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

info + updates + video of every reading

sparkle + blink 59
© 2014 Quiet Lightning
artwork © Laura Ceron Melo
“Magic” by Alexandra Peterson first appeared online at The Rumpus
Poems by Jesse Nathan: “On Love, On Representing it” appeared in
Vertebrae; “In McPherson County” appeared in jubilat; and “January”
appeared in The Broome Street Review
book design by j. brandon loberg
set in Absara
Promotional rights only.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form
without permission from individual authors.
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the
internet or any other means without the permission of the
author(s) is illegal.
Your support is crucial and appreciated.
su bmit @ qui e tl i g h tn i n g . o r g

curated by

Kelsey Schimmelman & Allison Hummel
featured artist


Laura Ceron Melo

Exit Manifesto



On Love, On Representing it 7

In McPherson County

Outside the War

Mattress Man



The Disappearing Mirror



How to Proceed in the
Contemporary Arts Museum




Yellow Leaves and Mattresses 39


Last Man Standing


The Dream of the
Eventual Wreck
My Wonderful Life is Short






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
Evan Karp
founder + president
Chris Cole
managing director
Josey Lee
public relations
Meghan Thornton treasurer
Kristen Kramer
Kelsey Schimmelman
Sarah Ciston
Katie Wheeler-Dubin

director of books
director of films

Sidney Stretz & Laura Cerón Melo
art directors
Rose Linke & RJ Ingram
outreach directors
Sarah Maria Griffin & 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:
e v an @ qui et light nin g . o rg

- SET 1 -



we want to keep one eye on the exit at all times / we want to
take off our sneakers and pitch them into the horizon / we want
to censor and code the horizon by definition / we want to
make / sure our labor is pointless / we want to lick cold sweet
creams in the summer / we want to drink warm red bloods in
the winter / we want to obfuscate the horizon so gently / you
would never know we want our letters to be intercepted /
appraised and approved before arriving / at the destination we
want to anticipate the horizon / we want to read / sonnets off
of a red LED news ticker / in the airport we want to know why
we especially feel / we are always being watched / these days /
we want to turn the speaker phone on and fuck to the hold
music / until the horizon arrives / we want to feed the
horizon /we want to feed the obvious / we want the questions
to reveal the interviewer’s process / we want no closure / to be
achieved we want the horizon to be dispersed by intention /at
customs we want to bomb / the interview we want to read and
write without purpose / or function we want to finish / we want
to give up halfway through / we want to live a life on the
tarmac / we want to speak like a car commercial / we want to
stop repeating ourselves / we want to be facing the horizon
when it washes over us / we want the collision of sea and land
and air to be deafening / we want to need nothing we want /
simple things to say to this authority and mean we want to
comfort / our perpetual crisis / with so small acts we want to
feed / the horizon a silent meal of possible nouns and go back
to sleep / we want to slouch towards the horizon / we want to
recline into the horizon / we want to keep one eye on the exit








My ex-wife once took me to a mystic named Ms.
Jackie who shared a rusted camper trailer on the
outskirts of town with two feral cats and a collection
of porcelain saints. A glowing green neon hand with
“Psychic” written underneath in curlicue script hung
outside. Stephanie was a big believer in things unseen,
in omens and apparitions, and we had reached the
point where she was looking for a sign.
Ms. Jackie was a large Eastern European woman with
unwashed salt-and-pepper hair and a surprisingly
direct manner of speaking. We sat in what functioned
as her parlor around a fold-out coffee table cluttered
with coupon clippings and chunks of sparkling
purple geodes, and we unburdened ourselves to her.
“You’re too closed off,” Ms. Jackie told me, wagging a
bejeweled finger. “Your aura is orange-y.”
I admitted that perhaps my aura was not its optimum
shade, but I didn’t know what to do about it.
Ms. Jackie’s kitchen was visible behind her. An
icebox was propped open and dripping water onto

a pile of dingy towels. There was a musty smell in the
trailer that might have come from the cats prowling
the cabinets around us. She frowned and pointed to
the gold watch pinched around her wrist.
“It’s 4:44,” she told me. “Time to talk to your angels.”
Stephanie nodded sagely and handed me a pair of
L-shaped dowsing rods.
“Ask about our future,” she urged. “Or whatever.”
I closed my eyes and focused on the question I’d been
puzzling over for months. The metal prongs felt cold
and flimsy in my palms. When I started to speak, Ms.
Jackie hushed me.
“To yourself,” she said. “Left means no, right means
I concentrated and the rods began to quiver
hesitatingly toward the right, then swung decisively
to the left.
On the drive home, Stephanie wanted to know what
I’d asked and I refused to tell her.
“Can’t,” I said. “Bad juju.”
That night, she nudged me awake and began dealing
out tarot cards across the comforter.

