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QUIET LIGHTNING IS

:
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.
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1. you have to commit to the date to submit
2. you only get up to 8 minutes

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sparkle + blink 64
© 2015 Quiet Lightning
artwork © Megan Reed
meganreed.net
“Nessun Dorma” by Townsend Walker
first appeared in The Camel Saloon
“Little Green” by Xiaojuan Shu first published
in The Looking Glass Quarterly (July 2014, College of Marin)
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.

quietlightning.org
su bmit@ qui e tli g h tn i n g . o r g

CONTENTS
curated by

Josey Rose & Spencer Kaidi
featured artist

JENNY QI

Megan Reed

Telomeres and a
2AM (Love) Poem
Circe in the Mirror

1
3

XIAOJUAN SHU

Little Green

5

JESSICA HAHN Companion

11

NOVA REEVES

Suddenly Stateless

15

JILL TYDOR

American Dreams

17

MIGUEL ESPINOZA JR.

A Sonnet to Notice...

25

SUE MELL

Bird Feeder

27

Boomerang Nebula

33
35

TOWNSEND WALKER

Nessun Dorma

37

LATIF HARRIS

Saturdays Gaining on Me
Unnamable
Angelic Alpha

39
41
43

LYNDSEY ELLIS

excerpt from “Ghosts & Cyborgs” 47

CAROLYN MURPHY

I have no mouth

MK CHAVEZ Polar

53

E T L IG
I
U
Q

HTNING IS SPONSORED

lagunitas.com

BY

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
Kelsey Schimmelman
Sarah Ciston
Katie Wheeler-Dubin

secretary
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 -

JJJJJJJJ

TEL O

RES

A N D A 2 A ME E ) P O E M
M (LOV
These are the only kind I’ll write you,
when I should be reading about telomeres—
how they sit protectively at the ends of chromosomes
and how they wane with every breath we take,
leaving fragments of ourselves behind
as our cells grow and divide and become
ever more vulnerable as we grow older.
I have the sudden brilliant thought
that the chromosomes in our heart cells
must have the shortest telomeres of all,
and I think how I can only admit that
I might tolerate/like/love you
when my science becomes
this bleary-eyed, delirious
brain-mush. These nights,
I look at you sleeping and want to
press my lips to your forehead,
1

tug a corner of the sheet
from beneath your arm,
tuck myself in its place.
Come morning, you’ll be
just a heavy arm slung
across my stomach,
a too-warm body
curled around my spine.
But now I think
mad thoughts
like how maybe you
could be an exception
and how maybe I
could do this every night
and how maybe we
could let our telomeres
shorten
together.

2

CIRCE IN THE MIRROR
I promised I would never be you.
No, that’s a lie—I never thought I’d have to.
I didn’t need spells to turn men to swine.
They transformed perfectly with a glance.
And of course, I would never want
to lay my head beside a married man,
press my lips into his bones,
trace his tendons with my teeth,
pretend I couldn’t hurt anyone
if my touch was tender enough.
I told my friends, laughing, that their men
were safe with me—I said I was too frigid.
Besides, I wasn’t beautiful like you—
I was harmless.
Who knows what made me think
you have to be beautiful to weave spells
and slip under them. When stars reveal
scandalous affairs, I never think
the mistresses are pretty.

Je nny Qi

3

Circe, now I think you were just lonely
on that little island, surrounded by animals
who gaped at you but you couldn’t talk to.
Did you think Odysseus might be different
when he didn’t turn into swine? That maybe
he could be your equal, fair wife be damned.
And you were Circe, and you were enchanting,
and of course you could make him stay
if you wanted to.
I think he was lonely too,
and you were a comely face
that said sweet things
and a warm willing body
that looked about right.
Oh honey, don’t tell me
you thought he loved you.

