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sparkle + blink 49
© 2014 Quiet Lightning ISBN 978-1-304-82194-2 artwork © Steven J. Seidenberg sjseidenberg.com book design by j. brandon loberg set in Absara Promotional rights only. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission from individual authors. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the internet or any other means without the permission of the author(s) is illegal. Your support is crucial and appreciated.

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CONTENTS
curated by

Josey Lee + Spencer Kaidi
featured artist

Steven J. Seidenberg Set 1

JASON FILE LEIGH LUCAS TOMAS MONIZ

An Internship

1

Going on Dates with Insane People 5 The Difference Between Art and Sex is Perception Chubby Women Rarely Become Poets from La Madrugada Love Poem Number Carrot

TARA ROSE

7 13 15 19

JULIA JACKSON KRISTINA TEN

Set 2
JEFF VON WARD SARAH CARPENTER

Night Music There are six people in this bed.

23 33 35 37 43 44 45 49

PENINA EILBERG-SCHWARTZ About Asteroids SIAMAK VOSSOUGHI

Zahir Hussein Speaks Duet Patty

SARAH BETHE NELSON Atlantic Poem

PETER BULLEN

RACHEL BUBLITZ Rewind

E T L IG QU I

HTNING IS SPONSORED

BY

lagunitas.com

QUIET LIGHTNING
A 501(c)3, the primary objective and purpose of Quiet Lightning is to foster a community based on literary expression and to provide an arena for said expression. QL produces a monthly, submission-based reading series on the first Monday of every month, of which these books (sparkle + blink) are verbatim transcripts. Formed as a nonprofit in July 2011, the board of QL is currently: Evan Karp 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 Katie Wheeler-Dubin director of films Kelsey Schimmelman acting secretary 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: ev an @ quiet light ning . org

- SET 1 -

JJJOJJFJJE

A N I N TE R N S H I P
My internship at the Reality Game Show was almost over. I would soon return to school and although I had learned almost nothing about filmmaking, I now felt fairly certain that I did not want to make a film, at least not here, in Los Angeles. My summer had been kind of a waste but there were some positives. I met a beautiful girl. I swam in the ocean regularly. I found three Bill Evans records at a Goodwill in Santa Monica. I watched people do amazing and sometimes horrible things for money, or for the opportunity to simply be on TV. Just so we’re clear, I’m using the word ‘amazing’ as a neutral term, neither positive nor negative; simply crazy. One of my jobs as an intern was to help set up shots before filming with the contestants. On these long days, I would stand in place as the cameramen, lighting guys, and sound dude swirled around me. I stood by a lake. I stood by a cop car. I stood in a walk-in freezer, shivering in shorts and a t-shirt. I stood in the abandoned subway tunnels underneath downtown and thought about all the human effort and resources that went into this dumb show. On the days when I would assist in mapping out
1

a scene, I would often stand near the host. He was a short and tough-seeming comedian. Confident to the point of overcompensating. A “B” list celebrity and purposely abrasive. I didn’t think he was funny but I could admit that there was something compelling about him. When we were not filming he talked in quick, authoritative bursts, as if dispelling hardfought wisdom. He spoke often when we were together, but rarely addressed me directly. “Aliens exist,” he once proclaimed. “Learn how to kill a man with your bare hands,” he urged a production assistant who had just delivered to him an orange Gatorade. “I recommend renting a limo filled with strippers and hi-quality ganja.” This last bit of advice came on the final day of my internship. I had told the host that I was planning a desert road trip before returning to school. We were standing on the dusty road of a completely fabricated Old Western town, a giant life-size prop that had been utilized by many film crews over the years. “Drive to Vegas,” the host continued, “and don’t sleep while you’re there. And remember: limo, strippers, ganja.” I smiled. “You know I barely get paid for being here, right?”
2

The host nodded and said one word; “Funny.” He began to rock back and forth on his Nike shoes - the kind with springs in the heel - and checked his phone. I felt like I was learning something. Later that day, I watched as one of the contestants stood in my place and was interviewed by the host. This contestant was a friendly and physically fit young man. His latest challenge would involve driving a car off a steep ramp and crashing it through a flaming barricade at the end of the Old Western town. The contestant excitedly commented on this stunt, how he was up for the task, born to do it, and thoroughly stoked for the opportunity. He was an actor, or wanted to be, and I thought he had a real desire to please. Just the other day, during the previous challenge, he ate a popsicle made of human bile. He forced the frozen treat down his throat and managed to hi-five the laughing host, before running to dry-heave in a corner of the set. The cameramen had pursued the contestant, zooming in to capture his bulging blue eyes and his stretched mouth. I was over by the catering truck, watching the scene unfold, and I wondered if this was part of the young man’s career plan, if this was how he hoped to succeed. I wanted to know if he had ever had an internship. Oh, lord, what is my destiny? Have you ever asked yourself this ridiculous kind of question, while driving in the American desert? It was
JASON F I LE

3

110 degrees outside. My air conditioner was broken and so I licked the sweat where it sat above my lips. A black limousine passed me in the fast lane. There was a dime bag of weed in my glove compartment. Somewhere in the dry wastes of Nevada, a golf course appeared. I could admit that this was a huge and interesting world but I was beginning to think that it was intensely unaware of me.

