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© 2012 Quiet Lightning ISBN 978-1-300-42722-3 curated by Meghan Thornton & S.B. Stokes artwork © Jacqueline Norheim jacquelinenorheim.com “The Fog and the Sound” by Kai Carlson-Wee previously published in The Lumberyard “From Scratch” by Laura E. Davis previously published in dotdotdash 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 Meghan
Thornton & S.B. Stokes Norheim
featured artist Jacqueline
Bridgette Portman Longing (Hemlock)
Sorrow (A Shade’s Lament)
1 2 3 5 7 9 21 25 26 29 31 37 39 45 49 57 59
The Scene Where Ophelia Commands the River Elegy for the Three Fruit Flies Drowning In My Bottle of Wine My Funeral Body The Fog and the Sound In her room you are lighthouse a constant, a warning The Time We Buried Hotel Courage: Room 162 This Is the Story I'm Writing Maybe It’s Time from Forgive Me, Roy Orbison Dreams of All Sizes The Beautiful Hurt From Scratch Godspeed
Kate menzies Kai Carlson-Wee nora toomey
eriC sneathen Casey Childers nora toomey eliza mimsKi siamaK Vossoughi John Panzer laura e. daVis tomas moniz
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 Lee public relations Charles Kruger secretary Meghan Thornton treasurer Kristen Kramer chair Jacqueline Norheim Nicole McFeely Brandon Loberg art director 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
L o n g in g
I seek the grave, for in it are no dreams, No fantasies to chase, nor hearts to break; One little drop of Lethe’s glassy stream Will all my disenchanted mem’ries take. I shall not try, like some, to flee from Death, Nor plead with him for one last glimpse of sun, And with my final fading trace of breath I shall invoke no deity but one: The saddest, wisest prophet, he that said A man is blessed to ne’er be given birth, Or if condemned to life, to join the dead With haste beneath the all-obscuring earth. A toast to you, O Silenus divine – I’ve found a far more pleasant drink than wine.
sorrow (A shAde’s LAment)
I miss the sky, the stars, the sun whose beams Cradled the spring and made the winter thaw; I miss the moon, whose sympathetic gleam Could midnight’s deepest darkness overawe. I grieve for what I had to leave above This lightless, lifeless realm, and even mourn For all those things I never knew I loved: The stinging nettle and the rose’s thorn, Rainfalls that soaked the February ground And chilled my shaking body head to toe; The stubborn weeds that twisted up around The hapless flowers that I tried to grow. I’d all the sorrows of the world forgive If I could but another moment live.
e L i A C o m m A n d s the r i V e r
the sCene where
scene vi-2. A river outside the castle. Enter OPHELIA. OPHELIA I will induce the engulfing gloomwater to overswell with sloshed rain and ice. The winter will clot tresses of impurities into eddied pearls. I am contained, swallowed, buried under the pretty rest of your ornamental eulogies. I wait for my immolating monk, impossible, White his shroud as the mountain snow,— to sprout beneath the opened loam, resurrect the split newts and salamanders from the hollow logs and rotten sticks. Let them bubble to the surface, gurgle and flood, brim, tip over the crackling limits of my sediments. How could I not mention my lashing heart
as the branches groaned and cracked? My drifted body whips across torn life jackets and snarled fishing lines, grasped but lost to you. You wont catch me with windblown speeches, no more songs, my weighted act voices. I will slink through cracks, fracture, slush, and drag my fingerprints along the forgotten lines of fish scales, dig under the murmured amen of sifted beach. I am not a waterlily that lies flush to the surface. I am the lotus flower that erupts from the muddy riverbed.
eLeg fLie s y d r o w f o r the th ree fr uit i n e nin g in m y B o ttLe o f w
You’re drowning as I write this and I’m sorry I tried saving you just now by pouring more wine in my glass but somehow you’re all three still in the bottle so I’m going to write you an elegy because I don’t know what else to do aside from pouring the whole bottle out and I’m not going to do that I know you’re holy but your deaths are beautiful too and I hope I can be forgiven for writing you a poem while you are drowning in a bottle of bad wine I bought for $9.99 today at a little market down the street from Dolores Park where kids were rolling around on the grass cracking up from inhaling helium balloons I wonder if this is how you feel I hope it is I’ve just glanced over two of the three of you are dead I am writing these last lines mostly for you little paddler the light you are dying in is beautiful it’s dusk over San Francisco and through the dirty windows of my room and through the dark glass of the bottle the sheen on the thin surface of the wine is the color of the water Li Po drowned in
it is that dark now you’ve grown as still as the others I think you’ve taken your last sip too I’m going to forget you three are in there I’m going to drink you down tonight in my last gulp before going out I’m going to take you into my body and be myself plus three fruit flies I can’t think of a better elegy than taking the dead inside you and bearing their weight into the dark
I want my funeral to be public. I want strangers to stumble upon it and whisper to dear friends of mine, “Who died here?” and I want my friends to whisper something so true about me it threatens to bring me back from the dead. Then I want these passers-by to grow bored with the rushed elegies my friends wrote for me, drunk, on napkins in the bar. I want them to wander away, to go off and enjoy their day more than they would have had they not stumbled upon my coffin. I want them to be kinder to one another, knowing that this very minute I am being lowered into the cold, dark ground, and they are not.
