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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 61
© 2015 Quiet Lightning
artwork © Tracy Piper
“Look, Here” by Lisa Piazza first appeared in Cleaver Magazine.
“No Judgment at Social Kitchen” and “Life Lessons from a Ditch
Digger at The Mucky Duck” by Benjamin Wachs
first appeared in SF Weekly.
“Pretty from the Side” by Mira Martin-Parker
first appeared in The Milo Review, Vol. 1 Issue 1.
“Upside Down, Backwards and Inside Out”,
and “Versailles” first appeared in Hack Writers Magazine.
book design by j. brandon loberg
set in Absara
Promotional rights only.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form
without permission from individual authors.
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the
internet or any other means without the permission of the
author(s) is illegal.
Your support is crucial and appreciated.
su bmit@ qui e tli g h tn i n g . o r g

curated by

Shideh Etaat, Sara Marinelli, & Evan Karp
featured artist

Tracy Piper






The Man Who Drank the Sea



No Judgment at Social Kitchen 15
Life Lessons from a DitchDigger at The Mucky Duck


Look, Here



A Poem That Does Not Want
to be Written


Pretty from the Side

Around and Around

Upside Down, Backwards,

and Inside Out


Red Comfort Eating


HEATHER BOURBEAU Montagsdemonstrationen 45

I Want To Be a Symbol
For My Culture



Language Arts Poetry Journal





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 -



Minutes later, when I walked into the Widows’
Support Group the second time, they were much
more welcoming.
“I’m so sorry,” a middle-­aged woman on the left side
of the circle stood up. “We just thought, she must be
looking for Alcoholics Anonymous across the hall.
And then Emmy spoke up,” a woman on the other
side of the circle wearing a headscarf waved, “and we
realized, oh no...”
“It’s just that you’re so young,” Emmy said.
The women closest to the door scooted apart from
each other, and I pulled a folding chair between them.
Everyone seated was elderly, apart from the two who
had spoken. Some looked worried.
“I was next, anyway,” Emmy said. She passed a plate of
cookies from her lap to the woman beside her. “My
husband, Bill, was killed at Kirkuk, which is in Iraq.
He was a soldier there, and his vehicle was blown
up while he was driving.” She went on to detail
how they found his arm, and his dog tags, and sent

her the tags. Emmy had been engaged in legal action,
to get the U.S. government to send her the arm, as
well. “That was the arm he put around me,” she said.
“Why shouldn’t I want it?” Some of the others were
nodding. I wondered if there were parts she wouldn’t
want back. A toe. A kneecap.
A few other women spoke—heart attack, lymphoma—
and it was my turn. “I’m Sarah. My husband Colin
was 26. He was killed in a meth lab explosion.” Pause.
Wait for the embarrassed looks. “He was a D.E.A.
agent.” The relief and pity followed immediately.
One woman to my left, wearing dark purple lipstick,
laughed. The others didn’t.
Afterward, with everyone taking up their bags and
putting on scarves, the woman with purple lipstick
came up to me.
“I like that,” she said. “That was great. Here’s mine:
before he died, my husband beat me. At checkers!”
Before she turned to go, she put her hand on my wrist.
“I’m Barbara.”
The group leader, Cheyenne, recommended that I
check out an anger management class that met the
next day, because grief is made up of stages, and we
never know which will hit us next. Grief is also, I’ve
been told, a slippery slope. It’s a crumbling cookie. It’s
the monster under your bed.

At the class, which met in the same community room
partitioned from the basement of the Washoe City
Episcopalian church, an uncommonly short man led
us in visualization exercises. When you feel yourself
getting carried away, he said, picture the scene in
front of you. Name the objects. Sometimes there is
one object that centers you, and you should try to
bring that object with you, physically or in spirit,
everywhere you go. Your centering object. He shared
that his was a finger puppet of a badger, which had
belonged to his father. He pulled it out, and made it
bob its head at us.
Later, there was question and answer. I raised my
hand. “I have trouble connecting with other people.”
He looked me over. “Understandable,” he said.
At next week’s meeting, I demonstrated for the other
women. I told them about the centering object, and
about naming what was in front of you. I used the
room as an example. Crepe-paper bunting. Coffee
machine. Folding chairs. When I saw Barbara
watching me, she winked. On her turn to share, she
told us it was the four-­month anniversary of her
husband’s death. The woman beside her, the one who
brought Barbara to these meetings, possibly by force,
had a white-knuckled hand on Barbara’s upper arm.
She said Barbara was being very strong.
“Strong? Hah! This is smooth sailing for me!” Barbara
A lli son Be rke


grinned widely. “He should’ve done this years ago.”
Emmy had just received a second rejection letter from
the Army Division of Public Affairs. Bill’s remains
had been buried on-site along with those of his unit.
My process was a little further along; I had received
Colin’s jacket. He’d left it in his car when he and
his partner arrived at the scene. There hadn’t been
identifiable ashes, but the jacket smelled of burnt
plastic. It was something.
“It’s just hard,” Emmy told us, “being denied this, on
top of everything, on top of having to go to work
every day and still be a single parent. Next month is
my son’s birthday, and I wanted him to have as much
of his father with him as possible.” She worked at the
office of tourism in Carson City, twenty miles down
the road, and had a two-year-old son named Jeremiah.
Colin and I didn’t have any children, but after he died
I got a dog, a dachshund named Edwin. I had always
wanted a dog. I also planted an herb garden. I had
worked, part-time, at the newspaper, but took Colin’s
death as an opportunity to quit. It had been hard for
me to find work out here, ever since Colin and I left
I wanted to say something helpful to Emmy, though.
Something that wasn’t about me.
“Would you like some portraits of you and your son?”