4

LLLL

LLLULLL

W IT H INSAN E P E O P L E
from Porcelain Psychotics, say what you will about them, tend to make the first move.
– David Foster Wallace

G O I N G O N D AT E S

Sometimes in life, we develop notions about our purpose and about our place in the stitch of things. I thought, I don’t seek them out: bipolars, anorexics, unaware gays, social anxiety ridden types. We go to dinner together, we talk about fear of light fixtures, we use air quotes. Sometimes I let them hold my hand. A purpose! I didn’t have so many dark curtains to pull back all the time. I listened lovingly from the other side of the table as they wept into their water glasses. I stuck my chicken with a fork. I thought I was happy.

5

It’s clear why he picked me. I wear mary janes and high neck dresses and label the shelves in my kitchen, “Tuna and Nuts,” “Breakfast Items, Soup.” My hair is always squeaky clean. I text him when I can’t sleep to remind him to let me know if he’d ever like to fall in love again. He says he hates that my heart is broken, he hopes I fall in love again. Or at least sleep around a bit, it’d be good for me. Life, friends, is boring. I know it now.

6

TTT

TTTTTTTT

THE D IFFERENCE BETWEEN ART AND SEX IS PERCEPTION
from Like Hickies, Like Bruises My only other lover besides Max is Beth, a fine arts student at UC Berkeley whose most current project is taking super up-close pictures of goldfish in front of a black backdrop with the shutter remaining open so they get all blurry. She uses digital and blows them up to 24” by 36” making the image monstrous, just orange curves and captured movements. Sometimes there’s an eyeball visible looking back at you. Perhaps a fin caught mid-flap. But the blackness behind is what bothers me. Such fake black. Too black. I ask her what it means. She smiles. She says, look again. I also take photos with my Pentax K-1000. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with all the junk-trucks parked around my neighborhood. I enjoy capturing the disparate nature of the rubbish heaped in the back: bikes, Ikea futons, trash bags, tree branches. The trucks all have hand made wooden sides with numbers and names spray painted on them like a poor person’s business card. We met one day when I was developing my rolls in
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the darkroom on the UC campus. She passed by me with one of her gigantic prints and looked into my tray. Nice, she said, perhaps a bit obvious, but nice. I turned to watch her boyish hips move away from me. It was when we were leaving the darkroom at the same time, entering that small room that separates the inside from the outside, that it started. As we entered, I asked as a way to avoid that weird silence, What is this little room called? You can tell a lot about a person when they’re faced with a question they don’t know the answer to. If they respond as if they do, be careful. Needless to say, Beth said immediately, I have no idea, but I’d call it the in-between room? The baby darkroom? I replied. The seven minutes in heaven room? She answered. How about the make-out room? I said. We each were grinning as we moved from darkness to light. She asked me out right there.
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On our dates we usually eat fancy gelato, go to her place, get stoned, fuck and then bad TV. It’s perfect. Never lasts more than a few hours. I bike home, smelling of her perfumed body, in the late evening air. It’s all downhill since she lives in some co-op on the north side of the campus. All rich, all white. I write all this because Beth taught me two things about art: honesty and perception. The first involves a buck. It’s cold this one night. The fog is heavy on the streets and you can see your breath coming from your mouth. Beth just told me she’s going to UCLA for the next semester. They loved my fish prints, she says. They want me to do more. Really? I say, not hiding my surprise. She says, you try too hard. You have to let go. I want to tell her I think her pictures lack soul, lack heart. She says, I love LA men too. She then tells me to make her cum. I see her eyes glowing like goldfish in the dark, like she knows a secret and knows she won’t share it. When I leave, I just take off, not putting on my jacket, so at one point I stop to put it on. And then out of the darkness of some alley or yard comes this buck. He jumps out. He’s big, he snorts, my heart flutters.
T OMAS MON IZ

9

He’s not more than five feet from me. I can smell him, gamey eucalyptus. He looks at me; we stand there looking at each other. His eyes are enormous, and he doesn’t blink. His antlers are beautiful, like the fingers of an old man lifted up in supplication. He snorts again. Shakes his torso the way a dog does getting water off itself. He trots away into another patch of darkness. No words or pictures to get in the way, no faux black background, no LA men. Just chance interaction, lingering smell, and the silence left behind. It’s honest, truthful. The second thing is about perception. She argued that my writing was too familiar. My pictures, too direct. Obfuscation is a word that calls attention to itself in an attempt to avoid something’s true nature. It’s the antithesis of metaphor. This is at the heart of Beth’s work. It’s not about goldfish, you dummy, she finally explained. It’s about you. Our last evening together, Beth places her hands on my head, gripping a handful of hair. I feel her pushing me down. Her completely waxed pussy looks at me, supple and smooth, a treat; I smell nothing and taste just the hint of humanness, saltiness. She holds my head there tightly. I give in, bury my face in her; I almost can’t breathe and I feel my scalp throbbing. When she finally has an orgasm, she pulls me up and turns around telling me to fuck her quickly. She only likes intercourse right after she’s cum. She has trimmed my pubic hair to something just longer than
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stubble. She’d wax me if I’d let her. I don’t. My pubes look organized, controlled, almost a perfect square. I didn’t mind really but I realize that it works into her aesthetic. She tells me to hurry and tells me to pull out and cum on her belly. Hearing her tell me to hurry does the trick, so I pull out and rip the condom off. She watches me, her eyes lighting up, big and bulgy. She takes the hand she used to grip my hair and proceeds to rub her palm into the cum. She lifts her hand up and asks, What do you see? She whispers like it’s sacred. I say, Is this a trick question? and look down at my cock, getting soft and lying vulnerable against my thigh. You have no vision, she says like she’s sorry. I ask, Well, what do you see? She says, I see getting what I want. I see potential. I see desire. I say, I see bodily fluid that came from body parts. She sits up, wipes her hand on the sheet, grabs her pants and says, As long as you think it’s about your
T OMAS MON IZ