4

XXX

XXXXXXXXX

L ITT L E G R E E N
Locust Tree Hutong had been a serene neighborhood
in Beijing. Every morning, the residents woke up to
birds chirping on the locust trees. Chess lovers played
Chinese chess in the hutong—the narrow alley between
the courtyard houses—with several bystanders
observing. Five years ago, the neighborhood changed
when a new business complex was erected one block
outside Locust Tree Hutong. More suits and ties
appeared in the neighborhood. Some families rented
out rooms to the young professionals; some turned
their courtyard houses into hotels; some set up food
stands in the hutong to sell soy milk and buns in the
morning. You would rarely see onlookers surrounding
two chess players now. Everyone here was talking
about one thing: Locust Tree Hutong would be
demolished soon for the developing of new Beijing.
It was a summer morning. The red door of a courtyard
house was pushed opened from the inside. Out walked
an old man, carrying an empty birdcage. The neighbors
called him Old Lin. He wore a straw hat, his back
slightly hunched and his gray hair combed to the
back. Age had carved two deep lines on his forehead.
His white short sleeve shirt hung loose over his
5

navy blue polyester pants. No wind. Cicadas shouted
“too hot” up in the locust trees. Lin looked between
the courtyard houses, behind the food stands, and up
in the locust trees. Once in a while, he called loudly,
“Little Green! Come home!”
Little Green was a parrot, who had been Lin’s best
companion after his wife, Yue, died ten years ago.
When Lin first saw Little Green at the bird market,
he was instantly stunned by her beauty. Her body was
covered with bright green feathers. Her curved red
beak matched the red circle around her eyes. In a highpitched sweet voice, Little Green greeted Lin “Ni hao!”
(Hello!). Right then right there, Lin made the biggest
purchase decision in his life. He left and soon came
back with 6,000 yuan, his three-month stipend, and
took Little Green home.
Little Green didn’t like cold weather, so Lin stayed
home with her by the stove in winter. He taught Little
Green many new words, such as: “hao” (good),” “bu
hao” (not good), “leng” (cold), “e le” (hungry), and “zao
shang hao” (good morning).
In summer, for the past ten years, Lin carried Little
Green in a birdcage to the bird market to meet his
bird-loving friends every morning. On the way to
the market, Little Green greeted every passerby “Zao
shang hao!” The market was swamped with bird
lovers. Some of them were first timers; some were
experienced and willing to give a lecture to the
6

newcomers at any minute. A variety of birds were
chirping from birdcages hung on both sides of the
alley. With his friends surrounding him, Lin let Little
Green stand on his straw hat. Little Green greeted
the crowd, “Dajia Hao!” (“Hello everyone!”) One time,
Little Green suddenly shouted, “Da bizi! Da bizi!” (“Big
nose! Big nose!”) Everyone turned and saw a Europeanlooking man nearby. Everyone laughed, including that
foreigner, who understood Chinese. A man in the
crowd offered Lin 20,000 yuan for Little Green. Lin
said, “Little Green is not for sale.”
“Little Green! Come home!” Old Lin’s desperate
voice echoed in the hutong. He couldn’t believe that
Little Green was gone. Yesterday, Lin’s seven year
old granddaughter, Xiao Yu, took Little Green to the
courtyard to let her fly. She had read a story about a
caged bird who longed to fly freely in the sky. Little
Green had been let out before and had never flown
away. But yesterday, the sudden loud noise from the
construction site nearby scared her. She flew to the
roof, and then after another loud noise, Little Green
was nowhere to be seen. They all thought Little Green
would return home before it was dark—but she didn’t.
“Little Green! Come home!” Lin stopped where the
hutong ended. The world outside the hutong made
him dizzy. A wide bustling street was filled with cars,
buses, electric scooters, tricycles, a few bicycles, and
people. People were everywhere. The new subway
station was on the left and the business complex was
Xi aojuan Sh u

7

on the right. Two blocks down, a new shopping mall
was under construction. Several cranes were busy
transporting building materials to the scaffoldings.
As the contemporary saying goes, the crane is China’s
new “national bird.” Lin had an urge to cry.
In the past fifty years, nobody had ever seen Lin cry,
not even when his parents died, nor when his wife
died, nor when he received a notice informing him
that he had to move to give room for new Beijing.
He had a high tolerance towards life because he had
survived the Japanese invasion, the Great Famine,
and the Cultural Revolution. In the past two decades,
the economic miracle in China had made him proud.
It was the beginning of the new millennium, China
could finally have a say in the world again, but then
the world moved too fast for him to grasp and nobody
cared what he thought or how he felt.
Across the street, a group of young people were
gathering in the new park with their expensive
bicycles. They wore helmets and tight cycling outfits.
When did riding bikes become fashionable? He
remembered when he was a math teacher in a local
middle school, he rode his old black bicycle to school
alongside Yue, who was an English teacher, every day.
In the narrow street outside Locust Tree Hutong,
they joined hundreds of other bike riders. The “dingling-ling” sound of the bike bells was a collective
composition of the morning symphony. Lin looked at
Yue; her face looked beautiful in the golden sunlight,
8