I asked. “I was...I’m a photographer, I could...”
“That’s so nice of you,” Emmy smiled thinly.
The next woman to speak told us that her name was
Marilyn, and her husband had stepped out to go to
the grocery store yesterday, and hadn’t come back
yet, and she was worried. Marilyn’s husband died five
years ago, of cirrhosis. She was one of the women
who rode the nursing home van down here every
week. Some women came every time. Some stopped
coming, after a word from Cheyenne to the nursing
home director.
“I saw your husband at the Laundromat this morning,”
Barbara said, as her friend tried to hush her. “He
asked me why you changed the locks.”
Marilyn started to cry. Cheyenne ended the meeting
early, to take Marilyn out to the van.
Barbara looked around at us. “Jesus, I was just having
a little fun.”
I followed Emmy out to her car.
“So, I can come by anytime,” I told her. “For the
photos. I think it would be a nice tribute. Jeremiah
must look so much like Bill when he was younger.”
Emmy dropped her car keys, and looked flushed
A lli son Be rke


when she picked them up. “I’m sorry, I’m in a hurry,”
she told me. She got into her car, and rolled down the
window. “I’ll give you a call.” She left quickly.
Barbara came up behind me.
“Her son’s adopted, you know.” She laughed. “He’s
When I got home, I took Edwin for a walk, along the
river that feeds the lake. The seasons had just crossed
over, and it was cold enough that I held his leash with
mittens. Now when I smelled burning wood I longed
for fireplaces instead of fearing brushfires.
Edwin has never been afraid of anything. He runs
into the river to chase dragonflies, and lets its rippled
surface close over his back. He holds his own with the
neighbor’s malamute.
Colin and I used to fight all the time over whether
we would move back to DC. I had wanted desperately
to go. Now that he was gone, I dug in. I told myself,
there were too many people in the city. There were
no trails like this, no woods. Besides, Edwin wouldn’t
like it. This was the only river he knew.
The next morning, I stayed in bed until eleven,
watching the trees’ shadows move across the ceiling.
When I finally convinced myself to get up, I went
to the dresser and took out Colin’s shaving kit from

his top dresser drawer. I hadn’t moved any of his
things. His shirts still hung in the closet, and his
handkerchiefs were still folded in a row, all the way
to the back.
Colin’s razor and brush were mahogany-handled,
with inlaid silver. His father, a Southern gentleman,
had given him the kit when we married. Colin
believed in owning only the essentials, and making
them precious.
When I first met Colin, he was the only man at the
Washington Post banquet who had dished the sweet
potatoes onto his plate, and the only thing I could
think to ask him was whether he was Southern.
He looked at me for a long beat, and spoke slowly,
deliberately, as I would come to know he always did.
“My family has lived in Richmond, Virginia for one
hundred and twenty-seven years,” he said, “and I have
a toothpick in my mouth right now. So I would say,
When I finished shaving my legs with Colin’s razor, I
put on a towel and called Barbara, to invite her over
for dinner.
Barbara had said yes, so I went to the grocery store,
and swept the floors. I picked rosemary and mint
from the garden. I shut Edwin in my room, in case
Barbara didn’t like dogs. When my mother called, I
A lli son Be rke


told her I had a friend coming over, and couldn’t talk
“Is it a male friend?” she asked.
“I smell the stew burning,” I said. “I have to go.”
Barbara was only ten minutes late. I opened the door
for her, and saw that her eyes were bloodshot.
“I don’t know who I’ve become, Sarah,” she said. “I was
so much happier when he was around.” She pulled
me into a hug. I wanted to say, But, I made cocktail
wieners. But, I have Thelma and Louise.
Instead I took one of Colin’s handkerchiefs from my
back pocket, where it had been my centering object,
and waited for the right moment to hand it to her.




Sputtering stupidly after falling through the ice,
I thought, “I will be dead soon”, and tried to swim
anyway. As the undertow pulled down and out, it
dipped the ice below the surface, catching me. When
the water rushed back in, the sheet was bent together,
like some giant piece of twisting glass, which carried
me quickly back to safety. Half alive, on the old ice,
I knew she had chosen to save me. I found kindness,
without reason, in that unforgiving landscape and
now know, beyond doubt, that Antarctica is the only
wife I will ever want.