11

cock or sex or anything physical, you’ll never see the possibilities. Of what, I say. Of art.

12

TTTTTTTTT

CHUBBY WOMEN R A R E LY B E C O M E P O E T S
because you started drinking slimfast when you were eight because smile girl you’re beautiful because dat ass because of midnight cat-calls that sound the same in the daylight because of the “plus” because don’t you ever forget the “plus” because thank god I can take my bra off now because “hey, black dudes will always be into you” because your teeth got broken when you were three because you’re so brave for wearing that because Bukowski because nothing tastes as good as skinny feels because fuck you because your grandmother never played second fiddle because you’re soft like my mother because I’ll bet you have cats because non-fat one pump sugar-free vanilla lattes because lanky dudes dig your curves because oh you have such a pretty face because your personality is winning because no doesn’t really mean no for you
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because what so you think you like girls now? because you’re just one of the guys because six sex moves that will drive him wild and keep you fit because kate upton is fat because you don’t know how skinny feels because I always knew a pretty girl was there inside you.

14

J JJJ J J J FRO M

JJJJJJJJJJK

LA MADRU G A D A

JO

J

I didn’t have many friends in Spain. When my parents called on Saturday afternoons I told them that I’d been out late with Nuria and Jose Maria, which was, in its own way, true. Nuria was the town librarian and she’d often let me stay inside long after they’d locked the doors – this might have been because I was so good at hiding, so quiet in my little black flats, or this might have been because she saw I meant no harm and she pitied me. Jose Maria owned the internet café down the block and he’d come to recognize me, not by my yoga clothes or my Midwestern accent, but by the purple bulge of my backpack. “Aqui viene la Americanada,” he’d say, elongating the end of the word as if to suggest that here I was, the biggest of the big, the most American of them all. I wanted to correct him, to say, the kind of American you think I am would never leave the country. The kind of American you think I am wouldn’t move thousands of miles from home, alone, and spend her afternoons doing grammar quizzes online. The kind of American you think I am wouldn’t be here, sitting opposite you in this dank, dusty room, listening to the clip of the air conditioner overhead, thinking of all the things I could say back, once I’ve got the right words.
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The right words—where were they? Sometimes at night I’d spend an hour hunting for them in my apartment, opening cabinets, swinging open the windows, lifting the dust ruffle on the sofa in the dining room, rearranging framed paintings on the walls. They were always out of reach. Like madrugada. I’d learned the word almost immediately, memorized the shape of the vowels, the drudgery of that d before the elegance of the g, but I could not for the life of me remember what it meant. Words like this would arise in my dreams and I’d spend my days looking for them. Dictionaries wouldn’t do; the hard-and-fast definitions weren’t what I craved. What I needed, what I wanted, was to learn words the way babies did—to soak them in like sunlight, to have them dangled before my face and repeated as many times as necessary. What I needed was to learn things without realizing I was learning them. To sponge it all up. I needed every word to have its own matching image, its own sonic match, its own lingering taste in the back of my mouth. Instead I kept messing up. I ordered a cunt instead of a cone at the ice cream shop; when trying to translate a joke I accidentally told a fellow teacher to fuck the graves of his ancestors. I mistranslated a key part of the third grade science lesson and told a whole slew of eight year olds that solar power is available only on the sun. Logic, humor, cultural cues—these were the signposts I was missing.

16

I had one roommate, Dori, but she taught night school and went back to Granada every weekend. Our apartment was usually empty. The space was wasted. We had three bedrooms and an airy little balcony five floors above the shared courtyard, where, if it was windy, you could spot Señora Gomez’s brassieres floating cup-up in the pool. The evenings were my own—a freedom I’d later crave, after I’d left Spain and worked late nights at my stepdad’s restaurant just to make ends meet—and yet in Málaga the hours crawled by. I felt like the space between words, that gap between paragraphs. Open space. A slate, washed clean. The feeling, though, wasn’t clean—it was white, the absence of meaning. When my parents called me at home I never had anything to report. Days passed, the sun rose and set, I ate cold cereal and colder gazpacho, and still the air was full of nothing. One night, when Dori was away in Granada, I opened all the blinds and turned on all the lights, stripped off all my clothes and stood up against the sliding glass door to the balcony. I waited there until gooseflesh rose on my arms, until the hair on my legs stood out in stubbly bumps, willing something to happen. If only someone would notice. It was absurd. In my heart I knew all I had to do was go outside, where a single bulb illuminated our balcony to the courtyard below. Maybe the best way to be invisible was to get really, truly naked, to blend in with the shadows, to make myself small and soundless.