Au st i n smi t h
What if our lives could be cut open by taking a knife to them? Our skin, this membrane of cells and fur is such a precarious thing, and yet it holds in our secrets our intestines all of our pain crosshatched into train tracks. If we cut ourselves we bleed, we remember again how futile it is to march on for happiness. What if we could do the same to our jobs or our customs—cut them open and humiliate them.
For example, what is after sea? What comes after the copious blue? The blue that licks us clean with its wash, its salty spiny breath? What comes after it has decided to leave us? Will we learn to let red dust or oil clean off our old habits instead?
I wish our bodies were like word bodies—words are ships with hard exteriors with clear clean accessibility. You can stick your hand down a word’s tidy throat and pluck some of her memory or even place an old keepsake inside her stomach. Our bodies are like a bay stirred up after rain, the movement, and the waviness of them keeps them from ever giving shelter to another. We cannot be stuffed the way a word can be stuffed. We cannot bunker in each other the way we do in our earth’s caves. If I could I would stretch my windpipe, clean up the luke slime (which makes the body such an unpleasant hotel) and let you take or leave a gift.
KAt e me nzi e s
Lawrence Ferlinghetti said that poets and painters were the bearers of light. Somehow I can’t give up the gossip in my blood telling me that our genes are made of light, that we can be traced to the sun, each one of us an ancestor of luminous glitter. It’s no wonder we have such trouble keeping our feet on the ground— we were made to perforate through fence slats and summer leaves; piercing water without weight.
They have a natural fling about them these joyous ropes they call bodies. They are so vulnerable so unabashedly wounded. I am learning how to forgive and how to exalt by watching them, how their forgiveness is not held in the hands. Instead it blows across the face and washes the brain clean of all memory. It’s in their total lack of gracefulness, it’s their raw untethered bodies with arms and legs each having their own agenda. When they move I am watching a village grow around four different religions. And it’s out of these same spineless wigglers that the source of tenderness is sleeping. Their tender spots lay open like meat waiting on a sill, exposed, getting softly rancid. The sun razoring into their hope; burning up their logic, and all the while the glass of their minds stays open. It’s this wideness of their bodies that keeps them believing in more, and, consequently dissolving the concept of limitations. When they run, their tongues hang out and stick on the sides of their dewy faces. When they run they are equal parts celebratory and terror. The sight is enough to raise the hairs on your arms up in gratitude. To know that humans can fill up in that way, allowing the flood of feelings to mix and combust and then pour freely through the teeth and the eyes – it somehow makes all of this living worth it.
KAt e me nzi e s
From now on I will only eat snow. I want my heart to turn to liquid and sharp like ice-melt. It’s not that I want to hide from what I feel, on the contrary: I want my heart to step for once out of its warm bath into the Atlantic. I want this heart of mine to go skinnydipping on winters night, and feel its teeth jet into its brain, feel every pore grow a needle, so that for a moment it is a frozen porcupine. This diet, will clean by its frost, all of the doubt that lays like soot in my gizzards, white feathers will wash the sulfur and brick. Nothing will be left behind. Every organ will be abandoned, the windows banging in the wind.
kissing, mystical thing. It can hear the ancients from their hairy backed plains howling through the portals which branches through its throat and ends in the pink living room of our mouths. I can imagine no sacrifice igniting more agony\euphoria than touching our cracked mouths. Our two deserts will heal the fault line of the cosmos; this way to know god and what slaves we are to her.
KAt e me nzi e s
today she said: Indian accents are like ‘little drums.’ I eavesdropped on the men crossing the street and agreed. All of us must have a miniature instrument sewn into our throats; I’m sure I’ve heard a flute or a violin spout out through someone’s teeth – a musician practicing with their windows open.
I am religious for wind. Each time it picks up around my ears I remember my spirit is real and my body is illusory. This body, which the world weighs upon like a black hole, disappears. The wind flows through us like rain through a screen and it proves us wrong: this body cannot be crushed, for it is moving in waves and parts and can be blown away like dust. What is there to worry about if we are scattered across our pasts and futures?
KAt e me nzi e s
the body is a miracle of science and can fill up more than it holds. I dream violently for your beehive mouth to be near mine so much that my hair is falling out. My teeth are turning into sponges, giving up on their blades because they cannot sink into you. This body is trying to hold an ocean for you inside a sink.
we say or do things that are so wrong that there is nothing to forgive. we both know that no confession will dull its scream. you can only surrender to its monster. there is no sun big enough to evaporate the wicked sounds or seconds. there is no sea fresh enough to hide its smell. instead we bet on our death, gulp down the soot and let our organs go black. sometimes there is no way to turn garbage into another thing, and all we can do is pray while we dig it’s grave; bury it in our cherry blood and wait for time to turn it small.