Once there was a boy who could drink only sea water.
Each morning he would walk down to the water with
a bucket, and draw a big draft of it to his home on
the hill drinking the thick stuff like it was milk. Be
careful said his father, or you will drink the whole
thing. His mother smiled.
The boy grew to be a man. He knew how to carve
wood and to start a fire, to bake a loaf of bread and
skin a hare. He could hike for many miles but he
could never leave the side of the ocean. He longed
to see what lay deep inland, but he knew he must
remain close to the shore. So it was that he decided to
become a sailor; it was a natural choice.
The people of his town did not trust the water so he
went out alone. The father was glad to have him out
on adventure, but the mother feared he would never
He braved every storm, for he could not drown.
When the waves came upon him he opened his
mouth wide and drank them up. When the rain
came tumbling, the plants he kept on the boat

were watered, and he ate them. He spent many
months this way, exploring the trees and rocks, but
mostly the sky and the horizon, and what it means to
be alone.
At last he came to a place he could not leave.
On the first day there, among the birch trees, which
came like an army into the water so that he could see
them from a mile away, he had also spotted a person:
so fast as to be a deer, so strong as to be a god, so
beautiful as to be a woman.
He searched the land but always he felt he must go
further from the ocean then was good for him. He
began to carry more and more water from the waves
on his back and he went sixty, a hundred miles away
from the sea, searching.
She found him napping on the peak of the only
mountain on the island. She took one look at his
burnt skin and sand speckled hair, and she knew he
could drink the oceans.
For he had not been wrong; she was the daughter of
one of the gods and she could tell these things easy
as you or I could read a book. Early in her life she had
been promised that her happiness lay at the bottom
of the ocean but she had never been able to find it,
not knowing how to swim.


The man woke and she knew that if he fell in love
with her she could ask him to drink the sea and she
would find her promised joy. It was not a slow thing,
for as soon as he opened his eyes and looked at her he
knew she was his one true love.
So she came with him on his boat and they went
from coast to coast and he slowly drank, as much as
he could, no longer eating many of the plants. He
could drink as much as a whale, and still his body
had more thirst. He grew a little taller during this
time and his hair, thought the woman, looked like
Slowly the shores of the world began to show
their ankles, lifting up the skirts of the water to
mountains, valleys of sand and coral reef. Still the
woman did not see her happiness. Keep drinking, she
said to the man, and he did.
They grew old this way. Sometimes it is like that,
and it would not be true to say they weren’t a certain
kind of happy.
The man was pleased to do as the woman wished, as
long as he could sail, and be near the tumbling water,
and the woman was pleased to be on the quest with
the promise just around every strait, each placid bay.
By the end, the seas were shallow, less than a puddle,
and surely thought the old woman, surely my
Cl ai re Wi lli a ms


happiness will stick out of the water now and I will
be able to grab it up! Then we will sail back home and
that will be that… But the next day she realized there
was not enough water for them to sail back home on
and she looked at the old man who she loved but even
before she looked she knew he was dead.
She lowered his body into the last of the puddles on
earth and looked at the man who had drunk all the
world’s oceans for her. It occurred to her then that he
must be her happiness and she lay on top of him and
hoped that in that moment the water would come
rushing out of his body and the world would be filled
halfway with it again. That underwater the two of
them could live in death, their bodies giving a greater
motion to the waves, their torsos curled up at the
very core of the earth.
But no. There was just his stillness and the wind
lapping on the last tiny sea on that world.






Mari and I are sitting in the Social Kitchen and
Brewery, talking about the nature of female beauty.
We both live in the Inner Sunset, and over the
years we’ve seen the building go through many
transformations. It was a dive bar, it was a Mexican
restaurant, it was an upscale neighborhood spot
named Wunderbeer (I miss Wunderbeer), it was an
empty husk… and now it’s Social Kitchen. Almost
every incarnation has been better than the last. It’s so
hard to tell the difference between “gentrification”
and “evolution,” sometimes. “Progress” and “terrible
things” share an apartment.
I pointed her toward John Oliver’s terrific takedown
of the Miss America Pageant—and the very idea
that in the 21st century we would line up women in
swimsuits to be judged.
But this isn’t just about beauty, of course: It’s also
about competition. We can’t just be happy that
we have 50 beautiful women standing on a stage
in swimsuits who will, it is fair to deduce, do

anything we ask. No, we also have to rank them…
which, when you think about it, might be the
absolute worst possible use of anyone’s time in that
situation. Yes, pageants are obviously a display of
blatant misogyny, but there’s something else at work
here, too, an obsession with hierarchy that’s generally
not commented upon because we’re still focused on
all the misogyny. Got lots of beautiful women? Let’s
figure out who’s the most beautiful! What is that?
Wunderbeer used to be a little bit of a meat market.
Social Kitchen is not. Most of the space is devoted to
tables, which means it’s much more of a place where
you come with your existing friends, not to meet
new ones. And while it’s easy for a mixed-drink bar
to slip over into “sexy/trendy,” it’s a lot harder for
a craft beer bar: mixology, which happens right in
front of you, conjures up images of dazzling nights
and gorgeous strangers—while craft brewing, which
happens in a vat in the back, conjures up images of
sturdy brewmasters who wonder if the suds taste too
much of yeast.
Social Kitchen does it all well, and I’m going through
their blond beers tonight, none of which make me
stand up and cheer but all of which I recommend.
“Gentlemen prefer blondes,” I joke, and Mari twirls
her hair, saying, “but redheads have more fun.” She
sighs. “Poor brunettes.” That’s her natural color.
The sci-fi master Octavia Butler once had an alien