JU LI A H A LP RI N JA CKSON

17

I stood there, shivering, for a half hour. I recognized the bulky form of Señora Gomez leaning over her laundry on the ground floor. Some kids were kicking a ball across the lawn. The night was growing ever darker, bruising the sky like it, too, was recovering from a blow. I prayed someone would look up. No one ever did. It wasn’t until months later, biking home from a late night at the internet cafe, that I remembered the word. Madrugada. That elegance—that sonority— that perfect white space between letters. I let the word absorb on my clothes. Madrugada: that witching hour between midnight and early morning. That quiet time when darkness reigns, when image gives way to sound, when everything in the world fades into its opposite. Was there an equivalent in English? I considered the stars. Did each one of them have a name, a word? Would there ever be time to name them all? When I got home, I noticed that Dori had left our balcony light on. I couldn’t make out a figure. The light beamed. It lit up the insects as they flew by. And then: she pulled the blinds open, exposing our little flat to the world below. I could see. I could see her in the window, sweeping a broom along the tile. Maybe, in la madrugada, we can see even the invisible.

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L O VE

KKKK

KKKKKKKK

P O EM NUMBER C A R R O

T

I’m thinking of a time you made Uzbek plov with your grandfather, who called it a man’s dish because it demanded physical strength. The carving of the fatty lamb, the lifting of the thickbottomed stockpot, the tearless chopping of onions in the corner. Never mind the dried apricot that made it sweet. Never mind that he had previously taught you to marinate swordfish in vodka to kill the smell. Napishitye. Never mind the force it takes to suck when you say SUCK, e proglotitye, on a clove of cooked garlic. Served on the side, the traditional way, with long, curly ribbons of chapped skin peeled from a carrot. Lyubov morkov. Unwrap me like a gift, I said. I said, Unwrap me like a gift. I’m thinking of a time we played drunken pond hockey, the recipe for which is a fifth of Rumple Minze, two sticks, and a death wish. Steal your dog’s favorite tennis ball, look nosebleed beautiful.
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Go for the hat trick. I’m thinking of a town whose main streets are called Church and Water, as if fundamentals run parallel, as if one is as essential as the other. Pozhaluista. I’m thinking of a time my mother said, Perhaps the greatest injustice of all is that the average person gets fewer than 80 Christmases. Ya ne panimayu vas. I’m thinking of another time when she said, The good life is expensive but it’s the only one I want. You love someone honey-thick and amber-hard. You love someone so much and he treats you like furniture. So you learn to be heartbroken but functional. You become fluent in Inoffensive Wallpaper. Gavoritye gromche. I’m thinking of a time you nicknamed me Kid. Red. Hon. I’m thinking of a time I bequeathed you Lord of Monosyllabic Everything. You responded, Contingency Plan. I’m thinking of a time you called me a taxicab. Not called me a taxicab but called me Taxicab.

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Meaning you could take me any time you wanted but you never knew what it would cost you. I’m thinking of a time you woke up naturally, without alarm clocks or coffee. Warm and buzzing. It was all hummingbird voda. I’m thinking about our love like a garden-path sentence. The sour drink from the ocean. The old man the boat. This is where the vegetable finds the root Of the problem: I try to breathe through it like the hiccups but it won’t go away. Like the hiccups. Ikoty napalye no bednevo Fedoti. What’s Portuguese for I like the way your features are assembled on your face? What’s Romanian for Important and funny and helpful and seemingly rich? What’s romance language for Sweater weather Harvest Bravest Book smart Rhubarb Orange you glad Kitchen Fondly The way I feel at 3 p.m. on a Sunday Missing plov and promises, obeshchaniye And other things only you can make.
KRI StI NA T EN

21

- SET 2 -

JEF

FJVOJJJJJJ

N I G H T M U SI C
We gathered like naked mole rats, our whiskers alert to the slightest vibrations as Jackson loosened a burlap sack and began to pluck out a series of stringed instruments. Like he was Santa Claus. No matter they were not usable in the normal sense. Tuning pegs broken. Necks cracked. Holes where there shouldn’t be any holes. Underground, where we live, it was all we had. Jackson was one of those showboaters who I think I might have liked under normal circumstances. Like if we were next-door neighbors, above world, and he owned a better boat than I did or drove a faster car, had a prettier wife, more real estate on his barbecue. But underground, perhaps because of our close proximity, the way our eyes had gone soft on account of so little light, this music he brought in really mattered. It had been so long since we’d heard any that when he set one of those broken guitars on his knee and began to strum, twisting the tuning pegs and humming, we all took a step forward. Practically Pavlovian. Then he made a little joke. “Thank you all for coming out here tonight,” he said.