KAt e me nzi e s
f o g And the s o u n d
My brother lived with a girl on and off until that girl broke his heart and rode Greyhound nine hundred miles to live with a dancer in San Joaquin. There was no explanation, he said. Just a few weird months and the ocean in back of their house still rolling the fog off Chuckanut Bay. In early May the two of us walked down the railroad tracks toward the nude beach, stopping to spraypaint our names on the outcropping rocks, the anonymous driftlogs, the sweating cathedral-like slabs of cement near the train-tunnel entrance which no one could see. A storm had just passed and the jet-skiers cruised through the inlets and low-tide estuaries looking for Gunther, a snowboarder left by his friends in the capsized shell of his grandfather’s yacht. The front end sank. The sail fell down so the motor-blades cried in the wind. He said he had loved her forever. The time in the mountains, the time in the Red Canyon pledging their lives. The loss of her touch, he told me, was not the loss of her vein-lined hands, her body’s weight rolling against him in bed. It was the loss of a thing
he had loved in himself, as he turned his head hearing her voice. Do you know what I mean, he said, that difference? On Monday we went to the blood-bank with Duncan and looked at the holes in the ceiling expand. The pattern of checkerboard squares in the bathroom, the sad diabetic man turning away from the desk, going back to his truck, getting in. For an hour the blood moved in clear plastic hoses between us. The Cloudmaker showed us the scars on his arms where the cops pulled the real bones out of him. Surgically opened his forehead. Fixed him with circuits and gold-plated grommets designed to control him and steal his dreams. Smells like a woman’s arousal, he said, the weather itself is a burden of shame, the dust in my pocket, the atmosphere bleeding. We skated downtown with the rat-tailed hipsters who showed us the dum-pster behind the museum. Salloweyed, practicing shiftys. We skitched on the door of a broken Mercedes. We shouldered them over the barbwire fences and jumped off the guardrails into the sea. The fog seemed to thicken our bodies the way it divided the ground from the trees. Fattening up our hair, blowing the sweat-trails out of our jeans. The wavering gulls in the airwaves above their own shadows. A dusting of salt you could taste on your skin.
He showed me the painting she painted him in. The pallet of blues and raw umbers she used for the pavement, the signpost, the bike he had just finished riding from Portland to Havre, from Havre to Nashville, from Nashville to Kitty Hawk North Carolina to sleep in the wind-torn dunes. We stayed awake talking of winters in Fargo, the riverside houses con-demned or abandoned, a mutual friend who had recently died. I tried to remember the last time I saw him, placid from heroin, walking the bar with the overheads glossing the flat-looking bowls of his eyes. On Friday we went to the food-shelf and stood with the homeless and gutter-punks feeding their dogs. How many, they asked us. We filled up our boxes. The Mexicans shuffled their children in silence. The Cloud-maker juggled his oranges and sang us the ballad he knew by heart. There were pockets of sandstone carved by the hightide waves where the girls would take off their clothes and dissolve in the sun or watch freight-liners crawl through the haze. A wake-line dividing the shore from the shore. A dander of lotion I peeled away from the stone. The morning they found him we walked down the railroad tracks toward the shipyard, stopping to throw a few rocks at the mile signs, tossing the starfish from
KA i CA rlson- We e
pool to pool. His body was found in a box-trap, bloated and skin-torn by schools of minnows, eyes eaten out of his head by the crabs. It wasn’t the fact of her leaving. The winter he spent with a sprained ankle, limping. The spear-point of rebar she pulled from his hand after bailing a still moving train. It was more like the fog, he said. Like the fields in winter, the dust in the air when the streetsweepers watered the roads. Before I drove back to Seattle we hiked up Mount Permanence, carrying our sleeping bags under our arms. We sat on the roots of a dead ponder-osa and looked at the ships troll the narrows in fog. There were lights on the city shore shining and burning. Beach-fires fading and pushing like strobes. When lightning came over the harbor we stood at the back of his house and rolled smokes. We counted the seconds, predicted the levels of thun- der. For a while we lay with our elbows just touching. The blown-away screens. The sound of the wind and the rain coming down on the roof.
in h use er ro htho om you Are Lig A
ConstAnt, A wArning
She liked to name her boats according to time this one is first day this one is soon this one is last night you drove her to the supermarket there were bowls and bowls of orange soup before that a swimming pool You were wearing your white robe. You kept driving into black folds Mountains and water So much rain Your house was a coast road the same song played over the same light
time we Buried
Amy sends the little ones off hunting for sticks. They are going to have a fire. The lake is dark The lake is swinging. It’s hard to say what’s a drum, and what’s Amy washing her hair off the dock. Are those children or sixteen elephants? Their tusks are painted. Their songs are summer. They are whispering, and carrying home. It’s hard to say where they’ve been for so long
and why their sticks smell like sticks but look like bones.
norA t oome y
r o o m 16 2
whoever you are walking past my cracked door sending out its empty moonlight into our shared hallway whoever you are softstepping past the dull brass of balustrade finials you can rest your suitcase and seize upon a pleasure in a small plate of fresh citrus dusted red with cinnamon and then continue i know that something is finite and you have been almost everywhere looking
this is the story
i’ m w r it i n g
This is the story I’m writing. It’s about you and me, so there’s not much need to develop the characters. You don’t know me right now – or you – but that’s OK. We’re malleable, just two floating points of perspective in unfamiliar waters. I’m gonna try to softly transition from the preceding paragraph into something more like a story. It’ll be tough, but it’s important. No matter how far I stray, try to keep in mind that this is the story I’m writing. If you forget, that’s OK, too. It’s just best if you try to remember. “Dialogue,” I say, “is a neat enough way of moving things along.” “Sure,” you say. “What shall we discuss?” “Shall?” I say, implying the usage seems forced. “Why not say: But what’ll we talk about?” “Are you asking?” you ask.