“Pick one,” she said. “For me.”
I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and pointed. She
flipped the card to reveal the Nine of Swords and her
expression changed.
“Is this going to work?” I asked.
The question levitated between us, but the answer
had finally appeared. And that’s the hardest part of
any trick, not the disappearing like you’d think.

A le xande r P e t e rson




V E,
We are so alive!
Planes and stars hang among stars
which I saw from the roof of the ineffable.
I distilled almost to a vapor.
Meanwhile, the violation
of social distance defines
the panic element
of sex, the marvelous panic, the hoarder’s
closeness of gorging the flesh, but none of this
is love, only a coarse moon, orbiting but cold,
producer of tides and fickle odes,
but itself an emblem of the impassive
and worse, unable to sustain life.
Your purple earrings
sit on the edge of an earthly sink and I inhale
your age of sage and pine, I inhale
a particularity that could eat
everything for a thousand years
like a collapsing star, some angel
of nervous light, our shape
in a mirror, a forest, a garden
—but nothing will stand in, nothing will complete,
like how we took the coast road

and the views were stunning but then a rockslide
half way closed the way and what else to do
but pose for a photo with the ocean
behind us inscrutable in its currents
and distant liners and the moon a vivid coin.


Plunge into the revocations of the wind,
says the wind
into my face as my lover
coughs and wakes a thousand roosters on the edge of
a cemetery
where my family meets inside the earth
nourishing incredible Polands and humble Germanys.
Nourishing incredible Polands and humble Germanys,
when the wind stops blowing
(my pockets have filled with wind)
my lover slaps me
with a picture of my mother’s glasses
and we laugh into the stillness
as she handles me
as she chews my neck
wearing the mask of some kind of cat
and the rain hisses
and the mud road gashed
by skidding trucks gains ruts
all the way to red clay
whose edges will harden to blades
and I beg a skunk
to invest in the smell of roses
Je sse Nat h an


and the skunk kills fourteen chickens
and their necks spurt roses
and the goldfinch peals its claim
as the wind calls the blessing,
Look ahead and
Look behind.
Looking behind, we fall among headstones
and we will meet on the earth for now,
and the smell of soil is so thick
I think of something
risen up, riled, alive in the loam,
the scent of wet cunt,
the scent of a tarp left months in a shed,
a summer task.
A summer task is burning fields,
is feathers floating in a shed,
is shedding pages and pages of graves—
but I do not want to think about any of this,
not the smoke in my heart
not how flesh gashed does not bleed
but smokes
while my lover lives miles in the future
while I wait miles from the future
as she peals her claims
chewing roosters
whose necks become vases
of roses in a shed
on the edge of a cemetery.

What began as an itch in the throat
By the morning has me
On the floor writhing
Writing letters to the ceiling
Moaning and cursing
Reeling from the eyes
From the nose
From the rear and the mouth
Unable to eat or drink
The body radical in its fragility
Open to poison
Like a mountain stream
I have always been full of plans
My father says his mother
Used to say a Talmudic thing
Man plans God laughs
On TV the president’s eyes
Are always tired
I don’t know what to feel
Is a feeling
Everything wrecking
In slow boring motion
I heave and spin
I don’t want to be sad
Je sse Nat h an


But this is real
In the long night a siren wailing
And thinking it one of his
A dog gives song in response


Say Thank you, but I’m already gone
to men in the photograph
from 1916, looking
unharassed, having a blast,
shipping out the next day,
each with a white number
painted on boots,
rifles, hankies, badges, flutes,
mess-kits, casings,
poster saying
lend the way
they fight! buy
bonds to your utmost
from which I get a feeling
I can only call Time:
it is a spell
of a boy called Corey
whose mother was knitting
as he was spent
in the mud of Flanders
crying up at the stupid clouds
of Europe. For the soul
no soap. Only the voice
of Eddie Rickenbacker, ace
Je sse Nat h an


flyer, in the blasé
of a financial consultant
explaining how he went straight
at the enemy plane
pulling the trigger,
he figures
his chances get bigger
if he don’t look,
or the famous writer
saying We’re cooked, all cooked,
the thing is
not to recognize it,
the last one to recognize
it is the winner. Is the winter
ago in a time when
says one plaque
many artists produced
only brooding. Ruin
was muse. Still is. And clouds
outside the museum
are a wedding party.
Watch them pose
for photos
and think O—




Mom hadn’t been in town six months when her
sister, Auntie, traded her for three mid-line queen
Auntie never let anyone inside. Auntie never came
to visit. But when Auntie called, Mom took the train
up from New Jersey – where her room smelled like
old water. The smell reminded her that Sundays were
laundry day.
Train to Lower Manhattan, red train up to 125th, the
smell of mold on floor one, fish on three, garlic on six,
dog piss and newspaper on seven – and Auntie, with
her three heads on eight.
Mom brought a red handbag from the factory where
she stuffed purses with brown paper. She’d stuffed it
that morning and paid full price for her sister.
Auntie eyed the purse sideways and put it in the


There wasn’t room in Auntie’s apartment for one
queen mattress, let alone three; but they made even
Mom feel special, despite their cost. Their tops
hunched against the low ceiling: three cramped giants,
lazy sentry.
Auntie had four kids; dirty boys who would grow up
Ivy League.
They threw themselves from one bounce to the next.
Each mattress was covered in plastic.
Auntie screamed at them to stop.
Maybe, Auntie said. Maybe Mom could have one.