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Two boys in the back whistled. Some of us laughed and clapped and when the noise died, he struck the first chord. To my ear it sounded a little sour, like there were multiple strings missing. I couldn’t get close enough to see. My wife squeezed my ribs and tried to kiss me on the cheek. No one else seemed to notice how bad he was or maybe they were all in denial. It was like he had us all in a spell. Some of the older people began groping, moving back and forth. Dancing I think is what we used to call it. In the low light, I saw an exuberant flash of yellow teeth. So many folks grinning and smiling. It was like they’d finally found something to take away some of their troubles. Jackson and his impromptu jug band was such a hit that night, it must have seemed like sour grapes for me to complain. I had no musical training, as my wife kindly reminded me on the way back to our hovel. “You’re just jealous,” she said. “I’m not. I’m not jealous.” “I think he’s kind of cute.” “Kind of cute? He’s missing most of his teeth.”

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“I like the sound of his voice,” she said. “A low baritone that hits you in the nether regions.” Here, she winked and I had to look away and clench my fists. “I can sing too,” I said, though I’d only ever sung in the shower, back when we had the luxury of bathing. “Since when?” “Tell me your favorite song and I’ll sing it. I’ll belt it out right now.” She stopped to consider for a moment, before shaking her head. “I don’t remember the names anymore.” “Well, as soon as you think of one, just you let me know. If you can hum it, I can sing it.” “Jackson makes his own music, sweetie.” “Those weren’t originals, not all of them.” “He puts his own spin on things. He makes them his own. You got your thing and he’s got his.” “Ooh, do you remember this one?” And here I began to belt out a chorus. “A lady with sparkles, she walks while I waddle, the whole town is mad in the head.”

JE ff VON WA R D

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“Did you write that?” “No.” I coughed suddenly, confidence completely drained. “I don’t know who wrote it. Anyway, I don’t remember the rest.” “Maybe it’s one of Jackson’s?” “I don’t think so. Jackson ain’t a musician, darling. Not professionally.” “You’re just jealous. I’ll bet he’s already got a fan club down here, girls half his age, and you want in.” “He used to sell life insurance, baby.” “That wasn’t his passion, though. You heard him. That wasn’t what he wanted to do.” In real life, I’d been stymied, too. Like I always thought I’d be a record critic but then records went away and newspapers and magazines soon followed. No one would pay me for my music reviews. So I had to get a job at a corporation that used genomic information to advance the cure for various forms of cancer. Noble work, that’s what my wife used to say, especially on Monday mornings when I had a hard time motivating. Wish I could say I’d played a bigger role. Not that any of it mattered after we had to move underground.

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We sleep in shifts and I was resting when I awoke to the awful racket; what I could only assume was Jackson and his friends practicing, muffled slightly by the walls of the cave. I nudged my wife but she continued to snore. I was so irritated I finally got up and left our little hovel and walked right down the passageway toward the noise. When I got to the source, I knocked on the limestone wall, not with my knuckles but with the flat of my hand. I kept on knocking, too, as the noise continued, enveloped suddenly in a sense memory of my own father knocking on my wall whenever I’d kept the stereo on a little too long or loud. “Turn that shit down,” he’d say. And that’s what I was saying now. And a pit of something dark began to form in my stomach as I realized with revulsion I was the same age now as my father had once been; that despite my best intentions, I’d basically become my old man. The music stopped and the rock in front of the cave rolled to the side. “Freddie!” “Jackson.” “Sorry, mate, are we bothering you?” “Well, it is a little late for all that, don’t you think?”
JE ff VON WA R D

27

Jackson grinned, that sort of twinkle he’d no doubt used in the past to sell million dollar policies. “Come on in. You got to hear this new number me and the boys have been cooking up.” He fixed me with his half-mad eyes, wrapped his arm around my neck. I hesitated but only for a moment before I stepped inside. It was dark in there; I mean, not much darker than it was outside but it took a while for my eyes to adjust. All I could see was the orange cherry of a hashish cigarette flit across the room like a lonely firefly. “Everyone, this is Freddie. Freddie, everyone.” There were four or five others and they nodded and coughed and continued to smoke in the darkness. “Freddie used to be a music critic. Ain’t that right, Freddie?” “That was a long time ago,” I said, but I was happy he remembered. “Here sit,” he said, and he cleared a place for me on the sofa. “I think we ought to get Freddie’s professional opinion on our latest song. Like if he likes it, maybe he’ll agree to be our manager.” I waved him away but I had to admit it felt good to be wanted. I decided I’d listen again and try to maintain
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my sense of impartiality because really that was all I had left. But maybe I could be their Epstein. Where would we go? A tour for the end of the world. I could already see the lettering on black t-shirts; and though the electrical grid was down, I supposed there was still some way to fill a stadium. “What’s it like out there?” I asked. “Like when you and the boys were out scavenging.” Jackson laughed and took a puff on the cigarette. He shook his head and began to tune his guitar as he exhaled. The instruments seemed to be in better shape. As if since their first unveiling, he’d found time to fix them. Not to suggest they were in anyway perfect or even acceptable under normal conditions. I could tell, even before the first note was struck, that the performance would be challenging, and not like prog-rock challenging. Strings still missing. Pieces of terrycloth bandaged around the body of a wounded mandolin. The large acoustic bass had two pieces of elm tacked to either side like splints to support its fractured neck. I’d be amazed if they could even keep it in tune. “The thing is,” Jackson told me, “you have to forget what came before. If you want to invent something new.”