species declare that humanity was destined to destroy
itself because it combines two incompatible traits:
We are simultaneously intelligent and hierarchical.
This has always struck me as an insight worth
exploring, but it’s not Mari’s issue tonight. She’s
bringing it back to beauty.
Mari has had a bad run of guys who insisted they
were her friends, only to soon confess their love for
her, then disappear from her life when she tried to let
them down gently. It’s left her bitter about beauty…
and friendship. She’s firmly in the “if you really loved
me you wouldn’t disappear when I say I won’t fuck
you,” camp, and that’s always made sense to me.
Not that I don’t sympathize with Mari’s would-be
beaus. I crush easily—and it gave me problems until
I learned to relax. Hanging out with interesting,
beautiful people is a pleasure all its own. Good things
may come after, but the experience spoils if you treat
it like an appetizer.
I also get easily bored with my own romances, a
discovery that has nicely tempered the obsessive
quality that can come from being around the
beautiful. An artist friend of mine from L.A., Trici
Venola, once produced a series called Monsters and
Bimbos, in which she pointed out that “bimbos” are
pressured to all be exactly like one another, while
monsters get to relish in a terrible individuality.
Bimbos can be ranked against a uniform standard. A
Be nj ami n Wach s


monster is diminished the more he’s comparable to
anything else.
Trici always admired me, and Mari envies me, because
when I walk in a room everyone immediately knows:
“He’s a monster.”
Mari is one of the many monsters who the world
treats like a bimbo. She doesn’t want to be in a
hierarchy, even if she very well might be on top.
Perhaps that’s why she likes Social Kitchen—it tries
a little too hard on the food and mixed drinks for her
taste, but it’s perfectly relaxed on everything else.


I’m sitting in the Mucky Duck with Jimmy, who
called me up today and told me that his old mentor
from back in Montana was in town, and he wondered
if I could meet him.
“This guy’s important,” Jimmy said. “He’s the guy who
first taught me how to dig a ditch.”
Of course I said yes.
Craig was recently elected the mayor of the 800person town he lives in, which, he says, has let its
infrastructure get so bad that it now needs more than
$50 million in repairs to its water system. How does
a town with just over 800 people raise that kind of
money? “It’s going to be the work of a generation,” he
says. Unfortunately he’s getting ready to retire. He’s
going to try to leave them with a solid plan before
he leaves public life. Something everybody can rally
behind when he’s gone.

Be nj ami n Wach s


The Mucky Duck is a sports bar’s sports bar: lots of
screens, good jukebox, pool table, better-than-average
beer selection (for a sports bar), great Bloody Marys,
and absolutely no pretension. I order an Arrogant
Bastard, which Jimmy finds hilarious.
“I can’t believe you ordering that!” he says over and
over. “It’s perfect!” Thanks, Jimmy.
The story, as Jimmy tells it, is that he was a teenager
working in a sandwich shop one day (he pantomimes
slathering mayonnaise on bread) until Craig came
in and said, “Hey, kid, you want to make some extra
money doing some side work?”
“I said yes,” Jimmy says. “I mean, sure. And so that
night I found myself digging a ditch, my back was
sore, my body aching, getting blisters on my fingers,
and just having the time of my life, and I thought, ‘I
can get paid to work like this! I had no idea!’”
Since he’s come to San Francisco, Jimmy has helped
build massive art installations, created robot fighting
rings, built boats out of garbage, worked the lighting
for Center Camp Café at Burning Man, and been the
go-to gopher for Camp Tipsy… he’s everywhere, using
his hands to help a whole arts movement develop in
rickety buildings and DIY masonry.
“How’d you know?” I ask Craig. “How did you know:
This kid will make it happen?”

Craig waved the question away. “I tried to get lots of
kids to help me,” he says. “It was trial and error. They
didn’t work out. They’d be digging and I’d leave for a
half hour and come back and find they hadn’t gotten
any farther, and they’d say ‘There’s a rock in the hole.
I don’t know what to do!’ But Jimmy, he was the one
who worked out.”
We all laugh. “Oh man, I’ve hired that kid,” Jimmy
says. “I tell him to help me pull up a carpet and get
the nails out, and then I tell him to clean up all the
dirt from the floor while I’m gone, and then when I
get back I find he’s asleep on the damn carpet!”
One day Craig told Jimmy it was time to go and gave
him some tools. Jimmy got on a bus and, eventually,
ended up here, where he’s helped shape a culture.
That’s how this works.
I don’t really know why Jimmy asked me to meet
Craig. I’m worried that the kid looks at me as a
mentor figure too. He can do better. Why isn’t he?
The Mucky Duck was also Jimmy’s choice of bars. As
long as we were nearby, that’s the one he wanted to
go to. Fair enough: It’s about as straightforward as
a bar gets. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for years,
and people love this place. I’m not a sports bar guy—I
think Jimmy can do better—but I can tell you how
much people adore this spot. It’s a bar for people who
Be nj ami n Wach s


don’t like bars to walk in and feel right at home.
Jimmy asks me if I’ve heard of “Burling,” and when I
say no, he tells me that Craig invented it.
“It’s a combination of ‘bowling’ and ‘curling,’” Craig
explains. “Curling stones are actually really expensive,
so instead for Burling you take a bowling ball, cut
it in half, attach handles to each half, and play with
that. What do you think?”
I’m not a sports guy, but I can tell him the complete
and unvarnished truth: “You had me at ‘cut a bowling
ball in half.’”
That’s the sort of idea that a man might leave behind
as a legacy.



