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a monthly submission-based reading series with 2 stipulations:

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sparkle + blink 42
2013 Quiet Lightning ISBN 978-1-304-25755-0 artwork Nigel Sussman I Should Like to Lay Waste to Story by Carleen Tibbetts appeared in Cease, Cows Inheritance by Tracey Knapp originally appeared in Connotation Press 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.
subm it @ qu iet l i g ht n i n g . org

curated by

Chris Cole, Meghan Thornton & Evan Karp

featured artist Nigel


Set 1
CARLEEN TIBBETTS I Should Like to Lay Waste to Story


The Complications of Honey This Poem is a Delicate Operation

1 2 3

The Alternative to Poems About Poetry 5 11 13 17 19 20 21 25 29



Mixed Results The Body That Has Nothing to Say Self-Portrait with Eidolon Gnostic Aubade Spider Breath Some Dates I Have Been On Chan Bpen Crue


set 2

35 39 42

Harm Done Tender Bones

MIQUILA ALEJANDRE Love: A Short Starring Jack Whitfield 45

Derivation of the Term of Endearment My Boo


46 47

Think Her Name Was Martha

CARLEEN TIBBETTS I Should Like to Lay Waste to Story 55




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 Meghan Thornton treasurer Kristen Kramer chair S.B. Stokes director of volunteers Sarah Ciston director of books Jacqueline Norheim art director Sarah Maria Griffin and Ceri Bevan directors of special operations If you live in the Bay Area and are interested in helpingon any levelplease send us a line: ev an @ quiet light ning . org



In 2013, Quiet Lightning is teaming up with a different literary organization each month in order to bring together the many outstanding series and organizations of the Bay Area literary world, and to introduce its various audience members to programming they might like but not yet know about. For these reasons, we will create custom-designed shows that combine the defining features of Quiet Lightning with those of each months partner organization. This months collaboration with the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowerspart one of the annual three-show summer series The Greenhouse Effectis the eighth show of our Tour and a return to form: the two-set literary mixtape, selected through a blind process and featuring all forms of writing.
For details on the TOUR T H R OU GH T OWN visit our website:


- SET 1 -




I approach love as I would a city, errant in its silk and manifestations of gray. The heart, strange hub of all exchange, has been known to fold in on itself. Wishes are arterial and charms are wasted on children. Life is not palindrome, but there is traction, insular lunacy, and the thrum of beguilement. There must be a kinder, gentler way to thin the herd. I should like to die in an outmoded way. I should like to lay waste to story, rip the throat from the dream, and trade the love for the fuck.


Flowers are natures most beautiful liars. The challenge is finding an irresistible blossom open, but patience pays when observing the arrangement between partners. Success is escaping the lie with a reward, seeing yet another spring unfurl, thrilling the next ritual-seeker. The honeybee knows only the dance, the irrefutable logic of honeycomb. When I talk to the outside world, I ask to be bruised by wildflowers. I think of nothing else.


like eating violet petals or a lover grazing your childhood scars this poem tears at your elsewheres creeps into the centermost cake of your heart if you are absolutely still, this poem makes the sound of eyelash on eyelash drape this poem around you let it trellis down your shoulders let it make love to your vices let this poem shore up against your backside in your sleep throw its arm across your chest cocoon you will you hold it tight? will you keep it safe from the spies of tomorrow?

Ca rle e n T i bbe tts

Watch Carleen Tibbets read "I Should Like to Lay Waste to Story", "The Complications of Honey", and "This Poem is a Delicate Operation"

I once claimed I would never write another poem about poetry I swear this is not that. This is a prelude to a prologue: You should have seen the nightstand; an enormous monument made from your immense reserves of literata immersed in pheromones I swear I can smell across an entire continent; Skyscraper mags and zines scaled to their peaks each and every tower replicating the DNA spiral to the tipping point of full nightstand capacity, where we would free fall down down into the sea of starlight where we have imagined ourselves clean again. I always was the wraith you meant to make out of me, dreamed in the back of a doomed Strategic Air Command outpost in a neon Babylon





Where a half century of nicotine ghosts congealed into shimmering mildew black lakes of cold war madness perfectly affixed to the inside out sides of light fixture bowls; the smell of rain and desperation for touch emanating from each noxious ripple Unknowing of real language Knowing only the shuffle shuffle rhythm Of olive all of you, singing my underneath reaching. It wouldnt be purgatory if we didnt keep coming back here to decay. And lest you start to suspect This is a poem about poetry Let me point out that this is a Prologue for a prologue: the appearance of design necessarily infers the design of appearance: tools, mechanisms rendered into patterns of a rush and a push and the loved ones we stand upon will be ours then wont they? Treachery is so tired now, but never more than after all these festivals; these monstrous exhibitions and peacock fanning marathons. The kind of exhausted that dispenses with all carnal knowledge and barely bothers with a hug and a hard peck; to prevent the inevitable overtaking of us by laughing sand and no one escapes that laughter. No one escapes that sand.

