in a high-backed chair across from me. With a coffee table between us, he takes a sip of his scotch, looks at me and says, “So, you’re the guy my son is fucking.” I was so hurt. It hit me sharp in the chest. Shame, hurt, anger; trapped here, and challenged. I could feel the burn well up inside me as I looked down at my glass. I loved Jamie very much; I treated him like I loved him. I didn’t want to behave inappropriately, and at the same time, I wanted to unfuck the world for or maybe with this guy. I took a measured breath, and a sip of scotch, looked up – right in his eyes and said: “No, sir, I’m the guy that’s fucking your son.”
joh n Panze r
iii Peter went by three names. Ba, his Vietnamese name, but his Mother, who was coming for Christmas to meet me, called him, “Tut.” Peter was his chosen English name to spare himself the hurt of annoying Americans with his real name that doesn’t register in their Christian databank of names like Mary and David. A Christmas Eve visit to my family with Ba went better than the Toshi visit. My Father gave me a table saw this Christmas; I think the idea was to butch me up a little bit. “Thanks Dad, now I can build a dollhouse from scratch!” Ba and I returned home to exchange Christmas gifts before his mother arrived. His gift to me was five new shower curtains he found at the dollar store. In the morning, as we’re both getting ready for work, we’re in the bathroom together for our morning routine. I like to re-enact Janet Leigh in the shower scene from Psycho. I grab onto the shower curtain with vacant eyes and rip it down - as I collapse to the bottom of the tub, like I’m being stabbed to death. I lay there draped in the shower curtain with the water raining down on my open dead eyes staring at him. The key to really selling it is to keep your eyes open and not blink with the water showering in them. He’s at the sink, naked smooth masculine loving powerful beautiful, brushing his teeth. He glances over at me, rolls his eyes, turns back to the mirror and keeps brushing his teeth unfazed. It’s like the 5th time I’ve done this - he’s so over it.
I climb out of the shower, come in behind him and wrap us together in a big towel, kissing him behind his ear with how much I love him. “John,” he says seriously, “I have to go to work this morning - my mother has never really gotten over the Vietnam War, she doesn’t really like white people, can you pick her up at the train station for me?” “Sure, honey.” My dad called me after the holidays: “John, I think I got this karma thing,” he said, almost excited. “Is the fact that I fought in World War II, killed Japanese, and have a son that brought home a Japanese boyfriend… is that karma?” “You got it dad.”
joh n Panze r
o p p o Rt
u n it y k n o C k s
Do not apply unless you have met all of the following: QUALIFICATIONS: a college degree, from a good college, an accredited college, a college, ideally, that someone here in upper management attended, good grades, you never cheated, you never panicked and sneaked a peek at the class genius’ test when the professor was gazing philosophically out the window, you never drank seven shots of Jägermeister while wearing a lobster bib on a frat house roof the night before a final, you were never distracted from a lecture by a steely-eyed redhead in cutoff denim shorts with hair draped down to her ass on a crisp, sunny spring afternoon, you always had your mind firmly focused on the FUTURE, you never deviated from the course that would optimally obfuscate your weaknesses, that would affirmatively augment your resume, you never did anything without thinking of the long term consequences, you never did anything so egregious and/or naughty that it went on your PERMANENT RECORD (since, as you suspected, it really was permanent and we really do have a copy); five to fifteen years experience in the exact field we are looking for, or a related field, and we don’t mean tangentially related, like you happened to use the same brain to perform your tasks, but integral21
ly related, like so close to the exact field we’re looking for that you know all the lingo, the language, the way we talk, all the sophisticated, futuristic acronyms, the self-important and bombastic way we spout out these esoteric terms we use so as to WOW the layman into a sense of tranquilized, doe-eyed SUBMISSION, to hypnotize and numb the consumer into shelling out big bucks for our services, or our goods, or what have you, or finally, we’d be willing to accept as a substitute, experience in some other field, a field we’d never thought of, a field we’re sure to love, a field that, frankly, should be so dramatic, life-affirming and world-changing that it should make us want to work for YOU, and barring any of these things you need a near-psychic level of anticipation, you need to know what we’re going to want from you before we even want it, you need to know all of upper management’s SHOE SIZES, you need to know what number I’m thinking of RIGHT NOW, your entire existence should be dedicated to finding ways to anticipate and pre-empt our needs, our voids, and if necessary, to void our overfilled minds and replace them with your own VISIONARY MUSIC (it is up to you to tell us exactly what that means, because we certainly don’t know and are looking for, ideally, someone who does); ATTRIBUTES: You need to be a go-getter—if you see an opportunity, you need to have the courage and initiative to go out and grab it, preferably within seconds, or minutes, if you’re a bit slow (just that once); you also need to create your own opportunities, find them in the margins, in the spaces between,