and her short black hair danced with the breeze. They
first met in the street when everyone in Beijing was
out celebrating the surrender of the Japanese army in
August 1945. He was 20. She was 19. That day, she wore
a green Qipao that fit her elegantly.
“Little Green! Come home!” Lin turned back and walked
home. It was almost noon. In front of his house, he
sighed and pushed the red door open. It was a typical
Siheyuan—a traditional courtyard house—in Beijing.
Three families shared this courtyard. Lin’s house faced
the red door—the south, and the other two families
faced each other. A tall locust tree stood by Lin’s living
room window.
Lin’s family had lived in Locust Tree Hutong since
the Qing Dynasty when his grandfather arrived with
his starving family escaping from the famine in the
North. Lin himself was now a grandfather with six
grandchildren. When the grandchildren visited him,
they were always busy texting or playing video games,
except Xiao Yu, who loved to read books.
Lin put the birdcage on the black wood table and sat
down. The image of him with his head down reflected
on the sunglasses by the birdcage. Lin stared at the
empty birdcage for a long time. It was a redwoodcolored bamboo birdcage. The handle on the top was
real redwood carved with a dragon on one side and
a phoenix on the other. A week ago, in that birdcage,
Little Green said “Happy birthday!” to Lin at his 75th
Xi aojuan Sh u

9

birthday in front of his relatives and friends. Xiao Yu
had taught her those words.
Lin took off his straw hat. As his fingertips touched
the claw marks that Little Green had left on the edge
of the hat, tears rolled down his thin cheeks. He might
never see Little Green again! The whole neighborhood
would be demolished within a week. How could Little
Green find her way home? He felt a pang in his heart
as if it were being pinched from the inside.
Lin looked around and his eyes landed on Yue’s framed
photo, which stood on the shrine table against the
north wall. She was smiling. Lin walked towards her
and began to sob like a child. All the tears he had held
inside for the past fifty years were pouring out like
water rushing through a broken dike.
The sun was gone now. The empty birdcage was
waiting in the dark.

10

JJJJ

JJJJJJJJ

COMPANION
Maggot wants to screen print
I survived ‘97 patches
but he called last night
(cos I live in a warm garage
& we’re both creatures of the road),
he called me in tears, a warrior fallen,
saying he was gonna die that night
pancreas busted
rotgot of the soul & organs
a cold SF night multiplying the pain
earlier this year my bro Josh died
the day before we were gonna travel
hop trains across country
fell off a cliff
I imagine oceanside smells & the reek of fear
with a 200 foot freefall
the anger of a friend left behind
the rawness I felt in the bathroom
a vacuum created
absolutely nothing left to fill it
in the traveler scene many people died this year.
11

is there a curse in the air
to make us live fast, die young?
we take it half serious
cos we’ve known along that death
is the best comrade of life
three of my good friends have aids
countless more too but don’t know it
the motherfucken frustration
of being young & so achingly strangled
what is a life? that breath we pollute
that blood we toxify
that brain we fry
how disgusting
people waffling through life doing things
they hate, but keep up the good work
squash down the bad
plod & drag, slog away
with thy nose to the grindstone
gotta pay the bills
die in that horse’s harness with blinders on the bridle
there’s no such thing as a free lunch
same routine, rut, early morning ruse
punctuated by time
from the womb to the tomb
indignant at beggars & freeloaders
it’s my hard-earned money
12

making excuses that everything’s okay
cos someone’s gotta do it
bread-winner
bacon-bringer
home-maker
soul wrecker
then one day kick the bucket
push up nettles, give a coin to Charon
walk through the valley of the shadow of death
& my journal continues
the record of my crushes & my vacuums
& the Old Farmer’s Almanac
keeps on with planting advice
& there will always be clockmakers & chronologists
& men who twitter crazy from the tick of their heart
will I live to be a tattered dress upon a stick?
a withered witch, a hag with knobby digits?
a crabby pear tottering on the mountain crest?
will I die unexpected & swooped from the blue
like my companions? will someone cry
& will there be laughter?
I want a memorial on Ocean Beach
whiskey & stories & sex
I see a sunset in my mind & this Viking in a burning
boat

Je ssi ca Ha h n

13

but it does vanish like a dream

melt like snow

becos we’re here today

& gone tomorrow
ora e sempre, now & forever.