I cannot sleep. I realize I can never sleep on the night before any day or after you leave me and on this night your lovely oval face melts into the pillow the forever furrows in your brow become ether; your porcelain truth glows in this darkest of darks where the last memory of anything worth living for clings to the wall tissues more desperately than any creation we have borne up until this moment. Better to square up dignity for now this moment has passed and only the invisible qualities have stayed. Here now we have reached the section of this literary exercise where an actual poem would be located in this layering of qualifications into which you have been lured, but since we have all consensually agreed for there to be no more goddamn fucking poems about poetry you have no other choice but to take my hand and continue following me deeper into this labyrinth.
Pau l Corman- Robe rts

Dont play with me boy. she kept asking in my direction; truth as desire truth as pain Separate these things but not here, no, no one here wishes to see truth as its true self. The reminders are too painful: betraying giving killing How could this ever be a holy land? How could this ever be poetry and not An epilogue to a prologue in spite of which Everything means something no matter how in fashion the variations on this trope happen to be. A civilization cum jihad can be created out of any vile impulse pulled out of anyones ass, the choice to choose to do so remaining ever ours. To pretend. Anything. Why wouldnt you? Start with moisture from the body. What is this moisture freely given for?

To those things most important to the giver: entire meta-universes contained in trails of moist running down the mammals cheek on frozen, lightless mornings. Empirically disprove this and then perhaps we shall be in dialogue. Until then our teeth are coated in such things as burn faster than the speed of thought. Why would we ever choose to stop playing with Prometheus matches? Now knowing not whats on the other side, but simply that there IS another side. Go on. Fumble with them. Your fingers will always be furious with this fire. No matter how many times you burn yourself out. No matter how many times your dust coats my teeth. Afterword to an Epilogue: I feel the hardening in your stance. In your protest In your pull I dont always need soft I need You In that smallest singularity of Shiva I will charge behind the main curtain
Pau l Corman- Robe rts

For that peek that scent that taste

Of the soupy dark matter we pull from ourselves to find it is only a flimsy blanket made entirely of mirrors drawn overhead till rivulets of cold crystal star shine stream down the heavy frames of our spines, a circuit of the senses calling us back for a dance set to soundless music, never repeating but whose familiarity will never be forgotten between divining and archiving lies the great muddle of a thing called us. I never promised It would work out The way we wanted. The alternative to poems about poetry I mean.


Watch Paul Corman-Roberts perform "The Alternative to Poems About Poetry"



Im never sure where things belong. In many situations this poses a problem. And the situations are indeed many, given the amount of things that must be placed in their respective homes, nooks, crannies. For example, a person may be handed a dish, by another who has just finished drying it, in a strangers kitchen, say while a raucous party is in full swing, and like a dog with the well established powerful nose, will place it in the correct cabinet. Not me. Im as likely to walk that dry dish into a bedroom on the second floor, where the hostess is engaged in an indisputable act of infidelity, with a person Im going to assume is unknown to her, until fairly recently, since she is requesting intimate acts of offering from him that he seems ill acquainted with. She gives him lively little instructions that dont sound as if they are entirely in English, but mostly do, such as her oft repeated phrase My toe, my toe, which she almost shrieks, as if she had stubbed those toes of hers. Her toes are not visible on account of her green hi-top Converse sneakers, which are a fantastic touch. Perhaps she keeps them deliberately out of sight, while referencing them so forcefully, for a reason. It may be no accident that what she keeps encased in hipster footwear, while more or

less everything else is out in the open, is her way of challenging her lover of the moment, into unlocking the code of her deeper desire. And while all this is interesting enough, I am still stuck with the question of where to put the dish. You see the problem?


You dont believe a soul, or the contents of a sentence uttered by a soul. Maybe a morsel, once in a while, seems digestible, but it hardly matters. Youve grown cynical. Perhaps you might have remained hopeful, but you never saw depth that didnt make you want to drain the pool. You were suspicious of content, didnt care for the tedious elaborations people saw as themselves. You were an early opponent of too much information. Now you sit in your bathrobe with the hood pulled up, like a Benedictine monk accidentally deposited in a downtown Oakland condo, the view sealed off with heavy curtains. Youre a dour creature. And then it happens, the dormant machinery of your life cranks up. Light is present, and its glaring. You can hardly get your bearings, and youre glad. Glad doesnt really capture it, because nothing captures it. Youre captured. She comes out of nowhere. She makes an offer, and it is sizeable. The sheer scale of it makes it non-optional, or so you think. Actually, youve stopped thinking. A silenced mind, the goal of mystics, the trademark of happiness, it is yours in the split second that follows her saying: Undress me.

P e te r Bu lle n


You dont know her. Because once you know someone, once their content is spilling into your life like four rooms full of unpacked boxes, do they ever say undress me in that tone of voice? And then quite bizarrely, as a few mental faculties start to trickle back into consciousness, you realize that you do in fact know her, kind of. Your friend Toby introduced you to her long ago. How long ago? Youve forgotten. It wouldnt help to remember. How will memory help now? What would a remembered detail offer you? But one comes anyway. She had a clammy handshake, which is funny to think about, not that you know why its funny. You dont know anything. Youre shaking. Toby probably said: This is my wife, Sylvia. He probably had a proud look. Toby had too many proud looks for his own good. Perhaps they tired her out. Who knows what tired her out. Right now, shes wide awake. What are you waiting for? Sylvia says. Where are you? Whose room are you in? Is this a hotel? How did you get here? You think she drove? Youre probably right. Shes got the wheel, thats for sure. Did you tie up loose ends before coming? Isnt that what dragged you down in the first place, loose ends, the firing squad of ongoing tasks, the life of an actual adult? How about your mother, did you forget about her, your last parent left on this earth, did she escape your notice? What kind of son are you? Convenient; putting your mother out of your mind, setting her aside, while you do what exactly? Start with my blouse, Sylvia says.