Mattress Man wasn’t Chinese, but he liked the food.
He and Auntie played tug-o-war over the check, rising
out of their seats, their hands grabbing at the bill,
forming an Eiffel Tower in the middle of the China
Garden. Auntie always lost.
Mom didn’t like the grey food but ate.
Mattress Man had a car. He insisted on driving Mom
home even though it was out of his way. The car
rides were long, silent at first. But they were a relief

from the loud flood of soaked bodies jammed on the
train. Foreign breath and sweat, the rushed transfer,
the homeless men who camped across multiple seats,
cursing and daring anyone to come close. Rides with
Mattress Man were a kind of luxury.
After days of small talk and long pauses, Mom told
Mattress Man stories to pass the time. Whether her
stories were true, made-up, or existed in between,
Mom took them like the frayed ends of thread and
smoothed them together – over and over between her
palms until the ends became one continuous string.
Mattress Man loved the stories. He couldn’t tell the
difference between fact and fiction; and he didn’t
try. Sometimes, Mom couldn’t either – her own myth
surpassing her body, floating out of her mouth, filling
the car.
Like the rest of The City, Mattress Man had an old
life in an older country. He had a wife, two daughters
and a monthly pile of letters he threw away unopened,
though they kept coming. He left that part out. He
was here to have sons like Auntie’s.
Mom felt bad for him: his flat brown toad face; pock
marked from years of bad skin. So the stories continued.
Auntie kept the mattresses and made sure Mom got
into his car after every meal. Mom memorized each
turn (11), the number of blocks to the Holland tunnel
Ch ri st i ne No


from Harlem (46), the number of minutes they sat in
the tunnel (30 minutes with traffic, 12 without), how
long she could hold her breath. How to memorize the
road by bumps and turns and seconds; how not to get
turned around.
And everyday Auntie would ask: When when when?

By winter, even Auntie was tired of the grey food.
By then the dirty kids had burrowed forts between
the mattresses – their first bedrooms, covered in plastic.
One night, Auntie’s kids screamed so loud for Pizza,
the group filed out of the China Garden in shame.
Mom had never had pizza. Auntie had no words.
Mattress Man hated eating with his hands.
There was no Eiffel Tower. Mattress Man lent Auntie
the money and refused a slice. The adults watched the
dirty kids devour –
After pizza Auntie shoved Mom into the car and
bowed deeply, repeatedly, until she grew small then
disappeared from sight.
Mom closed her eyes. She hid inside her coat, and

This time there were too many turns, more bumps
than wide smooth avenues. No familiar swerve to
miss the pot holes on Broadway. No Broadway at all.
Where are we going?
They pulled into a motel off the West Side Highway,
where Mom could see past the gas station into New
Jersey. Her room, the old water smell.
Mattress Man stopped the car and opened the door.
He wanted to tell her a story –

Once upon a time, Mattress Man caught a toad.
The toad was an old ghost, returning life by life. Next
time he would be a wolf, a butterfly, a human.
The toad begged for his life, as he had just emerged
from the muck; had just discovered ground.
But Mattress Man hung the animal by one kicking,
broken leg and turned him over a spit. When the toad
could stand no more, he wept:
Do not eat me, please let me die and begin again.
When I am a wolf, I will spare you.

Ch ri st i ne No


Mattress Man cut the weeping toad open – mouth to
belly – and scooped the jeweled insides. Mattress Man
did not believe in ghosts or toads. It was wartime and
he was hungry.
He returned home full. He undressed for his wife and
she screamed and wept for him to stop.
From then on, every time Mattress Man touched his
wife, he grew brown; the boils appeared and erupted.
Every time, she bore him frogs, and he consumed
them violently.
Until one day she bore him two beautiful daughters.
But Mattress Man didn’t want daughters.
In America, Mattress Man ate well.

When Mom was twenty-seven, her sister gave her
away to a mattress salesman.
Mom had never been inside a motel room.
The carpet was once beige, now dappled with weary
stains and tread.
The curtains were closed. The light from the parking

lot slid orange across the floor and up along the
walls. Outside, motel patrons murmured past, the
occasional peal of laughter – people tending to their
own secret lives.
Mattress Man sat himself in the room’s one chair:
poked and burnt with careless cigarettes, stained with
what else –
Mom stood against the closed door – with its knob
and locks bulging back:
No, Mom would not bear frogs.
But Auntie had promised. Three brand new mattress
promises – Mom, Auntie had sworn, was shaped to
bear him sons.
Mattress Man reasoned, then begged and finally,
smashed the room’s only lamp against the wall.
Plunged in darkness, Mom wondered who else had
dreamt in that orange room, whether they’d found a
way to move on –
Up until the lights went out, she felt sorry for him.