14

NNN

NNNNNNNN

SUDDENLY STATELESS
New lover not yet arrived,
I’ve been a bag of waters broken
and a makeshift cross
and a hundred languages
uttering thank you.
You’ve been cut wires
re-soldered,
a hawk unnoticed
calling warning across the wind
lines
to your mate
You’ve been a tough
posing in the Italian quarter,
admired for your black clothes.
We have both, separately, been street
children on the boulevard
sniffing glue behind cars,
An unknown instrument played
by an invisible gypsy,
Poems no one read.
I’ve been suddenly stateless,
15

a shadow of skin between bones,
pursued by men of ill intent.
You’ve been asleep and feverish,
unable to read foreign signs,
looking for somebody who spoke your language.
Then one day,
I became single words
in your mother tongue,
a convert prematurely,
singing our religion
of tenderness,
our innocence in belonging.

16

JJJJJJJJJJ

A M ERICAN DRE A M S
american dream
She felt the wetness between her legs as she sat on
the bathroom floor. The pains that had wracked her
body subsided for a moment and with a quick breath
she gave up host. She then took notice of the cracked
beige tile. The splintered lines stood out in a vibrant
relief against the red stain that spread from under her
still twitching thighs.
She had asked Andrew to replace the tile. It was
chipped when they moved in. She could feel the
roughness of the concrete slab against her pink feet
when she got out of the shower. She had bought two
little woven rugs at a flea market in Santa Monica by
the pier. Andrew had said that they looked more like
placemats and so she had set dinner for the two of them
on the bathroom floor that night. He laughed then as
he sipped his wine, his back against the glass door of
the shower. She lit two tea candles and lined them up
along the edge of the sink before serving dessert.
On Palm Sunday, he took her down the coast to a
salvage yard off the freeway. She brushed the sea salt
17

from her hair as they picked through piles of plywood
doors and lone windows sparkling in the sun. Andrew
was the one who found the aquamarine tiles scattered
like jellyfish in the sand. It’ll match his room, he said
before filling a cardboard box with the blue ceramic
squares. Blue for the Yankee Doodle Dandy, they said.
Their summer baby. Their Great American Dream.
She looked now at the white grid of the bathroom
floor. All those intersecting lines, merging and
repeating. They divided again and again, each tile
following one another, each one seemingly identical.
On nights when she couldn’t sleep, when Andrew was
on-call, she would scrub at the grout with ammonia
and soap. She would watch the stains fade as her knees
pressed into the cold ground until they ached and she
could sit back, relieved that she felt something.
Looking now at her body, limbs splayed and limp,
the wetness seeping into the cracks, filling rough
spaces, saturating everything, she felt the impulse to
clean again. Or more than that, to tear up each tile,
digging fingers into dirt, ripping and smashing and
breaking apart all the pieces until they were nothing
but a fine dust. Until she could wipe everything clean
with a sponge, to set the foundation anew, laying the
aquamarine tiles in neat little rows, all tiny and blue,
like things were supposed to be.

18

angel falls
We worship at the banks of the parakupá vená, which
means “to fall from the highest point.” But, the men
who come in khaki pants that stop just before the
top of their kneecaps call it Angel Falls—the tallest
waterfall in the world.
They stare upward toward the heavens with mouths
open, hands shielding faces from the glare of the sun,
hearing nothing but the roar of the water that beats
against the rocks in a beautiful violence. They take
pictures of it, of us, with tiny plastic cameras that click
and grind like the buzzing of an insect.
I want to dive into the depths of the Rio Gauya and
tack these photos along the rocky bottom. I want to
slowly let the cold water seep in through the corner of
my mouth, fill up my lungs, weigh me down until I am
nothing but a memory. The ghost of me will continue
to worship in the shadow of the Angel, letting the
spray blanket me in white.
Noely, my older cousin on mama’s side, who just
turned sixteen, she does not wait for the men to take
her picture. Instead, while our palms are against the
cool ground beneath the falls, our heads pressed into
the dirt, where I can smell the beginning of the world;
she is on her knees at the vista point, easing down
Ji ll T y dor