Its a vintage blouse, light blue, almost prim. It has buttons. It seems contradictory, her so open, provocative, sexy, and the Victorian flavor of her blouse, creeping in from another time, reminding you things have not always been this way. You are not in a Jane Austen novel, are you? I dont suppose youve forgotten the name of your mothers favorite author. Are you going to lift your shaky hands to those buttons? Will you find a graceful path to Sylvias breasts? This is a task you dont mind embarking on Im guessing, something you can handle, something to get you out of the house. Your mother managed the house, raised you kids, worked damn hard too, on account of your fathers, shall we say lackluster work ethic. Is lackluster the right word? Did you leave your elderly mother at a bus stop, the wrong bus stop maybe? Was that deliberate? Did it help facilitate your desires? What if shes irretrievable, that mother of yours? What if she never gets home? Wont you ask yourself how you could have misplaced her so convincingly? Sylvias blouse is off. You may be responsible for that, unless she grew tired of waiting and did it herself. Would you have left all the work to her? My bra, can you help with that? she asks, which could be a clue. What does this clue reveal about your level of commitment, your sense of responsibility, about what may or may not have happened between you and Sylvia, about the possible location of your mother, if she is still with us, if she has not yet gone from this world? Was your mother once in a room like
P e te r Bu lle n


this, a dark room, a room off the beaten track, so far off it, you cant say with certainty where it is actually located? Was there another man perhaps, one different from your lethargic pop? In a musty room like this one, your mom, a stranger, the strangers competent hands on her, the hands of a diligent, hard working man, who could manage, who could lead, lead your mother to a place like this, remove her garments, her smiling, an expression of delight filling her usually melancholy face. A man who knows what hes doing, at last. Could those have been your mothers thoughts? You are quite beside yourself. Bras can be a tricky operation, isnt that so? Hooks and what have you. You see Sylvias breasts. They are out in the open. They are free of any kind of confinement. They are a wild garden. You had filed her away under: wife of Toby, wet handshake. And now this same woman brings you to life. Did you help? Have you ever really helped anyone? Did you put your shoulder to the wheel in this particular case? Did you do your fair share? Is that how Sylvias breasts came out, as a result of your effort? Will there be a funeral for your mother if the worst comes to pass? Of course there will be a funeral, if they can find her, to bury her that is. She will have to be tracked down first. Even a dead person must be discovered and returned, in order to be laid to rest. You know that. You can touch me, Sylvia says.


Watch Peter Bullen read "Confession" and "Mixed Results"




When will he lick the candlewick clean with his dull tongue. When will he open his eyes & know me. The chimes in his throat toll once, twice, three times trilling along with ashen birds. We both suffer at the edge of daybreak. We both live on the cusp. Fire hisses petulantly beneath the sheets. I keep forgetting he isnt him anymore. I dont pray for or to him, to his soul whatever porthole of flesh that fell out of. If I sleep with my back to the fire, I dream of him lumbering through a copse of sycamores, his teeth white as the heat of desire. Hes neither screaming nor smiling. He collects the stars in a cup like rain. He pulls the sky down like loose thread. I think writing down my dreams might resurrect his venal eyes, the cold slab of his flesh. I miss resting against his chest with the sureness of a fence. If, when he wakes up, he will be the same person.


Loss has a way of marking every touch with forbearance, every sting real & intimate. One thing is certain, the body in this bed is a poor substitute for the body that it was. Even in life, he had nothing to sayhis body moved without sentiment, & it devastated me. Sometimes my red mouth lies. We forget how cruelly, how artful, the tongue twists truth into the ear like a shiv. He always winced when I spoke, tried to cut my lips & pry the meat of my thighs open. I cant forgive him for leaving me alone by the fire, for being gone. His cock bends beneath the white surface of the bed like a wilting flower, his thick hands clasp my wrists to hold me down. He wants my mouth swollen shut with honey, to reach through the window of my flesh toward the moon. He wants to catch its light.



All I know is how to shiver. I was born in rain & continue to live there. I wont believe you if you tell me that its warm. I wont be able to feel it. Belief rests cold & heavy on my tongue. If, somehow, it evaporates, I will relinquish time as another figure to be tabulated along with height, weight, waist, & dick size. Only when you know my proportions will you want me. Or know that you dont. Men are very particular that way. When the seasons change, signal me with a cuttlefishs war painteach throbbing wave of color crushed under the cherry of my tongue, each sigh a psalm. I want to know a cloudless world, the soft kiss of a summer breeze. Wrestle my animus to the ground while my body shyly watches. Help me find a new country, a dry land full of dust devils. A place to mouth dumb questions to a god that doesnt have ears enough to answer.
T ori Adki sson


In the morning, say what is the beautiful thing that is broken? Say we do not sing one song. The morning comes suddenly, the light cutting across the door like a blade, the sun is quick, opaque, & white, within a cats paw. So say lets sit awhile in a state of awe, lets tap on the glass until we hear a heartbeat or the beating of wings & look, theres a damselfly circling the empty space, her eyes compound, compound, compound: you are just one of many copies. The morning is when we pray & drink coffee & invent a new language consisting mostly of warbles. Your hand wakes. Remember forgetting to lock the door? So find the stranger in your bed. His body isnt as foreign or rotten as you think. Say yes, I know how he got herehow all of us got here even though you dont. You couldnt.