L O O K, H E R E
For this, I use my grandfather’s axe.
Pull it carefully from behind the dead cat’s carrier in
the garage, where it rests dusty and dull, subdued by
seasons more or less come and gone. More because
fifteen winters is a long time for a dormant blade—
idle through fifteen springs and summers followed
by fifteen hopeful falls glimmering with red-gold
readiness. Less because it is only my bony fingers
that inexpertly grip the heavy wooden handle, ready
to hack the camellias crowding the far corner of my
Mine is a small job. I have hated these trees for years.
Still—some warning would have been nice. A short
note typed by my sensible grandmother, attached by
thick garden twine to the long handled axe, stating: to
clear is not to clean. Maybe then my breath would not
have stuttered when two lops revealed a fibrous system
pink and raw as my own. Fleshy and hot. Intricate.
Purposeful. Ambivalent but alive. Gleaming in
the exposure of harsh afternoon light: the tender
wreckage of life hidden beneath tough bark.

There are some things people will never tell you.
For instance, had my grandfather told me the first
mark is always the most accurate I would have known
that although the second and third hit close, it is only
the consistent swinging that breaks the branches
and brings the tree down. Had he said: you have to
keep at it. You have to hoist and heave. Cleave. Gear
yourself to twist and pull, break and shake. Press your
full weight against the trunk and kick a little. Scratch
more than the surface. It hurts.
Then there is the digging. Because when you clear,
you have to get it all.
Hew, chop, lop; exhume, hollow, stop.
Lift the roots, clinging firm to life in the dirt

—eager as fingers to keep hold.

Relieve the circular center from its tangled

It doesn’t want to leave.

The heart is the hardest part.
It knows.


Knows even before I find the nest—hidden in
the cluster of shady branches in the next downed
tree. Knows I have no way to test its working or
abandoned status: far flung families flown elsewhere
or diligent mother out collecting threads, pulling
dolls’ hair from the wispy wind?
I carry the nest down to show my daughters.
The youngest one wants to touch—she still sees
everything with her hands first: the soft, downy
interior; the knitted twigs; the eggless center.
This is one way to start over: so that when all that
is left is a pile of branches (roots, leaves, waterless
flowers dried dead)—when all that is left is a clearing:
ready and open—I can assume the gratified pose my
grandfather must have held: leaning (sorry as hell)
over the dirty axe.

Li s a P i azz a


- SET 2 -





My brother was 9 and me 7 walking home from school
When he suddenly pretends he’s been struck blind
And I half believe him, “I’m blind! I’m blind!”, he cries,
Clutching the fence along the edge of the park on
Bowen Street.
That was the year of second grade
When I fell in love with Helen Keller and blindness.
I ached to be blind.
So much I saw I did not want to see.
My father’s contempt
The worry furrows on my mother’s brow
My teachers’ uncertain gestures
The distant play of my siblings
Something was terribly wrong
That only I could see
And how badly I wanted
How scared I was of dying.
(Did my father want me dead?

My father wanted me dead.)
I didn’t mind the thought of a coffin.
The darkness, the cold, the ground did not frighten me.
I told Mommy
(she died last year):
“I don’t mind being dead, as long as I can think.
But how terrible to lie in the ground and not think!”
“If you must bury me, Mommy,
Bury me alive.”
To be buried alive was nothing. To be buried alive
was my life.
Buried alive, I could survive.

That same year
Our principal invited a blind lady to school.
A lady with a real live guide dog.
A lady who could read braille and touched our faces
with her
Fingers like Helen Keller.
A seer.
How ordinary she turned out to be.

What I loved reading most at seven was “The Hardy
They confronted mysteries they could solve.
Nobody could solve my mystery.
That summer we played at Craigville Beach.
Our favorite game was digging holes in the sand
And burying one another up to our chests.
I couldn’t get enough of it.
One day my cousin lost his glasses in the surf
He was blind as a bat without them. Ha ha.
Later they washed up on the beach
As good as new.

Ch arle s K ru ge r






“You look pretty from the side,” mother said, reaching
over and touching my cheek. She was driving fast in
her old red VW bug with the primer grey fenders
and bald tires. We were on the Santa Monica freeway,
heading east towards the city. It was early evening,
and we were going to her friend Anne’s house for
“I know,” I said. “A pretty face is all I have.”
“What a funny thing to say,” she said. “Where did you
get that idea?”
I was quiet. I didn’t know where I got that idea, but
I knew that when I wore make-up, especially deep
burgundy lipstick, like my mother wore, I was pretty.
Other than that, I couldn’t really think of anything
else I had going for me.
She pulled off the freeway. “You have more than
just a pretty face,” she said, turning left onto Fairfax.
“You’re creative,” she said. “You’re very creative.”
I still didn’t answer.

“Why do you think so badly about yourself?” she
asked. By this time we were waiting for the light at
Wilshire Boulevard.
I still didn’t say anything. I didn’t know why I
thought about myself the way I did. The thoughts
were just there. It’s not like I chose them.
She turned right at Santa Monica Boulevard, heading
towards Hollywood.
“You make it sound as if no one has ever given you any
encouragement. I have always complimented you on
your imagination. Ever since you were little I have
told you that you were highly creative.”
The sun had set, and the sky was turning from
brilliant blue to black. Once we passed Western
Avenue the neighborhoods started getting rough. I lit
up a clove and rolled my window down. After taking
the first drag, I passed it over to my mother. The first
hit always gave me a nice buzz.
“Who is it that you imagine looks down on you?” she
asked, handing me back my clove. “Who gave you this
idea that all you have is a pretty face?”
She was getting really angry now, so I thought I
should probably let up a bit with the silence.
“I don’t know. It’s just a feeling I get.”