JE ff VON WA R D

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I smiled and nodded, and then someone passed me the cigarette. When the music began, I closed my eyes. You wouldn’t think there’d be much of a difference since the light was so bad anyway. But everything went from grey to black. I’d been dreaming in grey. Everyone had. That was one of the problems with living underground. But when I heard the first strains of the diminished minor chords rumble outward from Jackson’s guitar, with my eyes closed, I thought I could see a yellow swallowtail butterfly. So vibrant I gasped and reflexively reached for it and then felt a little embarrassed, folding my arms against the hollow of my chest. When I was a teenager, I spent an awful lot of time in my room, lying in bed, eyes closed listening to music. My parents worried. Mother thought I was depressed. She said it wasn’t good to be so isolated. And she didn’t understand the music. She worried about it. She’d write down the names of bands most likely to be of concern and take them with her when she visited with the priest in our parish. He’d promise to do a little research and try to comfort her, but later he’d report back with information that only made her more concerned. To me it was just night music. A way to get through long spouts of loneliness, escape my thoughts, if only for a little while. But then I noticed my albums
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began to disappear. Like Mom, at the urging of Father O’Grady, had seized the ones the two of them determined were most likely products of Satan. “Satan’s your thing, Mom.” That’s what I told her. And she’d tear up and ask if I was on drugs. Now here I was in the dark of Jackson’s hovel, everything worse than even I’d been able to imagine. I hadn’t seen my parents for a long, long time. And I sort of missed them. I missed their quiet admonishments, how impossibly square they were, and how I suppose I never once doubted that they loved me. Even after all my records had vanished. Even after they were no longer there. When the song ended, I was back in the grey shelter, leaning against a broken spring, brushing tears from my eyes. “You liked it!” Jackson said. I hadn’t even heard it, not most of it, but I didn’t tell him that. I just sort of held my breath and nodded and clapped in the dark.

JE ff VON WA R D

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SS SS

SSSSSSSSSS

S

THERE ARE SIX PEOPLE

I N T H IS B E D

There are six people in this bed. Two of us are having sex, and the other four are our parents, who made this moment possible and are trying to look away, pretending the mattress can shake this way of its own accord, and his mom and my mom are ending every sentence with a sigh, and asking about each other’s commute, and children, while my dad’s offering his dad a Coors Light, and talking about fixing this bed – but their conversation stops when they get to children because their heads go straight to the sex they’re all working to ignore, that’s going on right now, with his hand on my neck like we’ve both seen in porn – separately, and never told each other; just, he put his hand on my neck and I liked the feeling of surrendering, especially to someone as kind as my father. Especially to someone who loves his mother, the sagging lady at the foot of the bed who won’t look at me, I just know it, even though his hand is flat against my cheek, rubbing my teeth against my cheek, my face into the mattress, and he’s turning my ass over and pretending not to look at his father, pretending not to hope his father’s watching, pretending not to hope his father’s proud, because
33

he doesn’t want to think that he wants to be as good as his dad was at giving his mother a baby boy, at twisting up and fucking his mother and when I’m on top I hope this isn’t how my mother did it, letting her nipples slap his cheeks as he rubs her clit, a word neither of us learned from the other people in this bed, who knew full well and didn’t tell us.

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P PP

P

PP PP

PPPPPP-PPPP

A B O U T A STE R O I D S

PP

PP

Decide you will travel to outer space. Don’t worry about staying young while your friends grow old. Tell yourself that’s a silly thing to worry about now. Once you get there, once you travel to where it’s dark, turn yourself into some kind of space matter, like an asteroid, or part of one. Head back towards earth. You won’t feel the heat and enormous pressure, though you’ll wonder what you would have felt if you were still made of blood and bone and muscle. And then, suddenly, know that while you used to be one big thing, you are now hundreds, or hundreds of thousands, or millions of things, and you are headed towards land, and water. Think for a second, before the impacts (all the impacts of all the pieces of you), that maybe you should have sent some kind of warning to the people of the small Russian town where the biggest piece of you will fall. Like, when you were alive, and there was some military offensive on that small town and you watched the press secretary of that country explain
35

how its operation had been humanitarian because before it had dropped the bombs on the hospital it had dropped small origami birds (“signifying peace,” the press secretary had said) that when unfolded kindly asked citizens to evacuate the area. Just before impact, think that you should have dropped some kind of note. Think about it the moment before you hit land and all the glass for miles and miles blows clear out of all the windowpanes, and all people and animals and plants are lifted off the ground—just an inch—for one second. From the places you fall, listen to what the people say. “It was like flying,” a girl will say after. Hear her say it from that place in the mud, in a small town, by a little river.