Watch Tory Adkisson read three poems




Nine: The first time I thought I would die, I was clinging to the dingy my dad rented. His hands worked to learn the ropes and rudder, and we teetered, the sail slicing at our heads. I kept mine down, watched our seaside motel grow smaller, thought of sharks collecting beneath us as the ocean floor dropped. He battled and shook, but his hands didnt learn, so his mouth leaked a wake of dirty words. The words in my mouth soured from sitting: Look what you have done. Jumping in, hanging on neither was going to save us. ~ Twenty-two: Somewhere in Humboldt County the car in front of mine hit its brakes. So I hit mine, right in the middle of the highway. Everything stopped but my boyfriends mouth. How I remember it: his mouth kept on despite the redwoods looming, the raindrops hovering, the pale woman sailing over the first car toward our windshield, her chin cranked queerly past her shoulder, her one eye meeting mine like she wanted a witness. ~ Eleven: My babysitter, Mary, sprayed her hair

high with Aqua-net, stacked it up like a pile of black cotton candy. Can we do mine like yours? I said, and she sat me on a barstool in front of the bathroom mirror. She teased and sprayed and bobby-pinned until I couldnt have been taller. Why doesnt everyone wear her hair like this? She said they used to, until that old lady died, the one whose hair was home to a black widow. They found the woman dead in her bed, found two tiny punctures on her scalp and an egg sack in her hair. They never did find the spider. ~ Thirteen: When my dad discovered my tampons in the bathroom, he put me in his truck and drove me around town. He didnt say why or where we were going, and soon the streets repeated. When he spoke, somewhere near the Brussels sprout fields, he said, Now that youve become a woman, you need to understand. He said, If you get pregnant and have an abortion, I will kill the father. I wont kill you because youre my daughter, but if you take a life, a life will be taken in return. After that he turned the truck around and drove to Safeway, picked up some hamburger meat and ice cream. ~ Thirty: I awoke the morning of my birthday. I was not yet dead. ~


Six: Camping with my dad at the Fortuna KOA, he told me people eat spiders in their sleep. Hundreds of them in a lifetime. They crawl toward the smell. Dont be a mouth-breather, he said, and then he rolled over. ~ Twenty-seven: The Pacific sparkled beyond the guardrail as I forced the shifter forward and back, worked the pedals with two feet, cranked the wheel to follow a road that stitched the edge of a mountain. My boyfriend was giving me that look, like driving stick is foreplay and why dont I pull over. He didnt feel the pull of the ocean below, the slight drift of our car when I looked back. He didnt thrash in our tent each morning when the same dream spun its reel: the screeching of metal against the guardrail, our Datsun flipping over and cartwheeling down, the slap of the ocean and then the slow sucking under, the both of us each millisecond wondering, Am I alive? Am I still alive? ~ Thirty-Five: To this day I am not a mouth-breather. I am not much of a breather at all.

Watch Kara Vernor read "Spider Breath"

Ka ra Ve rnor




Year: 2001 Setting: Humboldt County, CA I meet a Nice Guy who wears his hair in two braids and lives in an abandoned dentists office and stays up all night writing raps about the desecration of Mother Earth on his typewriter. He takes me on a moonlight hike. Half a mile into the hike, he goes oddly quiet. We are holding hands. His hand starts to twitch. I get that weird feeling you get when you are around people on hallucinogenics. Suddenly: he is down, down on the ground. Flailing. All 65 of him. Through a series of frantic hand gestures, I learn that he is diabetic, and needs sugar. Of which there is none, because we are in the woods. At night. I light what was supposed to be a romantic candle next to him, and run back to my car to scrounge for an expired fruit roll up under the seats. I fall down in the mud 12 times. I return. I feed him the fruit roll up. Year: 2002 Setting: Deep suburbia, CA First, some context: I meet a man in my very own


living room. He is a friend of a friend. I am wearing sweatpants and watching Karate Kid by myself. He convinced me to top a fence to a nearby swimming pool. I get stuck at the top of the fence and cry. He has to coax me down. Afterwards he asks me on a date, sweatpants, tears, Ralph Macchio and all. For a variety of reasons, I am not into going on dates with anyone at this juncture. He persists. Alright, I think, You asked for it. I demand he take me to every suburban familys Friday night ritual zoo and purveyor of limply fried food, TGI Fridays. We can barely hear each other over balloons popping and children shrieking. I am mostly quiet. Do you know why I like this place? I finally say, so quietly that he has to lean in very close to hear me. I like this place because they have bottomless baskets of french fries. I like to come here alone, order a basket of fries, and read the New York Times. Thats what I do for fun. I sit back. He stares at me. Youre so...real, he whispersighs. We move to New Orleans together two weeks later. Year: 2006 Setting: Mission District, CA It is a local hipster coffee shops blow-out prom party, by exclusive invitation. The very cute owner of my favorite bar asks to take me. We end up on sort of a double-date with another couple who are also on a first date. We dance, we laugh, we take goofy pictures. We pile into a van to go to an after-party. The girl on the other date is showing everyone her