“Who? Who is it you’re talking about when you say
“I don’t know,” I said. “Teachers, middle-class people,
and sometimes the aunts.”
“Your aunts don’t look down on you. Why do you
think they look down on you?”
“It’s just a feeling, that’s all. It’s no big deal.”
We pulled off of Santa Monica Boulevard just before
hitting Vermont, then mother slowed down and
started looking for parking.
“You have always been so hard on me. You are never
hard on your dad the way you are on me. His mother
and his family have never done squat for you, but you
give my sisters and me all the shit. You have always
hated me. Always.”
She slowed to a stop and began backing into a spot,
grinding the gears as she shifted into reverse. “You
direct all of your anger towards me. You are so full of
anger. You really need to get some help. You really do.”
I sure hope she sticks to wine tonight, I thought as I
slowly rolled up my window.

M i ra Mart i n- Parke r


She was taking the corners fast now. “Oh come on,”
my brother pleaded from the backseat. “Can’t we just
go home?”
But she ignored him and continued speeding down
Marine Street. She made a hard left at the corner,
then headed into the alleyway and drove on.
“You just think I’m drunk,” she yelled. She took
another hard left, and another, and then put us back
on Marine Street once again, where she sped right
past our apartment building.
“You two are always on my case,” she said. “I don’t
know why I put up with it. I should just get my own
place and leave you with your crazy dad.”
She went around the corner again and went as far as
Ozone Park this time before making another sharp
“I’m not drunk!” she yelled, revving her engine into
the turn.

“I didn’t say you were,” my brother said. “I just want
to go home. Can’t you understand that? We just want
to go home.”
I was scared. I could tell mother wasn’t totally
shitfaced, but she was definitely tipsy. Tipsy and
pissed off. She seemed perfectly fine on the freeway
coming back from Hollywood. She got off at the
Lincoln Boulevard exit and began heading towards
Venice. But after we passed the military supply shop, I
sensed her mood begin to shift. By the time we turned
right at the Kentucky Fried Chicken, her horns were
“There’s a parking spot right over there,” my brother
said, pointing to an open space in front of our
building. But she acted like she didn’t hear him and
kept driving. That’s when she started yelling, “I’m
not drunk!” Finally, after driving in circles for ten
minutes, she pulled over and parked. My brother and
I got out of the car and walked towards our front gate
in silence. When we got inside the apartment, we
immediately went to bed, and the incident was never
mentioned again.

M i ra Mart i n- Parke r


We must have been out together that night, but I
don’t remember what club we were at or which band
was playing. All I know is that she left before I did.
And when I got back to her apartment later that
night, I opened the door and my brother’s friend Abe,
a local biker punk in his mid twenties, was looking
up at me from under the covers of her bed. (Her
apartment was a studio, so her bed wasn’t far from
the door.) I quickly went back outside and waited. A
minute later my mother called out for me to come in.
When I did, Abe was buttoning up his flannel shirt
and my mother was in the bathroom with the water
Needless to say, I felt awkward. So I went into the
kitchen and began cutting up a watermelon we had
bought earlier that day. I loved having watermelon
at night in the summer. When I was done slicing, I
brought a plateful out to the table and began eating.
Abe had finished with his shirt by this time and was
now busy tying up the laces on his boots.


“Want some?” I asked. “It’s delicious.”
“That’s okay, I should probably head out,” he said, not
looking up.
When my mother returned, she sat down at the table,
picked up a melon slice, and began munching away.
Abe grabbed his leather jacket, and said goodbye.
After he left, my mother and I both spit a mouthful of
seeds out the open window and burst into laughter.

M i ra Mart i n- Parke r


We were at the Cuban restaurant, Versailles, and I
was hungry. But instead of ordering something, I sat
smoking cigarettes and watching my mother and her
friend Fertile eat dinner. They were each having roast
chicken, steamed rice, black beans, and fried bananas
with cream.
I’m hungry, mommy, I thought, but didn’t dare say.
Instead I smoked and watched them eat, since I had
no money. I ran out of cash earlier that day, probably
having spent quite a bit on her, buying us smokes and
beer at the beach. Now I was being punished.
It’s not my problem. Ask your father for help, her eyes
said. She was glaring at me over the table as she cut
into a chicken thigh.
But I’m hungry, mommy, I thought.
Did Fertile know that I had no money, I wondered. Did
he know that was the reason I had ordered only water and
was sitting there smoking instead of eating?


I’m hungry, mommy, I kept thinking.
Your father ruined my life, mother’s eyes replied.
I am hungry, mommy. I am eating a cigarette in front of
you, mommy. I am getting smaller in front of you, mommy.
Bits of cream and banana are falling from your lips,
mommy. I am hungry, I am hungry. Never mind, don’t
worry about me, I’ll just sit here and smoke and starve.
Be my guest, mother’s eyes replied, your father ruined
my life.