19

the waistbands of khaki pants, humming the hymns,
tasting the salt of the sea. She tells me it is the best way
to make money and money is the only true currency.
I look at Noely and wonder if she has ever been in love
with any of these men. Sometimes I think she is in love
with all of them, with every person that comes to the
falls to take a piece of it away with them. They do not
pray like we do, every morning as the water trickles
down our backs, seeping from the base of our skulls,
under arms, through the canals between knuckles. It
saturates me and I can feel the tide inside swell.
The men, they are not really looking at the falls, they
see only the projection of lines across space filling the
void of their imaginations. They stand there snapping
pictures before moving further downstream, on to the
next miracle.

20

processing
What if we used razors. And cut up wrists or the tops
of thighs, where it is meatiest and the flesh quickly
parts and the blood coagulates in shiny, trembling
bubbles. Before the scars form like fresh graves.
Or took needles to veins, the skeleton spine, the
invertebrate attachment pulsing in chemical
compounds that we cooked over tin foil pulled from
leftover sandwiches found in the back of the fridge.
That fills us with a yellow pain, that echoes through
the lungs.
Or slipped ropes around necks, feeling the tiny plies
tickling our throats, the all-encompassing blackness
and the stars prickling and moving into a burgeoning
universe, as blood vessels burst and our brains begin
the slow atrophy toward anonymity.
Or drank amber cocktails, chilled in small glasses, that
burn our throats, hollow out that space in the middle
of the chest, fill it with rage and ambition and audacity.
It’s a slow death this one, that keeps the belly warm,
but the mind weak. And all we can do is sustain the
momentum.
Or chose fingers. Two little digits crammed down
throats, setting the wheels in motion, until the bile
Ji ll T y dor

21

erodes our tooth enamel, scars the trachea like an
impressionistic landscape, deprives the body of its
most essential need like a mother withholding milk.
What if we treated ourselves this way. Harboring our
grief, turning it inward on itself in a quest for answers
or control or an escape. What if we existed on a diet
of loathing, born of depravation, or maybe excess, but
nothing granted when we needed it, when we were
lost in the wilderness, when denial was our lifeline
keeping things afloat.

22

- SET 2 -

M

M
MM

MMMMMMMMMMMM

MM

M

A SO
ME
OF TH NNET TO NOTICE THE SHA UT IT
E SUN AND N
OT BE SO SAD ABO
Not hungry.
Not Sorry.
The fruit, the flowers,
They don’t flourish if they are not together.
I don’t see you now.
You don’t see me.
Your eyes are closed.
Mine fixed with controlled dissatisfaction.
Still tired, positioned between
comfort & restlessness.
The blanket is shared,
but you’re sweating.
“You should wake up now suga, I don’t want you to be
late again.”
I won’t be late no mo’,
I swear to oats & the fruit that tempt me.
I won’t be late suga.

25

SSSSSSSS

BIR D FEE D E R
An oasis. That’s what Penny had imagined her disused
window box to be. A haven for wandering birds. A
place of comfort and safety, and yes, naturally, the
more pressing reason for them to alight, a source of
sustenance. And for Penny, sitting alone in her kitchen,
gazing across the span of dingy linoleum, it promised
the moan-worthy pun of a bird’s-eye view. Not only
of the ordinary house sparrows that would inevitably
appear, but with luck the cheerful plumage of finches,
both purple and gold, and grosbeaks. Interfering with
natural selection, she’d provide a season of abundance
that gave them better odds. Those less capable in severe
conditions would easily survive, build their nests and
raise chicks of less glorious proportions, less perfectly
adapted—perhaps—but no less worthy of a peaceful
moment on her windowsill or in the neighboring
plum tree whose branches reached into her sliver of
yard. Admittedly, the winters were mild, but that in
and of itself didn’t mar her sense of purpose.
Once, when the plum tree was in fruit, she’d happened
upon a hooded oriole while taking out the recycling.
Its underside bright as a school bus, its mask so
starkly black she’d looked around to no one there
27