tattoos. I got this tattoo of plaid because, I dunno, I just like plaid? she says. Date and I had bonded earlier over people with dumb tattoos. Whats the writing on your chest? he asks her. Its a line from my favorite Decemberists song: You Are the Heart That I Call Home. I suppress a snicker, and try to catch Dates eye for a conspiratorial eye roll. Hes staring at her. Thats the most beautiful thing Ive ever heard, he says in a low and husky voice. I find them making out in the hallway of the party an hour later. Year: 2007 Setting: Pirate ship, CA A well-known drummer from a local band sends me a message on a now-too-embarrassing-to-admit social networking website. Hes seen me at the bar (that belongs to the previous date!), he sees that one of my interests is train whistles in the night (which: ugh, 26 year old self). Would I like to go with him to this pirate ship docked in the bay that holds sea shanty singalongs? Where we bring our own mugs and they ladle out hot apple cider? Maybe a picnic first? UM, YES! Cutest date idea ever! We have a picnic, we drink a bottle of wine (correction: I take a sip, he drinks the rest). We laugh, we frolic. Suddenly his band and entourage show up. One friend (his Best Friend, she will have me know) starts to...bogart our date? We move to the pirate ship. Date is very, very drunk. These sea shanty-ers are very, very serious. Date is sitting next to Best Friend with his head
Me li ssa Gra e be r


slumped on her shoulder. He is slurring, shouting, singing off-key. Someone throws a paper cup at him. A little boy asks his father, is that man a pirate? The father replies, son, that man is a drunk. We are kicked out. Best Friend turns to me. Do we need to give you a ride home? she asks, sickly-sweet. We walk back to Dates car. He is too drunk to drive. The car is a stick shift. Best Friend and I do not drive stick shift. We hail a taxi van. In the first row of the van sit myself and Date. Dates head is nestled on my shoulder. In the row behind us sits Best Friend. Dates left arm is awkwardly thrown over his right shoulder, holding Best Friends hand behind him. Take a moment and truly envision this spectacle. They drop me off at my house. Date calls the next day and asks me out again.

Watch Melissa Graeber read "Some Dates I Have Been On"





So for months I have been going around with my one Thai sentence I am teacher. This is helpful on the little busses as I just keep repeating I am teacher until they take me to the right school. (Who knew there were so many schools between Khao Lak and Takupapa?) However, it is limiting in conversation and probably fairly confusing. How old are you? I am teacher. Do you want rice with that? I am teacher. Do you have a boyfriend? (accompanied by a semi rude gesture of 2 fingers together) I am teacher. So I decided to get serious about learning Thai and went to a Thai lesson. I learned the names of the months and how to say when is your birthday. I kept reading the phrase to people. No one knew what the hell I was saying. Guydamn tonal language. If you get the tone wrong it is a completely different word. Take the phrase mai mai mai mai mai. Said correctly it means new wood doesnt burn. Oh, of courseall in the tone. There are 5 of these tones. Unfortunately, I am tone deaf. Two weeks ago I went to a lesson with a fantastic teacher. She threatened us with a test. I was the

biggest Catholic schoolgirl nerd so this awakened my intense fear of anything less than an A. I made flashcards and got particularly good at 2 sentences. What color do you like? and What food do you like? My most fantastic day was when I went to the lady who sells fried chicken at a stand next to the 7-11. (Have I mentioned 7-11 is my favorite place in Thailand? Blessedly cold.) Anyways, I asked chicken mama what her favorite color was. She understood me! She told me her favorite color was red. I understood her! Then I looked around at her stand the fried chicken feet, the bags of chicken skin rinds, the drumsticks. I know the word for chicken since it is my boyfriends name. So, I asked: what is your favorite food? She answered me in English. Hamburgers and Porkchops! I exclaim in Thai, No chicken! This was met with hilarity all around and I rode off on my groovy bike convinced I would get an A on the test and that all the local people would love me and have in-depth conversations with me about their favorite colors. Test day I arrive at my class, flashcards in hand and sit in the front row. I have brought along my friend Michelle. This is her first Thai class. So, we get going. We learn about questions and opposites. Then we have the test on what we learned that daynot on my flashcard phrases. And Michelle does better than I do. I am convinced it is because she is 23 and I am 37 and I am no longer capable of learning languages and I am a big loser and I am sad. Then we go to dinner at