M i ra Mart i n- Parke r





Roses and red-colored blossoms on the tree outside.
Longest night of the year spent alone.
Eating words on pages for comfort.
Comfort eating.
Replacing person with words.
Replacing person with other people.
Replacing person with events.
Going alone.
Movies alone.
Concerts alone.
Eating alone.
Joy of alone.
Space of alone.
Words of alone.
Joy of words.
Joy of alone words.
Joy of words alone.
In alone space.
In alone time.
Writers write words so many
and read words so many in front of
crowds so many on many nights

in many venues
over many drinks and in many dry places.
Writers eat words to stuff full the empty place in
their bellies.
Writers eat words for comfort.
Comfort eating late at night alone.
They call this self-soothing.
Eating the words and feeling them fill your belly.
Rubbing the words between your legs.
Slicking the words between your legs.
Stuffing the words between your legs.
Becoming an animal that subsists on words.
Becoming an animal that couples with words.
No humans left like you.
Where does an animal go that has been a human
and remembers what it used to mean to be human?
Where does an animal go whose words are slippery,
don’t stick, stay, stand?
Where does the exiled animal go when the words
don’t stick?
Red blossoms on a summer tree.
Red marks on a lover’s throat.
Red blood from between the legs
where the words did not take root.
Did not meet their counterpart.
Did not engender young.

Red blood washing the last of the lover from the body.
The last traces of words un-rooted.
Where does the barren animal go in her exile?

De b orah S t e i nbe rg







It has been 25 years since my life changed,
When I first visited Germany, watched
demonstrations in Leipzig,
And marveled how one country could shift so
How my friend’s grandmother could live through
Bury her husband a Nazi soldier, welcome me in
So warmly, and be the only one of us to know
The Wall would fall within weeks?
It has been 20 years since my heart changed,
Opened to meet yours in the snow of a united Berlin.
Since I learned the language enough to live and work
In former Volksarmee barracks in Stralsund, to joke
About Hamlet in China with fellow students from
And Belarus, to hold your hand under table in
Warm-lit Mitte cafes, cocooned as the world changed.
It has been 15 years since my first American friend in
Had a child, anchored himself fully to this land,

Of a place his parents escaped, found himself
A continent shifting towards and away from its past,
Embracing and rejecting migrants and a common
While I watched from a New York
Dot-com drunk with two towers standing.
It has been one year since we last kissed,
Soft, sad, happy, chaste, wanting kisses at the door
Of your eastern studio still heated by coal.
Now, a second post-Wall generation will walk
With lighted lanterns for St. Martin’s Day, photo
exhibits will
Show the city from our time together as historical
And we will—greyer—greet each other again.
25 years ago my life changed, and tonight, as I lean
into you,
I am grateful for fallen walls and Monday







I want to be a symbol for my culture
I want to take all the chihuahuas out there in TV
land back to my place and feed them helping
after helping of taco bell
I want to wrap myself up in a colorful poncho
Tilt an oversized sombrero over my eyes
Lean up against the nearest pronged cactus I see
And take an afternoon siesta the fuck away from all of
I want to be a symbol for my culture
I want to tell you the wrong thing when you ask me
what this song is about
I want to take care of your kids and secretly teach
them Spanglish swear words
I want to give away the endings to all the telenovelas
I want to be a symbol for my culture
I want to wear mi Nacho Libre wrestling mask
Che Guevera t-shirt and Zapatista ski-cap all at the
same time
I want to start a Frida Kahlo una-brow trend right
here in Marin
So that all the yogamoms going into their beauty

For their weekly Brazilian bikini wax
Will instead come out with their eyebrows patched
I want to be a symbol for my culture
I want to appear in sitcoms every once in a while as
the character
Who always ends up walking away mumblish
Spanish jibberish
And at this point I would personally like to thank
Al Pacino’s Cuban and Puerto Rican accents
For all they’ve done for us
I want to be a symbol for my culture
I want to continue to flatten down the language
So that it’s easier for everyone else to pronounce
places and words
Like Corte Madera, Tiburon, Los Gatos, Los Angelees,
El Cerrito
I want to put pictures of La Llorona’s kids on milk
And “Have you seen me?” posters
I want to start a rumor that narcotrafficantes are
Dope in J-Lo’s ass and have been doing it for years
I want to see the remake of Home Alone starring
Elian Gonzalez
Shot entirely on location in Cuba
I want to be the sugar skull with Andy Lopez’s name
on it
I want to be the sugar skull with Alex Nieto’s name
on it
I want to be a symbol for my culture

I want to read the subtitles backwards
I want to teach white people how to use a leafblower
I want to erase the border *La Llina* and repaint it
two feet to the left
And while the Minutemen and all those other
guardians of America’s borders
Go and investigate
I want to go out and steal their cars
I want to go out and take their jobs
I want to use up all their medical benefits
I want to impregnate their daughters and
Steal their places in line for the movies…
I want to be that coyote that people hire to take them
back home
I want to start a West Marin support group for
people who have seen the chupacabra
I want to be a symbol for my culture
I want to keep cradling the immigrant’s American
Like a baby
I want to be that Yucateco rolling sushi
I want to be that Salvadoreno blowing leaves off a
lawn in Tiburon
I want to be that 19 year-old Chilanga nannying the
two toeheaded babies
That she’s got in tow as she windowshops Mill Valley
boutiques that
She will never go into
I want to be that Mexicano with a red smock and cap
looking like
A watered down disciple of Huitzilopochtli
Josi ah A l de re t e