“No,” I say, “I’m suggesting. I’m suggesting we talk about your word choice, the word choice I’ve made for you and the correction I’ve since suggested.” “It seems thin,” you say, and you’re right. Some abstract action might fix things. Hard to say. There’s a bird nearby. It fell from a tree. Maybe we could investigate. It’s too cold for talk of any significance, but a fallen bird, no matter the weather, warrants appreciation. If it were warmer out, a different season maybe, ants would be all over it by now. It’s not warmer, though. It’s the cold season, and the bird remains undisturbed. I imagine it to have died from fright. I mime this to you, stiffening my arms at my sides and Frankensteining around for a bit before playing the part of the bird and falling to my back, legs upstretched. You were never easily impressed, and it’s no surprise that you don’t react. Your look says it all: “You never fail to disappoint.” In the park near my house is a sandbox. I buried you there years ago. “Do you remember?” I say. You shake your head, a convincing lie. We walk there, anyway, abandoning the bird and all thoughts of it. As we walk, we talk about everything
that’s been in the air between us. I suggest we finally get around to starting that business we never considered starting. You say it’d never work and that what we should really do is open a bookstore. I say, “I hate books,” and we laugh and laugh. “Is this the place?” you say. I nod my head and say, “Don’t you remember? It was right around here.” You say you’ve never seen this place, another lie, less convincing than the first. Is it your metal detector or mine? There’s no telling. Did we have it all along? There’s no remembering, but we turn it on all the same. “This ain’t your granddad’s metal detector.” That’s what the ad said. My granddad never had one, unless it was during the war, maybe. Yours could’ve had one. It could’ve been this one. It’s also possible that I’m confusing things, that it’s only coincidence that I remember the ad in correlation with this moment. Besides, it’s begun to beep now. The origins of the device seem unimportant when weighed against its potential. Yours is the first go, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous. “Jealous?” you say.
CAse y Ch i lde rs
“You know I am.” The sandbox is brimming with metal, exploding with the stuff. In five minutes you’ve unearthed three Civil War minié balls, a pair of sunglasses, and the rusted rear bumper of a VW bug. “My turn,” I say. “You can have it back once I find the spot.” The spot – I can’t believe you don’t remember. “You’re gonna shit when you see this,” I say, but we both know it isn’t true. It’s just a bunch of words, after all. No matter the arrangement, that’s all it’ll ever be. The machine beeps with a steady cadence as I wave it over the sand. The box is larger than I remember, even since yesterday when I walked the jogging track the playground was built beside. “Three miles,” I say absently, focusing on the beeps. “What?” you say. “Three miles,” I say again. “That’s how far I walked yesterday. At least, I think that’s how far. The laps are irregular, and I’m not so sure I understand what adds up to a mile. I could be off by a mile. Maybe it was only two.
I like to figure low, but, at the same time, I’d hate to shortchange—” The detector starts beeping like crazy. I try to orient myself, but we’ve wandered a good distance from the known points of reference and there’s no telling what’s what; sand’s the only thing in sight, sand and you, you and that smug grin of yours. “Help me out, here,” I say, laying the detector aside and digging in the sand with my hands. You join in, and before long we’ve got ourselves quite a hole. “That’s some hole,” I say, but your mind is someplace else. “What’s the matter with you?” I ask. “Nothing,” you say, but after a stretch of staring into the hole you add, “I get sad sometimes is all.” I put my hand on your back, reassuring-like, and say, “We all do.” The sympathy is false but convincing. You smile, and we climb into the hole together. You start to dig. I do the same, but it’s you, determined as you are to see this through, who makes the discovery. It’s smooth to the touch. “What’s this,” you say from someplace in the dimming light, half-afraid I’ll answer. I can’t see, either, but I say, “A skull,” just the same.
CAse y Ch i lde rs
“You’re right,” you say. “It is a skull.” “There’s a skeleton, too,” I say. You dig a little deeper and confirm my claim. “It’s mine,” you say. “I’d know that C7 vertebra anyplace.” “See,” I say, “there’s nothing to be sad about, after all.” We sit for a while in the darkness of our hole, you cradling your bones, me pretending any of it matters. It’s all so arbitrary, but as the moon moves overhead, and as we see it through the limiting aperture of the place we’ve carved, neither of us can deny that the planet spins along a genuine course. “If we were there,” I say, pointing into the hollow space at the moon’s fading edge, “I’d tell you a story worth telling.” “That’s not true,” you say, and, though you’re right and we both know it, we sit and wonder at the lie, just the same.
mAyBe it’s time
We did our part. Ocean so close, she’s pretty. Cities still sleeping, humming bird. We could go. Pecan trees and water graves. Say it, I could call you my fence. What’s the matter? It’s safer. I hear, I know the night. Someone say, back again. Someone say, don’t.
f o r g iV e m e, r o y o r Bis o n
Late one Saturday afternoon while Lah worked alone at the fabric store an old black man wearing a trench coat, dark shades and a gray hat pulled down over his eyes walked in. He moved about with slow, heavy movements, dragging his feet as if he hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep in a long time. Lah let him nose around a bit before she walked over and asked if he was looking for anything special. There was a sale on cotton blends and she mentioned that too. At first he waved her away but then he changed his mind and called her back. “You wouldn’t have an aspirin, would you?” Before she could answer that she didn’t he told her to forget it, breaking down in a fit of terrible coughing. Once recovered, he said he was looking for some red polka dot material. Lah’s eyes brightened. “Of course,” she said with authority, energized by his choice of fabric. “Right this way.” She used her best manners while working, her only manners. Mean, angry people don’t keep their jobs for very long, her mother told her more than once. Lah had pretended not to hear her while secretly paying attention to her mother.