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Z A H I R H U SSEI N S P E A K S
Nobody talks about it. All this time that I have been driving a taxi in San Francisco—seventeen years—nobody talks about what is this thing that so many American young people do with their bodies, tearing themselves up, fighting themselves with the way they dress, fighting something, I don’t know what. You see a guy sometimes with a shirt that says ‘Revolution’ or has a picture of Che, you say, okay, I know what he is saying, good luck to you. But it is the ones who are fighting something and they don’t know what, or maybe they do know and it is none of my business, but it seems like in this country it is nobody’s business. It seems like it is not even their own business. I don’t know. In my country maybe we are too much involved in everyone else’s business. That is what we say about ourselves. But I like that more than this way in which nobody says anything. In my country if your neighbor’s son gets an earring in his nose, everybody says, Baba, what is going on with your son that has made him get an earring in his nose? It is not bad, I mean the point is not to say he is bad, the point is to say what is going on? Because what is going on with my neighbor’s son is going on with me. Eventually it will get to me. Maybe it will go through my son and then to me. Maybe it
37

S SSS

SSSSSSSSSS

SS

will take a much more winding route. But eventually it will get to me. I just want to know what is going on so I will be ready. I am not even saying that it will be something bad. Maybe it will be something good. But I still want to be ready. It’s important either way. Here they don’t talk about it. They only talk about it from very far away, as if to say, look at how strange those people are. That is not what I mean. I mean there is something going on inside. It does not take a very smart person to figure that out. But they look at me as though I am some kind of genius when I point that out, when I say to somebody who just wants to say look at how strange those people are—usually it is a tourist visiting San Francisco—when I say to them, I don’t know what is going on inside them but there must be something that is making them look that way and dress that way. They look at me as though I am talking about some mysterious place when I talk about what is inside them. Isn’t this basic information? Isn’t this something everybody knows? It makes me very sad when they look at me like that. There are a lot of wonderful things about America but this part of it makes me very sad. Because if someone doesn’t know about the place inside them, then you can’t talk to them about the place inside you. Then I don’t know what you’re left with. You’re left with looking out the window and saying, those people are strange. Baba, those people are you. They are your people more than they are my people. How is it that I should explain them to you? It is very sad. They look at me like I am a genius as if they had never
38

considered that those people had a place inside them. I have only been here for seventeen years and you have been here for a lifetime. How is it that I should introduce you to your own people? Sometimes they look at me as though the land where I come from must be very mysterious to have this vision into people. Baba, the land where I come from is human beings. That is how we look at each other. We look and see more than a body. We know this because we are more than a body. It is not complicated. Maybe that means we don’t build as many factories and skyscrapers. Okay. I have seen men sleeping outside of skyscrapers in America at night. So that is part of it too. There are men sleeping like that in my country too. But we cannot say, look at the skyscraper; don’t look at the man. We have leaders who try to say that. But we don’t listen to them. We try not to listen. I know that there are a lot of people who try not to listen here too. But I worry about the people here more because if you don’t know what is going on inside you, then it is easier for someone else to fill it up. Do you see what I mean? That is why I worry about them. If we can talk about what is inside of us, then we are deciding for ourselves how to fill it up. That is a wonderful thing. Even if we don’t agree. In my country we are not as scared to talk about what is inside us because we are not scared of what will happen if we disagree. Maybe some time you come across somebody who cannot control themselves, but most of the people, they are glad to talk about how they feel, even if they don’t agree. They feel
SI A MA K VOSSOU G hI

39

better afterwards. Here it is not like that. They don’t know how they will feel. The agreeing is more important than how they feel. I like agreeing too, but you cannot expect it all the time. You can expect it maybe half the time, but what are you going to do about everybody else? They are still going to be there, whether or not you talk to them. So I still wonder about them, about the young people I see here in San Francisco. You cannot ask them what is going on because they think you are one of the people who is calling them strange. Baba, never mind strange. Just tell me. Just tell me so I can know where I am. When you don’t know what is going on, then you don’t know where you are. And that is when you end up saying that you must be the best people. If you know what is happening, then you don’t have time to think about whether or not you are the best people. I love my country very much, but I don’t think about if we are the best people or not. We are people. Some of us are very good and some of us are very bad. But we talk about it. Sometimes if a government man is there, we don’t talk. But in America, the government doesn’t even have to be there and they don’t talk. This is what I think happens: I think the young people look around and say, okay, if you won’t talk, I will give you something to talk about. I will make us talk. And they do, but not together. The tourists who get in my cab, I know from their first sentence, they
40

say something about how the young people look, and they want me to say, yes, yes, they are all crazy. And when I don’t say that, they close their mouths for the whole trip. As if I am not there. It is like a child, you know? You know how a child will pretend you are not there when they don’t want to talk to you? But what I don’t understand is, if I say yes, yes, they are crazy, what do we talk about after that? Where do we go from there? I don’t know. Maybe I will have to do it so I can find out. Some time I will say that just to find out what we will talk about next. I will let you know. We can come back here and talk about it and I will let you know. I would like to know myself.