As he washes cars by that gas station on Second Street
I want to be that Chicano who opens up a taco shop
And names all the burritos after famous Mexicanos
I want to be a symbol for my culture





Dear Mr. McMahon,
I won’t lie to you—I really hated this sonnet. I mean,
I read it over and over again without understanding
a word. I won’t bore you by writing the whole thing
out here, but take a look at these lines:
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright
How would thy shadow’s form form happy show
I mean, come on. Tell me Shakespeare isn’t being
difficult on purpose.
I took your advice and translated it into regular
English. And get this—once I got my dictionary I
figured out that I actually knew most of the words
already. It was just the way they were arranged that
made them confusing. See what I mean about being
difficult on purpose?
Anyway, my new version goes like this:
At night I sleep and have a better view

When I’m awake, nothing is interesting
But when I sleep, I only dream of you
And you are all I ever want to see
Even in dreams, you shine like a bright star
So I can’t help but long for the real you
To come and send my nightmares running far
And make both night and day a better view
I can’t think of a better gift at all
Than seeing you by day when I’m awake
Because at night I find myself enthralled
By the impression that your dream self makes
Without you, there is nothing for me here
I live to dream and be with you my dear.
What do you think, Mr. M? I mean, it even rhymes
and everything, if you pronounce interesting like
Anyway, now that I know what Shakespeare’s talking
about, I definitely have some thoughts about this poem.
So basically, Shakespeare is saying that he misses
someone, and wants to spend all of his time asleep
because then he can dream about them and not feel
lonely anymore.
I mean, come on. Who gets to dream good dreams
about someone they love every night? I won’t lie

to you, I miss my brother like anything, and if I
dreamed about him every night I sure wouldn’t be
complaining about it.
So tell me this whole thing isn’t just a made-up
excuse to stay in bed all day because old Shakespeare
doesn’t want to get up in the morning. I can just see
him pulling the covers over his head when his mom
wants him to get out of bed and get ready for school.
I’ve seen a picture of him—a big fat guy in a cape
with a red beard. He’s probably so fat that when he
pulls the covers up over his face his feet stick out
the bottom and get cold. Serves him right for being
confusing on purpose, if you ask me.
Ok, Mr. M, hang on a sec. I just told Nat about lazy
Shakespeare under the covers, and she says I’ve
got it wrong. I guess the fat guy is actually Henry
the Eighth, not Shakespeare. Nat says Shakespeare
isn’t even a real guy, anyway. It’s just a disguise for
Queen Elizabeth, who really wrote the sonnet. And
get this—Queen Elizabeth is Henry the Eighth’s
daughter! So really, the big bearded guy isn’t the one
hiding under the covers at all—he’s the parent at
the door saying if you aren’t out of that room in two
minutes so help me.
So who even knows, Mr. M. Who even knows.
Poetically yours,
Cady Ow e ns


P.S. I do have a question about the name—Sonnet
#43. Does that mean there are 42 others? And if so,
are you going to assign them? Because I really think I
got the whole Shakespeare gist from just this one. So
we’re probably all set with the Shakespeare, don’t you

Dear Mr. McMahon,
I won’t lie to you—I’m pretty confused about this
wheelbarrow poem. It isn’t hard to understand
the way that sonnet was, but it doesn’t really say
I mean, there’s a red wheelbarrow and it’s raining and
some chickens are there too. The end.
But here’s the crazy thing about this poem: It was
written by a man named William Carlos Williams.
Can you believe that? What parents with the last
name Williams would name their kid William? No
wonder he puts his middle name on everything.
I felt bad for poor William Williams, so I read the
biography info about him in our book. I thought
maybe it would say something about his lifetime

burden of having the same first and last name. But
all it said was that he’s a doctor and writes poems on
his prescription pad. Probably when his patients are
I also read another William Williams poem, called
“This Is Just To Say.” I won’t lie to you, Mr. M, “This
Is Just To Say” is way better than that wheelbarrow poem. How come you didn’t assign us that one
instead? I’ll write it here for you, in case you didn’t
know about it.
It goes like this:
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
for breakfast
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
I won’t lie to you, Mr. M—this is the first poem I’ve
read this year that I actually get.
Cady Ow e ns


I bet you if I showed it to my mom she would say that
William Williams is being cheeky.
And I bet if you showed it to my brother, he’d love it.
In fact, hang on a sec, Mr. M—I think I’m going to
send it to him.
Ok Mr. M, I’m back. Something weird just happened.
I went to copy out the poem for my brother, and I
found myself writing completely different words.
Like when I translated that sonnet except more
different, somehow.
I mean, I know a lot of other poets copied Shakespeare and wrote sonnets, and that was ok. But
William Williams isn’t as old or as famous as Shakespeare, so I feel like maybe I did something bad by
copying him.
Guiltily yours,
P.S. Do you want to see my William Williams poem?
If this is illegal you have to promise not to tell
anyone. Ok, Mr. M? It goes like this:
I have stolen
the baseball glove
that was hidden
in your closet

and which
I know
was your prized
Forgive me
it’s worn in
so much better
than mine

Cady Ow e ns


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