When Mom was seventeen, Grandmother tied Auntie
Ch ri st i ne No


to a kitchen post and broke the knuckles on her right
When she was eighteen, Mom ran away with a boy
who promised her California.
When they brought her back, they locked her in the
room she shared with Auntie. No windows, shitwhere-you-eat, for months.
In the next room, Grandmother slept clutching
Auntie’s hair.
When they came to trade the shit bucket for food,
Mom laid there, eyes open to the ceiling – dead as a
Mom didn’t want any water.
Auntie spit in Mom’s food.
Once a week they scrubbed her skin raw under cold
water, naked in the courtyard. Grandmother cut
Mom’s hair with sewing scissors and pulled it into
two tight braids that made her scalp itch. They kept
her made up and dressed in her best clothes – the
ones that got her into trouble in the first place.
When Auntie and Grandmother were done, they
closed the door for another week.


Six months later, Mom found the pills.
She ate them.
They put her in a brand new dress and sent her away.
They cleaned the room and lent it out to travelers.

The hospital was for sinners, not the sick.
Mom’s room had a window where she escaped and
slept and slept and cried: a deluge, six months worth.
She spent her time wandering the halls avoiding the
women who screamed, the dulled eyes and noise, no
words she could make out. She grew frustrated of
trying, so did they; then they parted ways. When she
came across the women whose eyes were clear and
sharp, she turned away.
She avoided the nurses who pulled her hair.
Occasionally she’d spy one of them wearing a familiar
blouse, a favorite hairpin.
When she was tired, she taught herself to sleep
without dreams, to eat and swallow quickly – how
not to make a sound. How to go unnoticed.

Ch ri st i ne No


They put her to work. She served pale food on
Fridays. On Sundays, she boiled and scraped the dirty,
week-long sheets. Punching and pulling at huge
swaths of threadbare cloth, she gulped down church
songs with the other working ladies: mouthing the
words, consuming air.
So much shit and piss. So much blood. Her hands
wiped orange then a deep burgundy-brown. She
dared not touch her face. She let the saltwater sting
her eyes, into the boiling vats.
-They let her out when her father died.
They put her in the van without a shower. She left
wearing the thin pajamas they gave her once a week.
During transport, she counted the apartment
buildings sprouting up between farmland; thirteen
fourteen storied towers that rose bright and sharp
alongside dirt roads. She counted eight farmers,
hunched and brown. She looked at her two hands,
rubbed raw. It was Sunday. She smelled like sweat
and box soap.
Her father wore light blue pajamas, like hers. Unlike
hers, his name was embroidered over his chest.
Did they remember how sharp her father looked?

What he wore when he arrived at the hospital? She
wondered if they’d misplaced his clothing, too.
She crawled into his bed and laid in the crook of his
arm. His room was warm and his blanket was new.
His bed didn’t smell like rubber.
Grandmother didn’t cry. Grandmother told her
she smelled like shit and pulled her away from her
father’s body. Grandmother yanked the plastic tags
off Mom’s wrist and went off to demand the return
of Mom’s best dress. Mom crawled under the hospital
bed and sobbed until they could take both bodies away.

The cops showed up sometime after two thirty.
Mattress Man was gone – Mom’s clothes disappeared
with him. They found her under the motel bed,
naked: clawing at her body, banging her head, the
bruise the blood and the animal noises. Management
couldn’t find her money. They couldn’t drag her outside. No one could make meaning; so they let her go.
She stumbled alone up the West Side Highway, the
Hudson River in her left hand.

Ch ri st i ne No


Train from Lower Manhattan, red train up to 125th,
mold on floor one, fish on three, garlic on six, wet
newspaper on seven – and Auntie, her three heads on
Mom knocked on the door.
She looked like the lost and found.
She wanted some water.
Auntie threw the red purse down the stairs. Said He
was coming for the mattresses, She was a liar, and
slammed the door.
Mom knocked again –

She would set them all on fire.
She would shut the dirty kids in the bathroom. She
would push each mattress down the stairs; fling them
out the window – plastic aflame. Let them call the
police. Let the neighbors stare.


Let Auntie shriek: her din of meaningless cursing and
Mom would run away. Mom would cut her own hair
so no one could pull.
Mom would go to California, where she would not
need her winter coat. Where she would not need
her father. Where there would be no drowning, no
need to hold her breath, no need to count the passing.
There would be no need to get into anyone’s car.
She would find a job gluing fake flowers to hats in
a factory downtown. On Sundays, she and the other
ladies would sell the less popular arrangements halfprice at the swap meet.
She would build gardens out of plastic baby’s breath,
felt roses, green ribbon; stacked bowler hats, berets,
trilbies and fedoras –
She’d buy her first home, her first car. She’d forever
keep her hair cropped.
She would have two beautiful daughters.
Finally California, promised a lifetime ago. A place
with no silent maps to memorize, no bumps and
turns to count; where all the streets were broad and
smooth and endlessly moving West of the Hudson.
Mom would have no need for stories. There would be
Ch ri st i ne No


nothing to explain –
When the time came, Mom would teach her children
how to disappear completely.
She would teach them necessity.
When the time came,
She would teach them to forget and run.