She showed the old man to the section of the store where bolts of polka dot fabric were kept. They ranged from pale yellows to shades of pink to reds, then greens and blues, ending up with black. She stood tall in one of her own creations, a black and white polka dot chemise with sheer black sleeves. She had used her employee discount when buying the fabric. When the old man turned toward her she was caught off guard by his striking resemblance to Johnny Mathis. His dimpled chin and wide-set mouth reminded her of her favorite singer. She had read he was short, only five foot seven, and she towered over this man. “What are you going to be making?” she asked, her heart somersaulting all over the place. Why would Johnny Mathis have come into the fabric store? It didn’t make sense. “I’ve changed my mind,” he said, his voice trembling. He took a few steps toward the door and just about keeled over. Taking a laborious breath, he summoned her to get him a chair. He acted like royalty, someone used to being waited upon. Lah flew into the back room, stricken by the idea that he could indeed be Johnny Mathis. Either that, or she had finally lost her mind for good. She rushed back with a metal folding chair, opened it and positioned it near her by the cash register. He collapsed into it with a thud. Lah had never been good at knowing what to
do for illnesses, and other than the two of them, the store was completely empty. “I have this dream every night,” he said wearily, shaking his head. “I can’t stop having this dream!” He took off his dark glasses and noisily blew his nose, then wiped his sweaty face with a handkerchief. He looked up at her with an expression of shock and disbelief. “Why, it’s you!” he cried in amazement. “You’re the face in my dream!” Lah took a step backward. The face in his dream? Why would he dream about her? And he did look like Johnny Mathis! Her heart raced. “I’m very sick,” he said. “I’m far from home. I’m visiting family here but I don’t want to worry them.” He doubled over while going into another coughing fit. Lah stood by him until his coughing subsided. “I need to lay down!” He seemed to expect her to know what to do. She felt a sense of great importance. She couldn’t get over how he entrusted himself to her. Lah glanced at her watch. Ten more minutes to closing time. She scratched her head and considered the situation. She could lock up now and have him lay down on the floor, but the fabric aisles were so narrow, plus who would want to lay down on some crummy old rug when they were sick? She could call an ambulance and have him taken to the emergency room. Or she could… take him home with her. “Do you think you can ride the Muni?” she asked, already knowing the answer. He shook his head and
e li zA mi msKi
let out a low moan. This was when she decided to call a taxi. Zelda! She had forbid her to bring home gentlemen callers. This didn’t seem fair because she brought home whoever she pleased. Day after day and night after night a string of different men, a lot of them not much older than Lah, paraded through the flat. Through the paper-thin walls Lah listened to Zelda having sex. It burned up Lah’s insides, the idea of this old woman having lovers when she had no one to love her at all. Lah made the quick decision to pass Johnny Mathis off as a friend who had come to town and was unable to return home because they had fallen ill. It wasn’t one of her best lies, but it sounded good enough. When the De Soto cab arrived, Lah helped the old man into the taxi. He slumped over in the back seat. She told the driver to wait for her and hurried back to lock up, shaking so badly she could hardly get the key in the lock. Jumping into the back seat of the cab she slammed the door. The driver, a young man who also wore sunglasses, and who had a foreign accent, asked if the old man was okay. “He’s sick,” Lah nodded. “I need to get him to my place so he can lay down.” As they took off for the Mission district with Johnny Mathis passed out next to her, Lah thought of how she didn’t have enough money for cab fare. She no longer carried her mother’s credit card with her
on account of doing her best to be independent. A horrible thought crossed her mind – what if the old man didn’t have any money either? She’d be forced to ask Zelda for a loan, and Zelda turned everything into a big fat drama. She’d never hear the end of it. Once, she’d asked if she could pay the rent a few days late and Zelda threw a fit, going into a big production about responsibility which made Lah feel crummy about herself. Zelda still hadn’t dropped it. She went on about it every single day. As the taxi swerved around city streets Lah knew what she had to do – there was no way around it. She’d have to hunt through Johnny Mathis’ pockets. She waited several moments and then ever so gently inched her fingers down into his trench coat pocket and felt around at some small pieces of paper. She dragged them out, all the while aware of his thick, congested breathing. What if he woke up and accused her of stealing? She felt herself getting riled, steaming at the injustice of it. The pieces of paper. She brought her attention to them, one by one examining them. Curiously she unfolded a credit card receipt for ten dollars and eighteen cents from a grocery store in San Francisco, the next one from the same store with an amount of ten dollars. She squinted, looking at the last one, a credit card receipt from a restaurant. When she noted its location in Los Angeles a thrill of excitement pulsed through her. Maybe it was really him…
e li zA mi msKi
But still no money. Lah shuddered at the thought of what to do next. She leaned in toward him, angling her body in close to his. Reaching over, she struggled to unbutton his trench coat, making small, simple movements. That done, her hand slipped down into his trouser’s pocket and felt around at some bills. She carefully pulled them out to discover three twenties. She sighed with relief, keeping one to pay for the taxi and slipping the others back where they belonged. Lah felt as if she was in a dream. She turned her head and looked out the window at the passing shops on Mission Street, people like bright dots moving down the street. For them it was just an ordinary day.