under the couch cushions, between the pages of a book, behind the folds of the curtain; alternatively, you should be prepared to admit your own passivity, your lack of go-getterness, your fatal sloth (and you should know that sloth is one of the seven deadly sins and you should be able to reel off the others in rapid succession, and to provide real-world examples of same on command) and you must be willing to admit your own deficiencies (in rare cases of failure) publicly, on an office intercom system if necessary, you need to be willing to humiliate yourself in front of the company for the first and each subsequent MISTAKE which you either actually commit or are blamed for, by CONSENSUS (and you, yourself, must be brave, honest and conciliatory enough to FORM that consensus); you must be a TEAM PLAYER who, at the same time, knows how to work individually and you must both recognize and embrace the inherent contradiction between these two poles; you must be able to work well with others, and we mean others, all others, including those very different from yourself; for instance, we have this guy who eats only chocolate pudding for lunch, and he doesn’t use a spoon or any silverware as a matter of fact, and he refuses to wash his face, which, as you might surmise, has had this kind of pudding-mustache-thing caked onto it ever since the late Nineties, and you need to be able to work closely with this man (a TOTAL GENIUS, by the way) without ever mentioning this to him UNLESS it is brought up to you first in which case you are to offer him a new chocolate pudding IN
Mat t Le i Be L
COMPLETE SILENCE (this is very important both to our stability as an organization and to YOURS as a potential employee); you must always be a polished speaker and have a pleasant demeanor for clients: the answer to “How are you today?” must always be “Fine and dandy!” and not “My son broke his hip sliding into third.”; we cannot have pessimists on our team—they fuck up everything; if you MUST be pessimistic during the day we have a special room dedicated for this purpose, the Rage Room, but we cannot (and I mean this in a strict, LEGAL sense) be responsible for anything which transpires in there, including but not limited to screaming, kicking, biting, and cursing (further, we require that you not disseminate any NASTY RUMORS you might hear about the alleged mass tie-strangulation suicide of ’04); but the very SECOND you come out of the rage room we expect you to once again revert instantaneously to your upbeat, optimistic, profit-affirming self, or we will fire your ass so fast you won’t even have a chance to wave good-bye without risking having your HAND chopped off by the door; we also require you to be professional in appearance, no beards, no goatees, no tennis shoes, no hair dyed green, no sideways baseball caps, no SCREW WORK T-shirts, no snake-crawling-up-a-tree tattoos on your ass (for men) or your left breast (for women), except on Irony Day, the third Tuesday of each month when all of these things are REQUIRED attire and should be no cause for alarm; basically, we are looking for someone with the guts and gumption to join an organization
that is soaring to new heights, moving in a thousand thrilling directions at once, and which is preparing, brick by brick, to rebuild the very face of the world in its own forward-thinking image. If you think you’ve got what it takes, TO APPLY, please send us the following items by e-mail, snail mail, phone, FAX, or via the Zen practice of moving objects using only the supreme concentration powers of your mind: A RESUME, detailing your previous work experience, your skills, your accomplishments (please list Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes separately), your goals, your aspirations, your global vision for the next century, your Social Security Number, a list of your favorite breakfast cereals, the keys to your car, and a lip imprint of the first person outside your family who you ever kissed; FIVE WRITING SAMPLES, to be varied (please include, but do not limit yourself to, such things as novels, treatises, mythological epics, evangelical harangues, political manifestoes, intricate trigonometric proofs and love letters in the style of the Romantic Poets); further topics may range from History of Incan Competitive Sport to How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck if a Woodchuck Could Chuck Wood? (please round answers to the nearest kilogram, and show all work); A LIST OF REFERENCES, at least seventy-three, to be selected from among the following: supervisors, co-workers, family, friends, family friends, friendly families, shaggy dogs, babysitters, roofers, innkeepers, beekeepers, wicketkeepers, long lost cousins, ex-boyfriends, heads of Foreign Governments, cartoon penguins,