- SET 2 -









Outside of the Disappearing Mirror,
the pale hallway with fingernail traces
the lawn of needles, dry enough for the San Fernando
Her sleep blisters by my presence.
I haunt a beer.
Fence myself among slack subnatural
humanity watching me
walk in,

walk out
light a cigarette.
Returning to the Mirror beyond the lawn,
down the hallway
Bringing up the hill, pulling the hills behind me,
on my back
wanting to put my hands on the ground
to walk on all fours like the neighbor’s dogs
who had their vocal chords

removed. I stay outside her open window
onto another cigarette that she would have once
smelled or if she still does, instead holds
the starched cameo sheets up to her neck
fathoming the human echo watching
her from the foot of a bed.
hair clenched under my chin like an upside
down candle flame
an ominous statue under her porch light
it wilts and degrades me; my shadow a
dreary curtain flickering between flat
and fluorescent rippling our proverbial
I descend to a squat
on the sharp grass
as though someone will

or call
and I’d have to defend ourselves.

Her blinking desertion into the Disappearing Mirror.
And me
-- the haunting curtain.





1. Find a green colored pencil in the lobby.
2. Find Rothko’s White Center.
3. Sit on the white bench in front of Rothko’s White
Center and think about red… coral really.
4. Note that it’s really more of a coral pink than a
red in green pencil on white lined paper on the
white bench in front of Rothko’s White Center,
which is beginning to look more like red, red
lips against white teeth. The upper lip really is
red, more red every time you look at it, when
you look up from the white paper with green
notes, and you realize that first impressions don’t
lie—although maybe it’s a macaron, with a white
center, instead of red, red lips. The bottom half
really is more raspberry than red, as it turns out,
resembling the consistency of meringue.
5. Imagine a raspberry macaron disappearing behind
red, red lips.
6. Imagine disappearing.
7. Consider that white is the absence of color, or
rather the reflection of all colors in the visible
spectrum—whereas black is the absorption
of color—which means that nothing could

disappear into Rothko’s White Center, but only be
reflected by it, as in a mirror.
8. Recall that red has the longest wavelength of
all colors in the visible spectrum, which is why
colors with wavelengths longer than red’s are
called infrared and we cannot see them, although
we can feel them as heat, which they sometimes
radiate, all the way through the atmosphere
and into the black void of outer space, in some
cases. Which means that red, visible or invisible,
is really just a form of energy, that can radiate
through space infinitely, or be reflected, or
absorbed, but that cannot be destroyed, and will
never disappear.
9. Wonder if this accounts for the particular
radiance of Rothko’s White Center, which seems
undeniably warmer each time you look at it,
as though it were glowing under your gaze,
getting warmer with each glance, each brush
stroke radiant and soft, as if paint could turn
white canvas to red velvet, or bloom into a rose,
and through the center of the bloom would be
Rothko, holding it by the stem from a long way
off, but still there, beaming through its white
center, a piece of Rothko-tinted canvas.
10. Remember that the human body also radiates,
especially when its heart rate is elevated, the
heart pumping red blood to extremities faster
and warming the body, which puts off heat. It is
for this reason that two people can pass a cold
night together, in the snow for instance, or in an

empty museum perhaps, without losing too much
warmth, and it is mainly to do with the heart,
which is radiant.
11. Wonder if Rothko had the human heart in mind
when he said, famously, “Silence is so accurate.”
12. Take a deep breath and think of homeostatic
processes like breathing and blood pressure.
13. Regard the museum security guard in the corner,
next to the mobile sculpture in taxicab yellow,
and be careful not to miss the synchronous glint
of the guard’s badge as the mobile ticks through
its rounds.
14. Remember the time. Remember passing the
bakery on Wilshire with macarons in the window
on your way to the museum.
15. Place the green colored pencil on the white
16. Retrace your steps.
17. Order a raspberry macaron with a white center.
18. Give it to a stranger.

Gi nge r Bu swe ll







I remember flying kites as a kid; seven years old
The huge field Woodside High School
Mom didn’t mind. Maybe didn’t know.
I went alone.
I remember when my best friend’s dad died
eating peanut butter on saltine crackers. I want to
say he deserved it,
because he always yelled at Jimmy,
but I don’t know. He was just a fatso in a flannel shirt
younger than I am now.
My other best friend in 2nd grade, Jerry, had
an alcoholic dad. Jerry made us rum chocolate milkshakes
I didn’t get sick but I took off my clothes.
When my wife gives our cats catnip and starts laughing
I think, that’s what Jerry’s dad did to us.
He thought I was funny staggering about,
Singing Frère Jacques, in my underwear.
Later Jerry and I were crawling around in the
rafters of an abandoned house.
There was a pile of comic books and Playboys up there.