our local 50-cent restaurant. I ask the lady what is her favorite color and understand yellow. I tell her I like blue. We laugh. I am happy again. The next day I get on a little bus. I am teacher. The Municipal school, ban Yan yao. Its looking like I will get to my school. It may take hours because he is selling beer, pastries, egg rolls, pork rinds, potato chips, energy drinks and pistachio-sesame seed brittle to every restaurant on the 30km stretch of road. No one else is on my little bus. They are on other little busses that keep passing us. I am hungry but cannot remember how to say how much eggroll? An old man gets on my bus. I smile at him. He smiles and points to his face smiling and says something. I think he is saying You have a beautiful face. Or You have a beautiful smile or You have a fat face. But in any case I think it is some attempt at communication and I smile back happily. Then he asks me a question and I say in Thai. I dont understand. (Another phrase I use daily.) He starts naming cities and I understand he is asking where I live so I answer. I am pretty sad that I didnt understand him because that is one of the questions on my flashcards. To make myself feel better I say in Thai, I am teacher. He understands me and asks me where. Wait a minute. I just understood where. Municipal School Ban Yan Yao. He asks me how long I am here. I think. I tentatively say the words 5 months. Month is a really hard word. You have to bare your teeth when you say it. My god, he understands me. He says something. I repeat it
Li ne tte Escoba r


slowly in my head. That is a question from last night. It means why. oh my god i have understood a thai question. i am having a conversation. I say tsunami, he repeats sadly tsunami, and from somewhere that really hard word for volunteer comes out of my mouth and he repeats that I am a tsunami volunteer teacher. I thought my heart would explode from happiness. For four months I have been listening to these nonsensical sounds believing I would never understand an Asian language and wishing I was in a Spanish or French speaking country. I want to find my teacher and hug her. My little bus makes it way right to the front of my school and I get out as my new friend tells me to be careful crossing the street. Or to get the hell out of the bus. Whatever it was, I skip to my class as little kids shout to me hello, hello. I love you! all over the school yard before they burst into peals of laughter. Were all giddy from the feeling of being understood and I laugh and wave back.

Watch Linette Escobar read "Chan Bpen Crue"


- SET 2 -



Ive been checking on your cats as you asked, watering the plants that have since outgrown their rotting baskets, and just today I noticed the skin of mold on the old pot of coffee. It reminded me of a field of algae on the pond out back beyond the ruined railroad ties of this place, once our grandmas house where her dogs uprooted deer bones and nuzzled each others butts under a dim swarm of bees choking themselves on pollen. We used to walk there in the faltering light and you pretended you were the mother who let me sleep on the rocks and eat dirt. I was always in your contextme, the shy one, you with the freckled lips, your saggy hand-me-down swimsuits, how our father loved you so effortlessly. Remember when it downpoured and we were still up in the old oak, the thunder throwing us around? I might have cried or screamed in fear but there you were,


your large eyes electric with thrill, your fist holding mine as the wet leaves stuck to our thighs. How I was just your little sister then, not the weird one who defined your own beauty through its subtle distortion, a chromosomal snag in the family silk. Never mind the blackberry thorns still stuck in my palms from a little shove at the pricker bush. Whatever. Nothing could fix my sullen face like your hand pulling me over the neighbors fence, us both falling backwards into the waist-high grass. Later, I loved your quiet devotion to my ankle as you tweezed a drunken tick. Its ballooned body popped between your fingers and we gasped at the blood. Sometimes I followed you out back while our parents slept your teenage boyfriend hauled the rotting logs and threw them on the fire. Do you remember lying down in the leaves and telling me to get lost? which I always sort of didyour voice lowly murmuring me away, your hair bright and full, the light of the shimmering embers, his tan body arching over you. Sisters can make you feel so small sometimes. Older now, and Im still

exaggerating our differences: your chirpy laugh, my combat boots. But despite your perfect breasts, I can still sit out here on the lawn and drink the last of the beer you left since he slipped you into his white Cadillac, a giant envelope on softened wheels ripping down the dirt roads and off into something like a sunset. I have since waited for you past the stars rising and the days have dropped down before me, asked me knee-bent: what do I own and who owns my life? I beg myself for something other than my own words to answer: the crickets cyclic hymn, your hands braiding my hair behind me.

Watch Tracey Knapp read "Inheritance"

T ra ce y Kna pp




The couple upstairs screamed at each other all night and the couple downstairs wept. I was fascinated by their troubles and often crouched by the heater vent that ran through the center of our apartment house in my nightgown, listening. The problems upstairs had to do with drinking, I discovered; the problems downstairs had to do with infidelity. My husband and I were the only stable ones. I smiled as I came back to bed and slipped in beside him. I had scarcely closed my eyes before I heard the words: Kill him. I sat up. The words had not come from above or below. The words were my own and the man I was speaking to stood in the doorway. He was a stranger to me, tall and stoop-shouldered. It was too dark to see his face. But I could see he held a gun. Kill him, I repeated. The stranger approached and looked down at the bed. My husband lay flat on his back with one bare arm flung over his head and his smooth throat exposed. The stranger pressed the gun against his heart and fired. There was no sound but my husbands chest opened like a flower. He turned to me, uncomprehending. Honey? he asked. Blood pooled from his parted lips.