for confirmation, only certain of the bird’s reality
when it took flight. For a few weeks, she’d set out
orange halves in hopes of the oriole’s return, garnering
only yellow jackets and a dread of attracting rats that
put an end to her offering. Rats were a problem in this
shipyard end of a one-time industrial neighborhood,
now known for its chop-shops and tire outlets, but
at least she could put out birdseed without worry of
squirrels.
Penny liked to think that in an alternate life, she’d have
spent her days observing nature. An Audubon-esque
fantasy, without regard for the years of study and
endless need for funding such a path required, in which
afternoons of shifting light were spent drawing and
making careful notes in a well-worn journal. Instead,
she worked as a digital tech, re-touching the blemishes
off models, the imperfections of construction out of
garments for Old Navy and the Gap. She had no knack
for science or statistics, was miserable in anything but
moderate weather, and knew there was no career in
staring out your kitchen window, yet the image held.
Patience and stillness earning the great reward of a
creature rarely sighted. And of course, in her fantasy,
there was always a partner or a team of naturalists
with whom she’d reunite at the end of the day to share
her discoveries. Yes, well. In the real world, there was
Valley Splendor’s Red River 50058. Black oil sunflower
seeds, a 20-pound bag, delivered by UPS to her door.
What Penny hadn’t counted on was the massive
28

quantity of bird shit. Coating the edge of the window
box, streaking the siding of the house, lining the steps
all the way down to the yard. She hadn’t counted on
their brutal bickering. She hadn’t counted on the
mourning dove.
In more generous environs—an allotment, that
includes, for starters, a lawn—fallen shells turn to
mulch, and, given enough sun, seeds tipped from
a feeder will sprout. But in her small strip of urban
backyard, what others might refer to as the alley,
Penny had to sweep the debris from the cement below
to appease her landlord. “Penelope,” he complained in
his accented English, with ever-deepening concern.
“You invite me the vermin.” And the insipid mourning
dove, always one and the same, she would swear—
more identifiable by the way it looked at her than by
familiar markings—was more of a scourge than any
freeloading rat.
At first, the dove, with its white-ringed eye, its smooth
jacket of variegated grey, made for a comedy of scale;
hanging back shyly as the smaller birds swept in and
out of the open tray, and then suddenly taking wing
with a clamorous flutter, its doleful coo abruptly
silenced. She’d even felt a tinge of worry, that the
more audacious sparrows, with their chipping and
chirping, would muscle it out. The feeder, in those
early days, had drawn nothing more exotic than a pair
of juncos. Still, Penny had been cheered, lingering over
her morning coffee to watch the birds before heading
Su e Me ll

29

off to the dimmed interior of the digital studio, and
would think of them nesting nearby as she made her
way home again in December’s five o’clock darkness.
Days filled with the tedium of Photoshop paths and
selections, of vectors and grids. Pixels snapped and
colors corrected; her monitor hemmed in by endless
rolling racks of clothing and accessories. But the
weekends were hers, and she’d treat herself to a latte
and a chocolate croissant from a nearby café—surely
even a naturalist in the farthest reaches of New
Guinea occasionally ventured into some village or
town, sampled the local specialties, picked up a scrap
of mail. Penny would then sit in her kitchen, slowly
sipping her coffee, gathering up the fallen flakes of
pastry with licked fingertips, thumbing through her
Petersen’s guide like a good luck charm as she watched
and waited for new birds to arrive.
Imagine her joy, her thrilled inhalation, the first time
she glanced up to see a Purple Grosbeak—whose
feathers were admittedly red—or the dusty yellow
of a Lesser Goldfinch! And then it seemed, in a single
Saturday morning, word had gotten out. Suddenly the
feeder was filled with birds. Pecking and squabbling
birds. Dashing at each other, dive-bombing the
tray, and kicking seed to the ground with scabrous
little legs. A din of bird sounds that could hardly be
described as song. And straight into this mayhem
flew the mourning dove, seating itself in the middle
of the tray, its beady eyes blinking and flinching as it
hunkered down in the black bed of sunflower seeds.
30