I was sitting on the trap door reading when it fell
it collapsed my lung, I couldn’t breathe and had to go
to the emergency room.
We didn’t hang out much after that.
He went to a foster home when he was 11 or
6th grade, I think.
I ran into his older sister
who was Miss San Mateo county, at a tennis
She looked like one of the girls from The Brady Bunch.
She was being honored at a Giant’s game at Candlestick.
Jerry’d gotten into heroin.
Jerry and I used to hang out in a big old burnt-out
eucalyptus stump.
He liked to set fire to his sister’s clothes.
I’d go there alone after his family moved.
What I liked to do was to get my kite real high.
Let all the string out. Let it go.
And then chase it Right through people’s
If someone stopped me, I’d say the string got cut.
“Can we help you find it?”



-To Dona

The Indians called it hard climb. Tehachapi. Town
where your mother lived.
Months after your brother bled out, died hemorrhaging his brother-in-law rakes the room.
First I raked bloody t-shirts off the mattress Which
had grown ground beef
Oh Henry! wrappers, computer keyboard, ripped jean
patch cords Silver orange wing Of a Cal Trans vest.
One Little House on the Prairie VHS.
Death by six pack Mostly. Blood crusted
Two foot liver Puddled By the door.
Brown broken Wine green mold walls.
Black panties like a mamba from the corner.
His last part still alive.
We blessed his ashes. Tossed his ashes.
Swung the little tin around.
Steel bridge Cold Springs Canyon
San Marcos Pass.
It seemed Chumash. ‘Cause you guys are Chumash
I liked my brother-in-law. He was forty-five.
Mi ch ae l McLau gh li n




He is standing behind her door, holding a machete up
high, eighteen and blitzed on crack.
I don’t see this. To be honest, I’m in another bedroom.
An observer, always the little guy taking notes in the
back. But I’m like ten, eleven years old, woken up by
the sound of my sister screaming.
Tanya screams like a referee whistles. I imagine Mom
sprang half-up in bed, thinking it was just Tanya
being hell of dramatic.
“What’s wrong?” Mom hollered. “Is a kitten dead?”
Tanya shrieks again and again, no words, just stabs of
sound. I’m afraid. Maybe there is a dead kitten. Queen
Vicky has had another litter—there’s kittens and hair
and cat pee all over the place, especially in Tanya’s
Mom’s voice goes baritone: “God fucking damn it.”
Her bed creaks.
Through the slats in my door, I see her billow out

of her room in her muumuu, bare feet slapping heavy
footed, the stink of cigarette smoke, lingering long
after the last puff, swirling in her wake. Her footsteps
thud down the tiled hallway.
Tanya keeps pets, and sometimes they don’t end up so
well off. Like Cotton Cushion, the white kitten who
drowned. Or Conscious, her rabbit who one day had
ants crawling in and out of his eye sockets. Yeah, I got
to find him on the porch like that one day. Now there
must be a kitten with its guts hanging out.
Tanya’s screams pulse, and now Mom’s yelling.
Scuffling. A body thumps against the wall. Oh my
god, I’m freaking out, jumping out of my bed, into
my bed. Should I go under my bed? There’s no dead
kitten in the house.
We are floating in a tepid, azure sea, among sparkling
coins of sunshine on the dimpled water. Tanya in her
one-piece, eyes closed, has her arms stretched out as
she floats. “I’m dead,” she says in monotone.
“You are not!”
I won’t play this stupid game, not in Hawaii on a
perfect day. I may be a dumbass little kid who falls for
dirty tricks, like you playing dead so I can buy you a
Ho-Ho or some soda at Jack’s store to revivify your

trickster ass. But there’s no corner store for miles.
We’re at the frickin boat ramp at South Point, me and
you and mom. And she’s beached on the coral, nose
deep in a mystery, puffing on a joint. It’s just me and
you, and this blue ocean and this flawless dome above
us. Maybe there’s some Hawaiian bubbas setting up
fishing lures on the tailgates of their trucks as they
smoke pakololo. But San Francisco and Jack’s corner
store is three thousand miles away.
“I need,” Tanya gasps, slowly arcing one teenaged arm
over the water’s surface, reaching for her throat. “I
need—” Suddenly she lunges up, laughs, and screams,
Mom’s sitting up, one hand cupped over her eyes,
watching us. I can almost see her grimace, squinting
in the light. Then she gets on up, adjusting her
bathing suit, snapping the elastic against her tush,
and almost slips down the algae covered boat ramp.
Tanya and I laugh with a deeply nurtured sense
of Schadenfreude. Mom dives in, and in a couple
powerfully scary strokes, she’s in front of us, squirting
water in our faces.
“Hey, if I got hurt it wouldn’t be funny at all,” she says.
Mom’s yelling incoherently in Tanya’s room, but then
there’s a body-pounding thud on a wall, and I know
Je ssi ca Hah n