Mat t Le i Be L
chess-playing robots, schizophrenics you occasionally run into on the bus, late-night commercial pitchmen, over-the- hill boxing announcers, and oily-haired bullies who used to beat you up in high school; if you’re the person we’re looking for, we’d love to hear from you; we would wish you good luck, but we’re more than sure you won’t need it! WE ARE AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYER -
Lost in anatoLia
“There is nothing left in Bogazkale except Ghosts and forgotten Gods. But if you want to visit Hattusa, it’s your choice. More beer?” The stocky Turk smiled and opened another two bottles. I was staying at his pension in Cappadocia in Turkey, and would eventually pay for all these Troy beers. Next day, I made the decision, switching four buses through Anatolian towns that did not qualify for the Lonely Planet guidebook. I arrived in Sungluru, the nearest town to Bogazkale, in a torrential downpour. A schoolboy guided me to a taxi stand, but the driver refused. “Too far, bad weather,” he continued smoking menacingly like an extra from a spaghetti western. The boy was belligerent and interceded on my behalf in Turkish, reminding him that I was not just a tourist, but an Effendi, a Muslim. The driver reluctantly agreed to a $10 fare, but grumbled throughout the thirty-kilometer-drive in the beat-up Peugeot on dark country roads. After checking in at the Hattusa pension, I asked the concierge for dinner options. He went into the pantry and came out with a stale meat pie. I ate while trying to strike a conversation, but he continued watching Ghostbusters, which was dubbed in Turkish.
I walked upstairs irritated from a fever. I settled into one of the four beds in the large bare room next to the window. Through the shutters, I could see a lone streetlight in the drizzle and felt out of place. I was tired of being a tourist in one-donkey towns in windswept Anatolia highland. I popped two Nyquil’s and turned off the light. My fever broke around three in the morning. I woke up drenched in sweat. Outside, the streetlight was out, but the rain had continued. Far away I heard canine howls, but nearby I heard measured footsteps. I tried to ignore them but their rhythm intrigued my imagination. Pacing, approaching, receding, varying with contemplation. I tried to recall if there were other guests in the hotel but drew a blank. Following the universal pattern of Hollywood thrillers, I lit a cigarette and stepped out into the corridor leading to the other rooms with my flashlight. The steps stopped. I returned to the room, finished my cigarette, and lied down. Rain spattered against the window, rattling the shutters, canines howled, and the footsteps with their methodical pacing. This time I rushed out to the corridor, furious, and called out, “Kaun,” forgetting that Urdu was not understood in Turkey. The footsteps stopped. I returned, but this time slipped into my bed meekly. This instance the footsteps seemed louder and I deciphered a pattern, is it 1-2-3-Stop, or is 1-2-3-4-Stop. Slowly I realized that the steps were following the patterns that I was imagining, rather then the other way around, and my rational analysis turned into an
elemental fear. It seemed absurd but I was stricken with spasmodic terror. I tried to remember Quranic verses for protection against evil. Oh I wished I had paid attention to my teachers who had asked me to memorize the four Quls. Instead I recalled supernatural tales of Djinns, haunted houses and mischievous specters. Finally, rhythmic verses formed early in my consciousness emerged, from the time when I first learned the Namaz from my aunt, with multiple bows and prostrations, a time (at eight years old) of indefatigable faith, before existentialism and quantum physics. I recited Surat-Al Naas. The one about protection from the evil of the sneaking whisperer and Djinns. The steps continued. I stuck my head under a pillow and eventually passed out.
Dawn brought reason and an impending biological need. I rushed to the toilets. The first latrine stall was occupied by a man, naked except for a pair of yellow shorts pulled low over an exceptionally hairy back. He was contorted over a bucket with a razor in his hand. He seemed to be shaving his pubic hair. My disgust was apparent but he smiled sheepishly. I rushed past him into another stall. When I came out, he was gone. I mended with black tea, olives and feta cheese. I put off the previous night’s event as an embarrassment and aftereffect of Nyquil.