Penny flinched herself, as the smaller birds rose up in
a protest of fluttering wings, a tangle of tiny talons
and beaks.
A few days later, having called in sick, Penny set water
on the stove for her morning coffee and became aware
of the quiet. She turned to the window and saw the
dove, sitting fat and sassy in the tray of birdseed like a
nesting hen—no other birds in sight. She walked over
and rapped on the pane, and though the dove startled,
it didn’t move. Pigeon, Penny said, lips up close to
the glass, meaning to insult the dove on its own avian
terms. It merely cocked its head.
The tray beneath the dove’s feet was aluminum, of a
variety commonly found in the baking goods aisle of
Northern California supermarkets, such as Safeway
and Albertson’s, and the window box, ragged with
peeling paint, displayed swollen and cracked splotches
of weather darkened pine. Wooden steps led down to
the cement walk of a back passageway whose narrow
width, though occasionally seen between housing
units in this region of the city, was more typical of
lower-income neighborhoods. Through the glass,
notably distorted with small defects and variations in
thickness, it was possible to view a kitchen, though
unexpectedly large, of only standard utility. A 50s-style
red Formica table and worn vinyl chairs, centrally
located on a linoleum floor decidedly in need of care.
The sole occupant of this nearly vacant space, drably
attired in heather grey sweatpants and tee, exhibited
Su e Me ll

31

long periods of stillness punctuated by erratic
movement indicating agitation or possibly distress.
Gestures including, but not limited to, clenched fists,
narrowed eyes, and a severe downturn of the mouth.
Still peering through the glass, the dove dug its thin
curved beak into its breast, releasing a small grey
downy feather that caught on the breeze and slowly
drifted away.
Mother fucker, Penny said.
Quickly unlocking the back door, she stepped outside
in bare feet. She waved her arms and shooed, but not
until she shook the window box did the gluttonous
bully take off. Penny was aware of herself as a subject
of study, of her environment observed, of the bird
shit, layered particularly thick on the mid-section of
stairs directly below her kitchen window. Justifying
the excuses she’d made to beg off work, the spackling
of excrement left her so queasy she went back inside
and turned off the flame beneath the kettle, forsaking
coffee or nourishment of any kind. Let them starve,
she thought and returned to her bedroom, where she
plumped the feather pillows and crawled back into the
oasis of her bed.

32

MMMMMMMMM

PO LAR
I am in search of the ice fish maw—
a cold red slit ,

an opening,

a question of expectation.
This is the thought that excites me:
Your sex
glacial—sticky, prickly as the glass worm.
That deep sea creature,
the sparkle of your inner Antarctic.
& I, bottom trawl
spongy and bat-starred, full up
with dark ribbons am held tight
by tentacles that bite
that familiar bite.
The crawl and squirm is a testament,
that I am not afraid
of your atmosphere.
So, I enter through the slush and ice.

33

Understand it best not to excite
about the hunt—
six months of night,
and six months of light,
instead
content
and moor
to the strange thrill
of our doom, strange
genesis: a white crocodile fish and its krill.

34

BOOMERANG NEBULA
Our winter of empty days
open mouths.
Wind left leaves asunder.
The delicate veins of a skeleton leaf
lingered.
Your hand folding warmth into my hand
folding into ourselves against the cold.
At some point, it became obvious
to not judge ourselves too harshly.
Clover overtook the old airfield.
The path was lost.
Now there was another way home.
Death kiss. Had we known
we might have let it burn longer.

You sat in the other room
while I stripped the bed
of those cold sheets.
MK Ch ave z

35

T

TT
TT

TTTTTTTT

TT

N ESS U N D O R M A

No one sleeps.
Not tonight.
Not any night.
Not as long as she haunts the streets of our dreams.
She. The one who does not leave us.
Then.
Now.
Ever.
Why?
She is part of us. The part we won’t say hello to. The
part we won’t acknowledge lives in us. The dark
spirit that wants to kill, will kill, if set free.
Some call her devil.
Some call her saint.
37

Depends, doesn’t it?
How often she knocks at our door, pleading, begging,
taunting, teasing, if only to be set free, just a
minute, just a second, that’s all.
What’s the harm in that she asks?
Wouldn’t you like to see me?
See what form I can take?
What merriment I can make?
One to please you; of that I am sure.
And certain of us succumb to this fantasy, to loosing
earthly bonds.
Life, after all, can be dull at times.