the fight has moved into the hallway. There’s a man
there, I hear his low, rumbly voice. Who can he be?
There are no men left in our lives.
“Get the fuck out of my house, you motherfucking
asshole” rings quite clear. That’s Mom.
I don’t know what to do. I’m immobilized on my bed.
“Don’t touch me,” Mom bellows like an angry
Valkyrie. “The fucking cops live next door!”
That’s a bold lie. Some pot growing gay guy lives next
door. What’s he gonna do? Whip out his bong and
blow you full of smoke.
I start to scream. Maybe someone will hear us.
Tanya and I are bouncing seatbelt free in the back
of a pumpkin-orange German Thing, and Mom’s
driving like the Kaiser himself, biting a cigarette and
man-handling the front wheel, wearing sunglasses, a
black one-piece bathing suit, and a pair of flip-flops.
All around us the Hawaiian landscape shimmers with
golden grasslands, the occasional bent and twisted
kiave tree, and a colorful furze of lantana flowers. She
takes us home the hard way. We could’ve alternately

taken the asphalt South Point Road that passes by
the row of windmills that stand like giants. But no,
no gentle paved highway for Mom. It’s all about the
potholes. Remember that Robert Frost poem? It’s
about the road less taken, and this one takes the
grand slam prize.
We’re on a carnival ride, Tanya and me bumping
up and down as we’re semi-launched into the air.
Thank fucking god there’s a roll bar to grab onto.
Mom’s brown arms are winging this way and that,
fingers clamped to the wheel, as she navigates over
thresholds of lava rock. The road is rarely straight.
It goes up and down and all around. We brake,
“Will you look at that?” Mom commands us as she
absorbs the vista. You’ve got the ocean to the right,
so much of it you can see the curve of the earth.
The whitecaps are tiny parenthesis in the big blue
sea. Then uphill, looking mauka, there’s the endless
perpetual upslope of the mountain, Mauna Loa, the
big kahuna, disappearing miles and miles away into a
cap of clouds.
Mom lives for this. Ever since she had to raise us
girls on her own, she worked during the school year,
then took us here. I can’t say Tanya and I were very
happy about it, for the most part. We were spoiled
ass American kids, daughters of a San Franciscan pot
farmer. We wanted the arcade, Fisherman’s Wharf,
Je ssi ca Hah n


the Boardwalk at Santa Cruz. We wanted summer
camp, or long days wasted in front of the television.
Tanya and I really got to get into some rows out here,
stuck in a motherfucking tent in the backwoods of
the Big Island. Try to tell us its fun to campout in a
rainstorm on Christmas, back in the days when our
tent was so small you only stood hunched over, and if
you touched the walls, the rain came through. Thank
god for sunny days.
“Okay kids, get on out,” Mom says, yanking on the
brake. Ahead there’s one holy mother of a rut, a
four-foot deep socket carved out of the dusty road, as
if something caved in. Mom kicks us out in case she
flips over.
Tanya and I walk beside the massive dust cloud Mom
makes as the Thing plunges in, motor whanging,
wheels spinning. I imagine for a nanosecond the
Thing flipping. How the hell would we drag Mom
free? There are no phones out here. If we’re lucky we
might see a person in a few hours, but more likely it’d
be a cow.
Whaaa waa, screams the engine, its orange nose
bobbing up from the rut. Mom is standing, like that
helps. The Thing struggles like an armored beetle to
rise above its ball of dung, and suddenly it does, and
Mom’s there, triumphant with a silent glee.
“Come on kids, get on in!”

Then, bang! Someone’s gone. A vacuum of momentary
silence fills our house with the collective intake of
a breath. Is the nightmare over? Here’s where my
memory begins to fall.
I’m in warm Hawaiian water again, but instead of
being at the South Point boat ramp, it’s Honomalino
Bay, its arcing quarter-mile crescent of a beach
composed of tiny black and white grains. Sentinellike palm trees fringe the beach, and they rustle, a
beautiful sound, papery and comforting. I’m floating
in bath-temperature saltwater. On the beach are a
couple of kids, their parents, and my mom. Further
behind are our tents. The only missing figure is
Tanya. After the chaos of her childhood, she’s gone
off to college. Unlike other high school graduates,
she wanted to get the furthest away from her family
that she could. She flew across country and landed
in Boston, about as far from San Francisco as she
could get. Would you like to go to Hawaii with us for
Christmas? Hell no, she would not.
I slip like a porpoise onto my stomach, mouth
submerged, only my nostrils above the surface. Salt
stings my eyes. I’m floating in a stew of aloneness,
just watching. One kid stalks crabs at the lava rock
tide pools. Two of the other kids’ dads are popping
Je ssi ca Hah n