d r e A m s of A L L s i z e s
When I was a kid and I found out that Marilyn Monroe had married Arthur Miller, I thought, well, it's about time that somebody realized that the most beautiful women should be marrying writers. I was only disappointed that nobody had told me before. My cousin had a poster of Marilyn Monroe in her room. She was Iranian on her father's side and white on her mother's side. "Do you know who she was married to?" I said to her. "Joe DiMaggio," she said. "After him," I said. "Who?" "Arthur Miller. He wrote Death of a Salesman." "Oh yes." "That's pretty important, don't you think?" "She was married to another guy before them." "She was?" Okay, a beautiful woman wasn't going to know right away that she ought to be marrying a writer. It was going to take her some
time to figure it out. I was going to have to be patient. Those poor baseball players, I thought. They didn't know what was coming. I didn't have anything against baseball players. I used to go out in my backyard and practice leaping over the fence to rob guys of a home run. But even the best catch in the world was something you did by yourself. A good book had everybody in it. It had her in it, the woman who was deciding between marrying a baseball player or a writer. So why wouldn't she pick the guy who had been paying attention to her all along? It seemed pretty simple to me. "My dad said that when he saw her movies in Iran, he knew he wanted to come to America," my cousin said. I looked at the poster. She was beautiful, but I couldn't understand coming to a whole new country for her. "Did he know that she married Arthur Miller?" I said. "He knew everything about her." I wanted to ask her how come he didn't become a writer then, but I didn't. The truth was that I didn't understand how anybody didn't become a writer, even before I found out about Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller. That did seal it though. I didn't think my cousin knew why my family had come to America. It was because we had to,
because my father had been in some political groups that meant it was hard for him to stay in Iran. I didn't think I should tell her after the stuff about her father and Marilyn Monroe. I didn't know how two people could leave Iran for America so differently as my uncle and my father, but I guessed it was like the baseball players and the writers. It was just that I liked to think that everybody in Iran wanted to be a writer. I wished I could tell everybody in Iran to just forget about American movies. I've been here, I would tell them, it's not like they try to show in the movies. Most of the beautiful women don't even know that they should be marrying writers. Most of the people care a lot more about Joe DiMaggio than about Arthur Miller. But in that sense the movies were an honest representation of America at least. My cousin dreamed in movies, just like her father had done. I guess I did too when it came to Marilyn Monroe, but at least that was the dream of her real life. I hadn't seen any of her movies. The only person I knew who didn't dream in movies at all was my father. If I were to tell him that I was glad to find out that Marilyn Monroe had married Arthur Miller, he would say, "That's nice," and go back to thinking about the world. I liked that about him because I was beginning to suspect that there were bigger dreams to have and I wanted to know what they were. I thought that
si A mA K Vossou gh i
those were the dreams that somebody who wanted to be a writer ought to have. So pretty soon after I found out that Marilyn Monroe had married Arthur Miller, I figured my job was to forget about the fact that Marilyn Monroe had married Arthur Miller. If a writer wanted to write something good enough that a beautiful woman like her would want to marry him, then he had to have bigger dreams. She was the last person he should be thinking of on the way there.
B e A u tif u L h u r t
I didn’t have the best social skills as a homeless addict. Now with a month clean and sober, I want a date. A real, romantic, seated upright, clothes on, talking with the guy Date. I go to a meeting for recovering addicts where we work over the irony that was our ability to play with hundreds of guys under the influence of our drug. Now, clean and sober, with real feelings at stake, we’re too terrified of rejection to ask a guy out on a real date. I am so healed revealing everything about myself, including my addiction. I was very broken from a “Greatest Generation” family that hid alcoholism, cancer, unwed pregnancies, and gay sons in the darkness of shame. Revealing myself turns out to be connectable to other people. My family is no different than yours. We’re so starved for the truth. Here I am: a month clean, asking for a date.
Attempt #1: “I’m John, recovering gay white crack whore with HIV, can I buy you a coffee?”
Ya know, it’s easy to stand here now with eight months clean and see why that didn’t go over so well. But at the time, I thought it was honest thrilling luscious, and it was… for me. That’s the selfishness of my addiction; it was all about me. I never stopped to consider the effects of my words and behavior on the people around me. I am recounting the epic failure of my pick-up line to friend Matthew. “If my HIV and recovery are going to be an issue,” I reasoned, “let’s get that right out on the table.” Matthew is nodding along with a somewhat incredulous look on his face, and with infinite patience and love for me he says, “John, I get you, I do, and your honesty and integrity are really admirable, but maybe you should start with… hello.” My “sponsor,” a surfer and recovered addict who guides me in my recovery, calls his higher power/ God entity, “dude.” When I’m craving crystal meth or struggling with a problem he’s always like, “did ‘ya talk to dude about it? When I have a problem I talk to dude about it, try talking to dude about it.” I guess after talking to dude, my sponsor suggested I turn myself in, serve my 30-day sentence and pay my debt to society for stealing a computer back in the middle of my drug-a-log.