sa qi B Mau soof
At Hattusa, the Hittite city outside Bogazkale, I was the only tourist. I spend the day walking through the remnants of a Bronze Age superpower: stone pyramids; moss-covered tunnels; and an impressive Lion’s gate for protection against demons. By mid afternoon, there was another cloudburst and I hitched a ride with a local to the pension. After lunch, another meat pie but this time with a salad, I asked the concierge if there were other guests staying over last night. “No guests, no employee, just you. You stay another night? Buses cancelled because of rain,” he said. I found the driver from last night smoking in the lobby. Today he wanted $20. I refused. Outside, thunder struck. “Teshub is angry,” he grinned. My guidebook described Teshub as the Hittite God of Thunder, conceived from the union of two male Gods, he was born from an Anus, as he could not find a better exit. At 4:00pm, my pride broke and I agreed to a quick exit. “Do you pray?” The driver said as I got off in Sungluru. “Sometimes,” I said. “Then someone must be praying for you,” he said, and we roared off in the Peugeot.
a sunday afteRnoon
Walking back to the truck Happily talking with a friend On a bright warm day Of late summer. Picnics and games on the grass Everywhere you looked. We pass a smiling boy pulling A large covered white container. He opened the lid: A catfish was inside Desperately trying to swim through And beyond its plastic prison, Over and over stopped by The impenetrable walls. The fins that once propelled him Through endless water Fluttered in spasm, Moving him nowhere. Like the way some men When thrown in jail Grip the bars in their hands, And repeatedly smash their skulls against them.
I imagined the catfish’s fate: aquarium or dinner plate. I wanted to free it, Return it to its home The large, mossy edged lake Not natural but man made (What difference does that make?) But there was nothing I could do Without fighting with his father Who stood tall with a proud beaming smile Over his son and his catch. Although I first heard the words When I was young Decades ago I did not truly understand Jim Morrison when he sung “I want to hear the scream of the butterfly,” Until now.
B o n es
I am to deal with Dad’s finances; he’s made me a manila folder of ink-faded receipts and unopened envelopes from places like “Larkey & Smith, CPAs,” and “Final Notice - Remit Payment Now.” He says, “I used to be good at handling things,” and struggles to scoot his chair back, wood feet scratching on wood floor, echo of wood-paneled walls in the semi-detached dining room off the kitchen. In his bedroom, I help him remove his elastic-waisted pajamas. The incisions on his lower thighs are orderly. They bear no trace of the violent procedure of which they were recent gatekeepers. One thin red line runs upward on the inside of each leg, just above and behind his knees: diagonal, covered in opaque white tape, intersected by more tape, the tiny cross-stitches visible beneath the peeling sealants. They make centipedes on your blue and brown flesh, and in two weeks’ time you will walk better than you have in a decade. “I’m fifty-nine years old,” he says, as I ease his sweatpants up around his new knees and he places his hand on my hair for balance. “This is so fucked up.”
It’s very common. People swear by it. You replace your old bones, aches, cartilage with artificial ones. Make a fresh structural start, gain motility, leave behind years of habitually living in pain. I can’t understand the reality of it, or of any act of surgery— replacing parts like we’re cars, cracking open skin. Because of something to do with my false perception of human frailty, I think it’s fucked up. After the backyard fence fell down on the overflowing trashcans and something died in there and smelled so bad and Dad didn’t tell us for weeks, though, we all decided. We bought him a case of nicotine patches and a walker that looks like a teenager’s scooter and we signed him up for the best new set of bones. “I’m afraid,” he says from the living room, as I’m softboiling the eggs. “The bad part’s over, Dad. You already took a shower alone.” “There’s things in me, like, objects, I can feel them.” I peel two of the hot eggs, place them on a piece of toast, and use a fork to smash them into the buttered bread. When I bring them to him on the tray, he has tilted his head back and is staring at the ceiling. His jaws are working silently, back and forth, and his
white beard stubble stands out, sharp against the wooden wall. His orange juice spills a little bit, and I move the paper towel napkin to cover it. “No,” he says, and his eyes get wide. “I don’t think I like this,” he says.
Manju La Ma rt i n
When I return to work I am out of shape. Sea legs. I have to get used to stepping on the slick planks around the water tank and I slip a bit. The mermaid tank is upstairs from the bar, past the office and through the locker room, nestled near the showers at floor height like a hot tub or a pothole. Everything is wood and wet and there’s a smell that means summer, and decay. I layer on my waterproof makeup, then fasten my shells around my chest with the clear plastic bra straps. My tail skirt goes on last; the elastic waistband covers the permanent fishing-wire indentations on my hips. From the locker room, it’s just a quick hop in my tail over to the tank. The fly-boy, Patrick, hooks my drown-line to the weighted pulley, hands me my mouthpiece, pats my sequined ass, and lets me drop into the wash on my own. The line around my waist stays slack as I sink, like the oxygen masks on airplanes. We call the water the wash but it isn’t very clean.