SI A MA K VOSSOU G hI

41

SSS

SSSSSSSSS

ATLANTIC POEM
I dreamt of lying in grass Close-cropped, a mane As he grew for me To be someone else Still a singed swan Under a red sky Inside the diamond I intrude on each blade Heel the silver planks Of November Rockaway She drops copper lids A claw dune-caught Shattered in sand No idea where Dreams crawl from Stirring sea grass Foaming the swells She comes with water Through fertile ravine Silt-like, alluvial Ragged with rushes Roaring with birds

43

DUET
You said, You said, Draw me in. No rain in the desert.

I asked you to tell me the color of your eyes. A blue discussion.

Imagine oil on water, on cement at midday. You said, Wrap yourself around me.

A tremor sent the metronome skidding off the shelf. You said, whispering very close to my lips, Wait. Wait. There can only be one first time. I read the words on your inner arm, Let you lick confusion from my tongue, Brought you to the birthplace of breath. Sing it again,
44

you said,

Covering my mouth with yours.

PPP

PPPPPPPPP

PATTY
Patty called to break up with me. I didn’t know anyone by the name of Patty, which I should have owned up to right away, because that would have been an example of ethical behavior. I’d come to believe that ethical behavior contained its own reward, having lived long enough with half-truths and deception to know they extracted an oftenterrible price. Given that one day, in the not too distant future, I was going to depart from this world, I figured the time had come for me to straighten up and fly right, get my ducks in a row. My scorecard on doing the right thing was steadily improving. I was to a place where even a man of the cloth might pat me on the shoulder, and say “good job”. But the power in Patty’s voice just kind of took me over. If anyone was going to break up with me, I wanted it to be her. I could already feel the heartbreak settling in, taking its tender and melancholy toll. This woman, whoever she was, was starting to mean the world to me. Patty told me she was feeling two very different things. I too was caught in a double bind of sorts, between the wish to be truthful and the desire not to be. This ‘two different things’ business gave us something in common, shared territory, a helpful
45

component in any worthwhile relationship. “Go on,” I said, clearing the way for her to be frank about whatever she was feeling. “I’m going to be honest Jackson,” she said. I didn’t say anything, being a trifle taken aback by the sound of my new name. I’d thought of myself as Philip for fifty-six years. It was a habit I felt sure I could break. “On the one hand, I have a sense of relief, of freedom,” she said. That didn’t sound bad to me, but she said it so carefully, as if her words might do serious damage, inflict dreadful pain. “Go on,” I said, realizing what a wonderful couple of words ‘go on’ are, if you are being broken up with by a woman you don’t yet know. I didn’t recall saying ‘go on’ to anyone before, and certainly not twice in a row. I felt like a sexy detective full of patience and ‘man of the world’ wisdom, knowing that it wouldn’t be long before she’d be spilling the rest of the beans. “And on the other hand, I feel sadness and loss because of all the qualities I value in you,” she said. “Go on,” I said. If I’d been sitting down, I’d have been on the edge of my seat. It was more than a little arousing knowing my winning qualities were about to become the focus of our conversation.

46

“You’re considerate, you listen, your taste in movies is most discerning. I think about the things you say, the subjects you raise, long after you’ve said them.” I loved the way I sounded, particularly the part concerning my thinking, and how it pleasantly haunted her, a day, perhaps even several days after she had received the benefit of it. She was going to have quite a struggle getting me out of her mind, and what was she going to do with this newfound ‘freedom’ of hers anyway, that could be the equal of the thoughts and opinions I regularly shared with her? “You’ll miss me,” I said confidently. “Of course,” she said. I heard the hint of a crack in her voice. My wife came into the room. “Who are you talking to?” she asked. Remembering suddenly my commitment to ethical behavior, I decided to go ahead and be honest. “It’s Patty,” I said. “She’s breaking up with me.” My wife paused, gave me a look of loving concern. “I thought that might happen,” she said.

PE tE R BU LLEN

47

RRR

RRRRRRRRRRR

RE WIND
Characters: man, m, any race woman, f, any race Setting: A bare stage.

man and woman stand at opposite ends of the stage.

woman I want a divorce... It’s not going to get better.

man I know.

man and woman move toward one another.

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man (continued) HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO—IF YOU DON’T WRING OUT THE SPONGE IT STARTS TO SMELL!

woman I WRANG THE DAMN THING OUT!

man and woman move toward one another.

woman (continued) I think we need therapy.

man It’s just a rut, we’ll be fine.

man and woman move toward one another.

man (continued) Maybe it wasn’t fair of me to bring you here.

woman No, I want to be here. I couldn’t live with myself if I let you turn down your dream job.
50

man and woman move toward one another.

woman (continued) Surprise!

man You did all this for me?

man and woman move toward one another.

man (continued) That dress is so sexy on you.

woman Wait until you see what I have on under it.

man and woman embrace.

woman (continued) Happy anniversary.

man I love you.
RA ChE L BU bLI tZ

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man kneels.

man (continued) Will you marry me?

woman Yes! Yes! Of course yes!

End of play.

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- february 3, 2014 -