open Saint Pauli Girls and firing up the barbecue. A
toddler throws a tantrum, and his mother smokes a
joint and rolls her eyes.
Suddenly there’s an unwelcome ripple through the
bushes. Something or someone is coming quick. Like
a pig, a wild pig, this overgrown part of the Big Island
is rife with snarl-toothed, wire-backed pigs.
I see the willowy figure of the wife of someone
camping with us burst out of the bushes, her new
baby in her arms. She yells my mother’s name. Mom
meets her halfway across the beach. They talk quickly,
then my mom goes “Oh no,” and runs off the beach.
I’m left crawling through Honomalino’s breakers,
wondering what the fuck is going on.
“Tanya,” Mom cries from the foyer. “Are you all right?”
I hear her heavy footsteps from the hall, and then
both her and my sister’s voices. The man is gone.
Then my mother is coming down the hall, saying my
I’m okay, I’m okay. I’ve just gone into fetal position
and am about to pee my PJs.
It turns out Mom had opened the door to Tanya’s
room and saw her eldest daughter crunching herself

into the closet, while this teenaged thug stood over
her, holding high a machete, saying to give him her
money before he killed her.
Mom ran into Tanya’s room. She grabbed that
teenaged boy by the back of his hair and yanked him
into the hallway. I imagine for a second they sized
each other up, same height, same devil inside.
Then he knocked that bitch down. But I can see her
spitting fire, even while flat on her ass. That’s when
she screamed the cops lived next door—and they’d
certainly hear this motherfucking ruckus.
The cracked out kid didn’t know what to think. He’d
cased our house for weeks, he saw a trio of females
come in and out of this place. He didn’t know jack
about the neighbors. And he clearly had no idea of
what a single mom could be like. He ran, slamming
the door behind him.
He would be caught. He’d go to jail for three years,
and then the year he was released, my sister would
escape to college. My mother would grow more
marijuana in her warehouse in San Francisco’s
Hunter’s Point neighborhood, and plan to move to
the Hawaii outback. I would move through the world,
a captive spectator, watching and waiting.

Je ssi ca Hah n


Visiting my mother at Pleasanton Correctional
Facility is just about the worst thing. It doesn’t make
me happy. I have to take off every one of my carefully
placed safety pins, for starters, to get through the
metal detector. I hate these motherfucking pigs,
watching me. I’ll watch you right back.
In the waiting room, where I wait interminably,
denuded of my independence and dignity, I glare
at the guards. They can’t arrest me for a dirty look.
I know what their minions are doing in the back
room: checking my mother’s asshole and mouth for
Mom maintains a phony cheerfulness throughout
these visits—she wants me to visit once a week, but it
ends up being every couple of weeks. She’s famished
for family. She peppers me with questions, yearns to
know the teenaged me, but I’ve built a fortress and
I begrudgingly unlock one door at a time. I’m the
one who watches, remember? There’s not much to
say about P.E. and US History. I tell her about going
out, how I’m finally going out. I have a job, and some
money. I’m not afraid to ride the bus at night. She
doesn’t understand about my favorite bands, The
Dead Kennedys, The Dead Milkmen.
“Why do they all have the word ‘dead’ in them, huh?
They think they’re clever,” she laughs.
Anger seethes inside of me, and at the end of the

question and answer session where nothing is learned
or gained my uncle shakes at his watch and says it’s
time to go. I quickly hug Mom, as long bear hugs are
not allowed here, and then my uncle and I leave. I
smell Mom on my clothing, her sweat and the tang
of cigarette as my uncle drives his truck away from
the prison. I want to cry but keep it locked down.
My uncle and I do not converse. My expression is
impassive. The highway across the Altamont Pass cuts
through grassland hills dotted with black-faced cows,
a scenery that smacks of the Big Island. Windmills
whir around and around, dizzying against the hillsides.

Je ssi ca Hah n













with a piano careful hand/

pulling the moon

the golden taste of standing

between two orbits.

careful backstroke of our alignment, dream of
eventual wreck
we keep to our swallowing

our waking up wet /
lost at the knee—

all coils un-spun by re-entry.
Even this parking lot

bathed in exhalation of
maybe, or finally

even these road signs, this grocery store
send us something/ red to wear. I have seen

something good.


so I eat cinnamon and buy flowers and heat my
ailments with lonely sleeping.

It is hard sometimes not to say things

like, bright cartographer but
oh god, the next person who says
yeah, yeah, I contain multitudes

is really asking for it.

And as for the holographic side-eyes,
saintly palms positioned in me,


the long terror that plants
other mouths in me—
it is ancient noise in the scar of the Hudson Valley.
Then the light of wood burning, how I couldn’t

get right with my own dark airscape or what I’d been
before and what to make of what now is larger
than the you, the I
which has the look of a girl

standing in the body
about to wake up.


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