I leapt out of bed, terrified. I had made a huge mistake. We have to get him to a hospital, I chattered. Hurry! We have to get him to the hospital at once. The stranger nodded, propped my husband up, and led him silently out the hall and down the front stairs. I followed, holding onto my husbands cold hand until the stranger eased him into the front seat of a car parked on the street below. Just before they drove away my husband turned to look up at me through the car window. His expression was serene and sweetly loving. There was no blame in it. I exhaled, deeply relieved. He would live. No harm had been done. I had not killed him. And then I saw that the car was not going to the hospital. It was going in the opposite direction of the hospital. The stranger was not going to save my husband. He was going to take him out to the country and despite my orders he was going to finish murdering him. I woke up in terror. It was dawn; the house was silent; the bedroom was empty. My husband slept beside me. I touched his chest. It was warm and firm and intact. His heart beat innocently beneath my hand. He stirred and turned and reached for me. I settled back down beside him but I kept my eyes open and as soon as it was light I slipped out of bed and went into the kitchen and cooked his favorite breakfast and brought it back to him on a tray. Six months later a tall stooped stranger said my name

at a neighborhood party. He stood in a doorway with the light behind him and when I turned he touched my face. We began an affair and after a year of terrible lies I divorced my husband, who was angry at first, but not that hurt; he soon bought a sports car, began dating twenty year olds and took a better job in a more glamorous city. I was less fortunate. My affair with the stranger didnt last. There was always something wrong between us. Something he knew nothing about. Something I could never forgive.

Molly Gi le s


My dad? The babysitters young voice trembles as I drive her home at midnight. My real dad? Hes having a hard time right now. Her voice trails away and I nod, concerned. Her father is a once-famous rock musician who has been in and out of rehab for years. Remember I told you how hes always getting hurt? He has tender bones. Once, she laughs softly, a fan hugged him and broke three of his ribs. And last night? He fell off the stage and dislocated his back. They set the drums up for him but he couldnt play and they had to cancel the show and now he cant even walk. He had to give the doctors all his money and the cops are keeping his car. Howd the cops get into this, I start to ask, but the babysitter interrupts. He has a girlfriend but she cant deal with depression so shes left? Hes all alone. Again my mouth opens surely the man has friends, band members, someone down in L.A. to help him. Hes going to hit bottom, the babysitter says. He has no self-control. She takes a quick breath, smiles, says, Im all he has. So Im going to L.A. to take care of him. I start to protestshes fourteen years old!but again she stops me. You know how it is when you see someone going down? You cant just watch. Her voice breaks. I only told you so you can find someone else for next Wednesday. You can drop me off here, at the bus.

I shake my head and drive her straight through the unlit streets to her aunts small house instead. The babysitter wont look at me as I park. Then she touches my arm. I hope your life gets better, she says. I watch her shoulder her heavy backpack and get out, knowing, as I drive away, that she has already turned and is trudging back toward the bus in the dark.

Watch Molly Giles read "Harm Done" and "Tender Bones"

Molly Gi le s






Your hand in mine. Your clothed groin a million tangential points to the curve of my ass. Your toes pressed against the soles of my feet. This is what What-I-Want looks like. If only the physical manifestation of love could indicate falling in love. Love as evidenced in actions and despite words, if that were enough. In your arms this morning I notice that it is not. I really cant explain. What we have is not like being in love. Definitely we love each other, but I dont think its the kind with potential, even. I like how your hand feels, but I am not melted into it. I wrap my arm backwards over your thigh; it is scripted. You dont notice, or you do but also you understand. This whole thing, the fact that sometimes you call me Baby or Babe, sneaking away from our friends to make love in your car, this whole thing, part of some dramatic, heart- breaking play.



But isnt it obvious who the better choice is? Well, choice wasnt the right word. I am still in love with Dante. I feel despicable acting like I am ready to be with anyone else. Jack mulled this over the long car ride from Sacramento to San Francisco. Then he said, Why do you insist on settling? I leaned my head against the cold window, closed my eyes and waited until he would no longer expect an answer. During sex I am not pushing him away and his defenses are down. During sex I can look into his eyes and want only him, want to keep him close. During and immediately after sex I love him, so I held his head against my chest, offered so many tiny kisses on his dirty-blonde hair, his perfect neck. Offered: Sometimes I think you should scare me.

Watch Miquila Alejandre read "Love" and "My Boo"






The rains pouring down, streaking black soot across my window like rivulets of runny mascara tears. I touch the glass and feel the cold outside, another winter afternoon and everything is gray. The only color a neon Budweiser sign glowing red from the bar across the street. An unmarked police car slides to the curb as a wino pushing a shopping cart stops to snatch a discarded umbrella off the street. I press my face to the cold glass to get a view down the alley that runs into the parking lot behind my apartment building. Strips of faded white paint designate where cars should be parked. But there arent any. Theres only the flattened yellow crime scene tape broken free and plastered to the ground in front of where the cops had cordoned off the area around the body by the chain link fence. I stand on my toes to see if theres a chalk outline on the asphalt, but cant see one, not even sure if they do that any more, and, besides, the rain probably washed it away if they did. Heard three gunshots last night. Then screams. Then sirens. Saw the police response, lights

flashing. By then I was out back by the alley with a few of the other tenants. At least the ones that werent too loaded to get up and go see what all the commotion was about. Its like those nights someone set off the buildings fire alarm. Everyone out there bitching, waiting for the firemen to tells us we could go back inside. Only this is a little more real and were all just staring at the cops and the paramedics standing around. Know who it is? I ask. Ya mean was? says the lady from apartment 10. Black doo-rag wrapped so tight she looks like a pinhead. In one hand a diet coke, the other clutching the floral print robe to her chest. Theyre dead? What the hell ya think? The droning helicopter is blocks away and still the vibrations hit the air around us. Its searchlight approaching faster than the sound, and suddenly were all illuminated in a bright white light. Fuck never get to sleep tonight, says the kid from next door, saggy pants and baseball cap all tilted backwards. First time Ive ever seen him without a joint in his mouth. Hey dude, you gots cable? Do I what? Gots cable? Aint a quiz. Either ya got it, or ya dont. No man, I say. Dont watch TV.