Once I’m in the tank, I slow-motion hop over to the best spot, up front in the window. I connect my mouthpiece to the oxygen line behind an old wooden trunk set up like a pirate treasure and I smile. Bubbles form on my teeth and hair. I stay in place by manipulating my tail. We are only supposed to move our hands to use the mouthpiece or move things away from our faces: hair, bubbles, plants that have drifted. Up front in the window, I’m visible behind the bar and if I smile I get the most tips thrown in my barrel. There’s one barrel for every mermaid, with our names on them spelled out in shells by the same shaky hand Mercedes uses when she sews our tails shut. Mercedes sews our tails shut after we put them on and before we hop over to Patrick. The tails are made of sequined stretch polyester, but the framework underneath is old rubber swimming flippers. Because of the way the flippers move when you put your feet into them, Mercedes needs to sew them flush with the tail of the costume every time. She uses stitches that are called basting, and thick wax thread. It’s all invisible to the patrons. Mercedes used to be a real mermaid, at an outdoor theme park with natural spring water, she reminds me when she sews me up.
Manju La Ma rt i n
“All you girls are tadpoles is what you are,” she says, struggling with the thick wax thread. “Welcome back, don’t breathe too fast okay.” Maybe she doesn’t sew me up right because it’s tight and my toes go numb. Every time I jump in the wash I imagine there is no bottom, so I float better. Floating feels like I’m growing thicker but in an inviting way, like you could dive into me and I could buoy you. (What’s a woman without legs? What’s a fish that has breasts?) When I was new Mercedes told me about the women in banana export factories who stand waist-deep in wooden stalls, legs wrapped in thick clear plastic aprons from hips to feet. Their legs are stand-planted in the water while they reach over the divider into a tank in which thousands of bananas float popcornstyle waiting to be cleaned. The women brush tarantulas aside like errant hairs. “That sounds kind of fucked up,” I said to Mercedes.
SAL RO th e t
iMe C oLLeCt o R
Everyone in town mistrusted Armin, even from a distance. He strode tilted forward as though battling a strong wind, moving quickly and silently, and he was never without his little box. He was a time collector. He captured little bits, and flattened them out, and sealed them under glass. He preferred private, unsettling moments, the smallest, the shyest, the rarest, luring them in with his crooked smile like a fly-fisherman with a feathered tie, clapping them shut in his black box, and never, ever asking permission beforehand—because as soon as you asked permission, you entered the moment yourself, stained it with your presence, and altered it irrevocably. What he wanted was the essence, pure and unaltered. The captured moments, quivering with their former lives, lined the walls of his house. It was early last spring that things changed for Armin. In the midst of capturing a women’s gasp as she discovered her husband in bed with another woman, he felt a small sting on his right index finger. At first he thought a mosquito had bitten him, and then the finger swelled until it became impossible to bend and he decided it was a spider bite, but even the doctors could find no sign of any penetration of
the skin. Within a week, Armin’s hand had swelled like a balloon, and the swelling began traveling up his arm, and he discovered, having finally checked his black box, that he had not captured that particular moment after all. That was when he began to fear that the moment had captured him, in the only way that moments can, by infecting his body, infecting his soul, a subversive infection that came from the moment coiled in his head: over and over the woman’s white face. At the end of two weeks, it became difficult for him to breathe, and Armin wondered if the moment of the gasp was exacting revenge on behalf of all the other captured moments. Perhaps the gasp was even now attempting to flatten him and seal him under glass. At that thought, he stiffened and went still. When his housekeeper discovered him, in his favorite chair, his hands splayed and his mouth half open, she called the ambulance. The paramedics lay Armin flat onto the stretcher, administering shocks with the defibrillator and oxygen through a ventilator, and rushed him to the hospital. Here he went into a coma, his frozen expression one of placid horror. And thus he remained. Most everyone was relieved that, at last, they were free to go about their private business unobserved without Armin stealing up with his little box. Some said that Armin deserved the coma. Then one morning, people woke to find all the chairs missing from their porches, and the next morning
discovered that someone had sliced the heads off all the tulips in the park, and by the end of the week in each and every street twitched a dying dog. No one knew who was responsible or why. And people began creeping up on their neighbors, in case they were the culprits, and walking backwards, in case something else entirely was about to happen, and the misunderstandings and collisions multiplied and the knives and Armin, no longer ruthless, quivered in his bed.