Attempt #2: We’re watching the TV show “Cops” in the Napa County Jail. The irony of watching the show “Cops” from jail is not lost on me. What’s even better is we’re sitting here criticizing the behavior of the perps on the show for doing the same dumb shit that landed us here in jail. “You dumb fuck,” one of the inmates is yelling at the TV, “you don’t take a stolen computer to the pawn shop.” “Can you believe that stupid fuck,” I chime in, “now he’s going to jail.” “Can you believe that dumb fuck,” Amadeus says. Amadeus is magnetic, smooth, Asian, Spanish, long black hair, skin warm desert sand, yearning kisses beautiful. I lean over to him and say “hello, I’m John, recovering gay white crack whore with HIV, would you like to come over to my cell for a cup of instant coffee?” The look on his face – I’ve never seen anything like it before or since, and I think the idea of “dating,” in jail, in retrospect, is easily misconstrued. My friend Matthew says I have a problem with compulsive disclosure.
Joh n PAnze r
Attempt #3: I’m four months clean, no more legal problems, cleaning up my past, and grateful for a little job busing tables. One day while I’m working, a handsome guy walks out to the patio wearing a Sugar Land Skeeters baseball cap, so I said cheerfully, “Hey, are you a Skeeters fan?” He said, “Yeah, how do you know the Skeeters?” At some point I got slightly sidetracked while answering his question and heard myself detailing a certain baseball player’s awkward batting stance and how it reminded me of straight porn; in that something about it just looked horrifyingly wrong. And although I wasn’t sure how to fix straight people sex, or a batting stance, I was offering the same suggestions for both: For starters, calm the fuck down, slow the fuck down, I don’t know – maybe lengthen your stroke; think line-drive, up the middle, right over the second baseman’s head. When I finally noticed the look on his face I said, “Is it too late to start over, can I start over?” It was too late to start over.
Attempt #4: I was coming home from school when I heard the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had struck down California’s Proposition 8 – the ballot measure banning same sex-marriage. Friends were posting the news on Facebook that same-sex marriage would soon be restored, and the streets of San Francisco were celebratory. To see Allen jolts me thrilling. I met him at UC Berkeley where I started school. He is Taiwanese, tall, handsome, quiet, volleyball player, gentle, powerful, languid, beautiful. Fresh with excitement, and possibility from the 9th Circuit Court’s decision, I called Allen. When he answered the phone, I was so warmed by his dependable, loving careful, masculine voice, all I could say was, “Marry me.” Not - hello, how are you? Not - do you want to get a coffee, or see a movie? Marry me. Dead silence. I talked to dude about it. Now I’m going to share with you my secret to successful dating. I actually have lots of dates, and for one reason. I’m not afraid to ask.
Joh n PAnze r
I learned this secret and used it successfully during my long career in non-profit fundraising before I discovered drugs. Americans gave away $217 billion dollars in charitable gifts last year. The challenge to raising money isn’t getting people to give; it’s getting people to ask. 40 million Americans went on dates last year. The challenge to having a date isn’t getting someone you like to say yes, it’s getting you, or in this case me, to ask. Baseball is a game of failure. A “300” hitter makes $15 million dollars a year in Major League Baseball. 300 is a batting average, specifically 3 hits in 10 at bats. That means a great hitter fails to get a hit 70% of the time. I write poetry and creative non-fiction. I submit to a journal or reading series six or seven times before I’m selected and I’m thrilled. Now sure, every rejection crushes me. My sponsor says I’m still learning how to distinguish between a bad day… and the end of the world. Rejection and failure are the beautiful hurts as much a part of writing for me as the act of writing itself.
Attempt #5: He just sent me a text message from a table at Café Flore in The Castro. We met on-line; he’s too shy to
send me his picture. He knows what I look like, but I don’t know what he looks like. I step inside the door at Flore and scan the café full of guys looking for someone looking for me. His eyes - table just inside the door to my left - scan me up and down and look away uninterested. His eyes - table against the wall, back right corner glance up from his computer hopeful and interested, then back down quickly. His eyes - table in the middle of the room - look around like he’s waiting for someone, land on me… then keep looking. I take a few steps into Flore to look around the corner at the tables to the left, sweat rising that I’ve already been spotted and rejected. His eyes – table along the windows – merely fall on me like snow… then melt with recognition; eyes of onyx and Juliet’s cut stars. He is smiling over balled up hands; elbows on the table. I smile back and as I approach him he rises to welcome me into his energy, his smile, his hand extended, his acceptance. “Hello, I’m John, recovering gay white crack whore with HIV, what would you like in your coffee?” He bursts out laughing; his beautiful face tips back
Joh n PAnze r
into the golden light that is Café Flore in the evening. His laughter subsides as if in slow motion and his eyes come back down to mine. “A little half and half, no sugar, would be great, thanks,” he says. We settle into a delightful evening over coffee flavored with our previous failings, redemption, gratitude for each other’s company, and the courage to ask.