Dont watch TV? What the fucks wrong with you? Man, shut the fuck up. What kinda mutha-fucka dont watch TV? He says, but no one answers. I ignore him and turn back to the woman from apartment 10. So, they got shot, theyre dead? You kinda quick tonight, huh? No, Im just Im just asking. Look, there a pay-per-view fight tomorrow night homie, wanna see it, says the kid from next door. I check him out and wonder just what the hell his story is. The little I know is he smokes a shit load of weed, plays heavy metal, and hangs out with at least one slutty chick that screams a lot at night when theyre having sex. I cant help you, man, I say. Who the fuck dont watch TV? He says and wanders off in the direction of his apartment. Never mind him, says the girl from upstairs. Dudes a douche bag extraordinaire. Shes got a kind of slutty look to her and I wonder if shes the one that screams at night. What happened? She asks, and lights a cigarette. Girl got murdered, says the woman from apartment 10. Murdered? Who?
Patri ck O Ne i l


You know that building across the alley? One with all them junkies? Well, wait, which one? Stucco one got methheads an gangbangers. Brick one fulla junkies and hos. Yeah, yeah. Brick one. Know that girl with all the tattoos? Honey, you gonna hav-ta narrow it down a bit more than that. All them bitches gots tats. All over them. She the blonde, work the corner by the liquor store. The helicopter booms overhead as it makes a complete circle above us in the sky. For a second were all lit up. The downward shaft of light causing dark shadows under our foreheads and chins, momentarily we all look like dead-ass zombies and then were in the dark again. That fat girl with the boob job? Yeah, think so. I know her. She gots kids, and shit. Now thats a shame. I think her name was Martha? Martha? What kinda hooker be named Martha? Well, sure as hell she didnt go by that. They all do Candy, and Monique and shit like that. I know, right? That girl was fat though. Dont know how she do it? Honey, men will fuck anything. Oh, sorry, no

offense, didnt mean you, babe. None taken, I say, and then walk towards the back gate. None taken? whispers the girl from upstairs. Dont he talk all funny, and shit? The helicopter hovers over the courtyard and lights up the bushes. Shadows play across the walkway, and down from the balconies. I fumble with my keys trying to get them in the lock. Door to the adjacent apartment abruptly opens up. Look man, So ok, I knows I aint the best neighbor and all that, but I really needs to see this fight. Dude, I say. Not lying man, I do not have cable. Really? Yeah, but wait a minute. Why the fuck dont you have cable? Cant afford that shit. Then why you think I can? You white, right? What the fuck are you? Well, I aint white like youre white. Fuck you. A gust of wind hits as rain spatters the window. The cop car is still there and the winos trying to get the umbrella to stay open. I didnt know Martha, if that was her name. I couldnt tell you which one of the hookers she was by the liquor store. They all look a mess and one by one had given up on asking me if
Patri ck O Ne i l


I want a date. Sadly, Im amazed that anyone has sex with them. Even more amazed anyone pays for it. Theres loud banging as someone hammers on my door. I pull it open about to tell the kid next door to leave this pay-per-view fight thing alone. But instead Im staring at two cops in plainclothes. One of them shows me his shield. The other asks if I know anything about last nights murder. Know someones dead. Think her name was Martha. You knew her? No. Then how you know her name? Girl lives upstairs said it. She gotta name? Dont know it. What do you know? What I just told you. Which was? Think her name was Martha. The cop stares at me hard for a few seconds and we stand there in silence. I shrug my shoulders and raise my hands, palms up. Like I said, thats all I got. Hope someone cares more about you when its your turn to die, says the other cop that until then hadnt said anything. If Im dead? I say. Not gonna give a shit.

Where can I find that girl, one knows the deceased? Lives upstairs, dont know the apartment. Just what do you know? Already asked me that. Told you. You fuckin people says the first cop as they both turn and walk away. I lean against the doorframe and look up at the sky. Rain is still pouring down flooding the courtyard. Glancing down I notice the center walkway is under water. The kid from next-door opens his door just a crack. Why you snitchin bro? He whispers and I can see into his apartment. Theres an unmade bed, clothes tossed on the floor, and some horrid dropped D tuned Cookie Monster metal turned down low playing in the background. Why you such a dumbass? I say, and we lock eyes before I break it off and go inside and close the door.

Watch Patrick O'Neil read "Think Her Name Was Martha"

Patri ck O Ne i l





I approach love as I would a city, errant in its silk and manifestations of gray. The heart, strange hub of all exchange, has been known to fold in on itself. Wishes are arterial and charms are wasted on children. Life is not palindrome, but there is traction, insular lunacy, and the thrum of beguilement. There must be a kinder, gentler way to thin the herd. I should like to die in an outmoded way. I should like to lay waste to story, rip the throat from the dream, and trade the love for the fuck.


Watch Carleen Tibbetts read "I Should Like to Lay Waste to Story"


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- august 5, 2013 -

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