rosa Le e n Be rt oLi no
t h is i , s the Myth of MystiksatLe t h is i h s the M yt h o f M ysti k a L, t h is i
M yt h o f
M y st i k a L, t h i s is t h e M y t h
the cyclops hopped out of the cyclone and he groaned seems his lady landlord kicked him out of his home the bean stalk crops he talked of climbing to the sky couldn’t seem to change his lady’s mind he squashed a hawk with his thumb held his belly looking dumb used both his ears, hearing stereo but through his mono-optical, he laid his eye on mystikal who was free and finished with his bid louisiana state pen gave his watches back to him, now he’s gonna keep his own time said “it’s time we had a talk, cyclops, i got a plan” he flashed a map tat’d on the palm of his hand “yonder mountain ‘gainst the sky, see it with your giant eye there is where i’m going on your back, if we make it safe and sound i’ll pay you pennies pound for pound, barley wine and weed by the sack”
the cyclops blinked and took a second to think, you know his noggin was the size of a nut “i’ll carry you but if you cry, i’ll bury you alive to die, you be very quiet and i mean it!” mystikal, just from jail, longed to tell of his travails but knew of gold in yonder mountain his cell mate had promised and even laid a cross upon it that a bounty on the mount he’d lost and found it: “listen friend, it’s lost again, you’ll be out before i am finder’s keeper’s let us make a map” that’s how mysti had his tat, his palm was where his heart was at he shut his yap and took the giant’s gambit this is the myth of mystikal, this is the myth of mystikal, this is the myth of mystikal, this is the myth they rendez-vous’d the next day, down by the river bank clops told him “listen, don’t talk, i will navigate!” jumping in the seine, yonder mountain at the end he floated on his back with a bend belly-up, he buoyed up one who knew not to screw it up mystikal didn’t a peep he say to ‘clops but riding on a giant’s navel, feeling kind of small mysti didn’t think he’d think at all there was never a better scenic route than what they careened through
‘clops wore a blind cloth, but it was see through so as not to anger the gods, he hid his face and the running white water carried them to their fate scenes of the seine then blended into the sunset mystikal rubbed his eyes, clops shut his eye kumbh mela moods hit the crew that we runnin’ with runnin’ what a world after what a world river wide mississippi mountain high mississippi he wondered “is the mind of mystikal gettin’ trippy with me?” for by the side was a sight for his sore eyes silk the shocker, he was rockin’ with the fireflies mystikal, unpredictable, let out a CRY the shocker turned to look and vanished in the night for a fleeting apparition mysti’d broken his vow but the giant didn’t seem to notice anyhow this is the myth of mystikal, this is the myth of mystikal, this is the myth of mystikal, this is the myth listen to ‘unpredictable’, later some ‘mind of mystikal’, after that, you can ‘shake your ass’ this is the myth of mystikal, this is the myth of mystikal, this is the myth of mystikal, this is the myth the river carried on
ch ri s P e ck
the belly that we ferry on rumbled with a gas of indigestion looking down with a frown, mysti heard an awful sound clops’ brow was an arc of apprehension “shoulda done what you were told, coulda brought you to the gooold, now i’m gonna save my own bacon! bet ‘ya didn’t know about yonder volcano, now you watch the mountain get to shakin’!” the sky cracked red, the water turned up black mystikal made a move, clops tossed him on his back “i heard you hollah at your friend, he was just pretend, so am i, now i disappear!” a clone of the first cyclone did descend mysti thought he’d maybe met his end instead he saw an awful sight, at the river bend the water led him back to the pen! he fell into a disco nap, beats were in his head not the kind that make you dance, but the kind that make you dead he woke up to the cell where he had spent six years saw his one-eyed mate who would tattoo tears “hello friend, here i am, back to grind it out, if your gold’s still there, i didn’t find it out, instead i broke a giant’s vow, look at me now,
he buried me alive to die, here in the hoose-GOW! cooped up in this cell, guess i’m gonna study spells, and the epic work of manley p. hall, but never did i dream that a storm would set me free, or a giant make a mountain seem small” this is the myth of mystikal, this is the myth of mystikal, this is the myth of mystikal, this is the myth listen to mystikal man, skills so mythical, will he make it home and claim what is his? missin’ his microphone magic ‘till he returns, we’ll make sure that a candle always burns
ch ri s P e ck
s i n g s u s B o t h to s L e e p
They sat around a small circular table in the kitchen of their two-bedroom apartment, a newly married couple, with the window open, smoking a cigarette each. They had just put their first child of sixteen months to bed. “I can’t call, it’s too early, it’s only nine thirty at night, and you have to admit it sounds kind of nice. Maybe it will be good for her, maybe she will grow up to be a prodigy because of this.” “All I’m saying is if our baby wakes up and starts screaming again, it’s your turn to call.” “This will be the fourth night we’ve called, we don’t even know who this new neighbor is.” A new neighbor had moved in while they were away on their first vacation since having the baby. They finally decided the baby was old enough to be left at the husband’s mother’s house for a week while they were away. They went to a cabin on the coast, listened to the waves and drank red wine.