RA E. DASIS
Begin with two pieces of bread. Any kind you like. Try wheat bread. Preferably homemade, baked in an oven. So maybe you actually start there. With the oven, a mixer, some butter and water and flour. Well if you can, you could always harvest your own wheat. While you are at it, churn your own butter too. Your bread will be so much more delicious this way. Just be sure to use fresh cow’s milk. Milk your cow. Or your neighbor’s. Any healthy animal. A goat could work. You might actually want to raise your milk goats from kids to goat-hood. Find a nice spot in the yard for them to graze on clover. You should also consider growing some sweet grasses that goats like. Appalachia has some great plots of land good for growing grass and raising milk goats. Might want to sell your home. Just move somewhere warmer, smaller. You’ll like it there.
g o d sP e e d
There’s this bar. It’s up the street from my house. It’s got carpet on the floors so it always reeks of stinky feet and stale beer. I go there Tuesdays and Thursdays, my drinking days. Tuesdays and Thursdays I let myself go, imbibing what I want, all fucking nightlong if I want. I enjoy everything about those two days, like Sabbaths, like national holidays. I stroll and saunter in slippers from my house through the changing neighborhood nodding to Mr. Delbert who’s always on his porch with his Rottweiler, Mr. Dog, that has scared the shit out of my daughter since she was born. He says to me every time I pass, gonna be a good evening? And I say every time in response, it already is. And he every time says, you say that every time. And I say, you have to start somewhere. He nods then and says, take it easy. And I nod back. I say, hello Mr. Dog.
The dog just runs along the fence growling. Tonight in the bar it’s just me and Bob the Bartender, a poet. I’ve never asked to see his writing, and he’s never offered, a stalemate. He says, Mr. Brown. And I say, Bob the Bartender. We nod, and he busies himself doing whatever bartenders do when there’s absolutely no one in a bar and they want to avoid chitchatting. He slides the remote down the bar and then a sparkly water. Soon he will come over with my tumbler of Bullet, decent and much cheaper than the stuff they charge 8 or 9 bucks for. My daughter, earlier in the afternoon, as her mom and step-father came to pick her up, reminded me not to spend too much, that I needed to put away the amount I promised her I would for her college tuition. I reminded her to put the dishes in the dishwasher away. She said, that’s a straw man argument. I corrected her, it’s a red herring. Either way, she said, fallacious. I nodded. She nodded and hugged me and said, Godspeed.
She’s 17 and applying to colleges and studying for the SAT so she’s using words that never sound right in a sentence spoken by anyone who’s first language is English. She pulled away and marched to the car, arrogant, confident like a cop. From the back seat I saw her wave. I did nothing back but watched them drive away down the street, red taillights blinking like Christmas, like condescending winks as they rolled over speed bumps. Bob the Bartender finally makes it over to me and asks, the same. I say, yes. He grabs a glass and grabs the bottle of Bullet. The ice cubes seem to sparkle, the bourbon looks warm and inviting, perfect for this October evening in Oakland. My life feels prefabricated, nauseating, one of those advertising moments. I sip the drink and the burn wakes me up. I ask Bob the Bartender, did you take the SAT? Yes, he says, and the GRE. Really? Yes and did well.
t omAs moni z
His girlfriend walks in blonde, slim, and she unwraps her scarf exposing skin white and delicate. I fight the urge to think of her paternally. Hi, she says pats my back and sits in the empty stool next to me. This place stinks, she says. I say, I agree. Bob the Bartender says, I agree. There is a silence like we just all said something profound. Then I say, did the test help you in any part of your real life? I probably could solve a basic math question. He places a gin and tonic in front of his girlfriend with the bitable neck. She says, I love taking tests. We both turn to her. Katie, Bob the bartender says, who asked you. I look up and away at the TV screen showing some basketball game. I hear her snap something back to him. They bark on and I watch the ball being dribbled. I hear their voices. I reach into my pocket and finger the two 20 dollar bills in my pocket.
I sip the bourbon still warm and welcoming. Godspeed I think to myself. Bob and Katie, I say loudly so they have to take notice. How many words do you think there are for good-bye? Bob the Bartender says, why? Are you leaving? Katie says, so long. Farewell. Too-da-loo. Adios. In English. Don’t you think adios is anglicized by now. Just like arrivederci. Bon voyage. Ciao. Sayonara, Bob the Bartender says and bows. Don’t be a racist asshole, Katie says and spins in her chair to view the people who just entered the bar. Soon, the bar starts to fill up with a few of the neighborhood old folks who have come to this bar for decades. Not drunks really, just lonely men and a few women who come dressed up like the carpet in the bar was red. The bar also gets a younger crowd, partly because Wednesdays and on weekends the owner hosts events: karaoke, jazz and poetry open mic. But tonight it’s mostly just us. Jason, an aging punker who lives on my street and Freddy, who always seems to be wearing the same clothes. There’s
t omAs moni z
also Susan the upstairs tenant who acts like she has some kinda power in the place. Like if we piss her off she can get us kicked out. Bob the Bartender gets busy. Katie the Neck gets drunk and sloppy. I drink through my first 20. Mr. Delbert shows up. Jerome comes over to me to talk sports. I break the next 20. I think of the money I am saving to help my daughter leave. Money comes, money goes. We have to learn to say good-bye to so many things. Hasta la vista. C’est la vie. I repeat all the words to say good-bye in my head. I imagine myself waving back to her. Farewell. So long. Goodbye.
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