Upon their third night back, it began at roughly eight o’clock and ended fifteen minutes after they called the police. It was a piano playing next door. “Okay I’m calling them at ten. It’s a week night.” The husband crossed his fingers that both the baby would not wake by ten and that the piano would stop at ten. On the day of their child’s birth they promised each other, for both the baby’s health and their own, that at the end of each work day they would split one bottle of wine and have one cigarette each, only one. She knew he was relaxed when he stopped re-corking the bottle after each pour, which usually occurred three quarters through. He stopped re-corking the bottle three quarters in figuring, at that point, the wine was more so enjoyed than the possibility of its remains being spoiled. He laid his head back against the screen of the window and closed his eyes, turning his head to spill the smoke. She watched the baby monitor that only ever made sounds.
apartment 34 After the armed robbery of a small jazz club downtown and the subsequent four gunshots that were fired several feet from his head he lost all hearing. The police report notes he was found under the same baby grand he had played in that club for the past twelve years. After the incident his sister moved him into a cheaper apartment down the street from her, not knowing how much assistance he would need losing his hearing after spending his entire life listening. While moving his piano into this new apartment she was asked if she would have it retuned. She replied that she would, though ultimately failed to see a point, and didn’t. He told her he needed some time alone and that the settlement from the criminal case was enough for him to live off of for a couple of years. The first couple of days he couldn’t think to play music. He went out and bought six white canvases and a set of paints.
se an tay Lor
He relished his sight after going deaf. He hated his first four paintings. The other two canvases stayed white. He couldn’t sleep. In a fit of terrible silence one night, he painted the entire spectrum of light across all fifty two white piano keys. Every octave blending in and out of its seven steps of brilliance. The arrangement as a whole composed a rainbow, and as far as he could tell the strokes of his paintbrush were too light to produce a sound. It felt good though. This feels good, he said. The next night, after the paint dried, he played the colors, he played them like he was painting, until the police came. “I am sorry I am deaf,” he wrote on a scrap of paper for them, not willing to speak, not caring for noise. They wrote back, “You can’t be playing this late.” He wrote, “Okay I am sorry.” He didn’t have a clock, and after all of the insomnia he didn’t want one. The police left soon after, pointing to their watches with their heads down.
apartment 32 “Maybe we should move out of the city,” she said. “We met here,” he said. They always wanted to be the parents strong enough to stay, the ones that didn’t go back to the suburbs, like their own parents. Their cigarettes were half burnt through, and only being allowed one they each used their own tactics to make them last. After sixteen months they never thought to share these tactics with each other. At nine fifty the baby hiccuped in her sleep, and the wife heard it through the monitor. The husband did not. He went on listening to the piano from the apartment next door. “Maybe we can switch rooms. We’ll take the nursery and we can move the little one into the master, away from the noisy neighbor.” The husband said. “That means he wins,” she said. He stared at his cigarette for the time. She stared at the clock, her cigarette almost out.
se an tay Lor
apartment 34 He stopped opening his eyes when he played the colors on the keys, but he still saw them, as he played them, from the back of his head. They splashed loud, then faded out like the music he had known his entire life. He left the door unlocked and cracked open knowing he would not be able to hear the police knocking. The police knew not to knock now, and they didn’t mind telling an old deaf man it was time to go to bed. They even began to stand in the hallway for a couple of minutes listening to him play before walking in and tapping him on the shoulder, then pointing again at their watches. At this he would turn on his piano bench, press his hands together, and with a slight bow thank them for their kindness and understanding. A gesture to which he was no stranger, after years of an audible applause.
info + updates + video of every reading
calendar + reviews + interviews +purviews
- sept 3, 2012 -