38

SATUR

LLLL

LLLLLLLL

DAYS GAINING ON ME

They used to be
my favorite days
those Saturdays
whatever place in time
though time is the breath
of a falling Falcon
Drive-in dates
in my
Forty Eight Ford
steaming windows
crawling into the back seat
neck on neck falling
in love

week after week
I was a wild kid from L.A.
had a hood
cruised Hollywood Boulevard
with Paul, Aggie, Bill and Flip

I the youngest smallest
39

but the girls I loved
week after week
poured the poetry into me

40

UNNAMABLE
Manuella the Russian Beauty
Sandra the Hollywood Blonde
Camille Italian Magician
who threw my skins into a rose garden
and in between
closing time whiskey babes
Bar Girls in Japan
shadows in strange beds
the Austrian consort on Via Veneto
Mary Jane how I loved you
what a time to have such a gentle mate
what a touch your hand made
touching my suffering body
it takes so many to keep my spiritual core
running
always lonely in the most elegant fucking scenes
with the most loveable women
They all dissolve into carbon dust
Lati f Ha rri s

41

how in such old age can I reach them
thank them for their love
hundreds of images flit in my mind
reduced to a 1950’s television
as memory loses color and dimension

42

ANGELIC ALPHA
Alpha floats into the bookstore
on my shift
we talked and she left
quickly jumped out the door
caught her half a block away
would you like to have dinner
three days later we make such love
in my cold water loft
Caffe Elite and Van Morrison
in Japan Town
and now thirty four years later
we still lay down together
her body infatuates me still
the curve of her hips
her skin so soft
kissing her sexy lips
our kisses so deep

Lati f Ha rri s

43

Sometimes it’s too hard to go away
& sometimes

it’s too hard to stay
Living in a shadow of what I was

supposed to do
ain’t nobody’s business if I do
& if I stay in bed with the pillows
and the blues
take a vow to never get up
and never again
put on my shoes
Just remember this
Sometimes it’s too hard to go away
& sometimes


it’s very hard to stay
It doesn’t matter what I think or say
I’ve loved someone every single day
And sometimes it’s so hard to stay
When I want to get up and go away
& if I stay in bed with a shadow covering me
and I pull up the blankets over my head
& so tired of what it was supposed to be
I think bout how long before someone
uncovers me
44

& finds the shell after I’m dead
just remember it was just too hard to stay
even though I didn’t want to go away
there ain’t nothin left to say

Lati f Ha rri s

45

LLL

LLLLLLLLLL

“GHOSE X C E R PT F R O M RGS”
TS AND C YB O
Lois saw the envy brewing in Raynah’s eyes. She swept
a chunk of teased hair off her oily forehead and played
with the jelly bracelets on her arm. Voice quivering, her
sister stood between the makeshift curtain separating
their beds in the shared room and told Lois about the
crush Ms. Myrtle’s youngest grandson, Tony, had on her.
The news wasn’t a total shocker. Tony was their brother,
Theo’s, best friend—his only friend—since their days
at the old church. While Raynah and Pete were in
Sunday school classes for the older kids, Lois spent
countless hours as Theo and Tony’s tagalong, brushed
aside but thoroughly entertained by their goof-off
sessions in Bible Study, youth ushers’ meetings, and
children’s choir. Tony teased her for being freckled and
pigeon-toed, but Lois noticed the dreaminess clouding
his eyes when he looked at her, how he fumbled with
his words every time he taunted her.
Things were different by their freshman year in high
school. Like Raynah, who failed to get asked to
her senior prom, Tony had become a loner and an
oddball. He traipsed through the hallways, looking
47

lost without Theo, who was in his last year of middle
school, and ate lunch by himself in the cafeteria every
day.
Lois, on the other hand, had shed her awkward preteen
years and was among the most well-liked girls in school.
Her grades were less than average, but she clung to
the sociable crowd that always drew attention. She
was the perky cheerleader, fashionable Homecoming
Queen, and a shameless gossiper who won people over
with her freckles-turned-beauty-specks and casual
conversation. She also shared a common interest with
the majority of girls in her freshman class: Pete, Tony’s
older brother and the neighborhood legend.
Pete was striking, popular, and multi-talented. At
6-foot-3, he had biceps that looked like chocolate
melons. He was a star varsity basketball player, but
Lois and his herd of fans especially admired his
photography.
Lois dismissed Raynah’s leak about Tony’s feelings for
her, but her curiosity never waned. She was touched
by the way he accepted being in Pete’s shadow and
started looking forward to second and fourth Fridays
of the month when Tony slept over at their house as
Theo’s company.
Things happened fast between them. Everything was
a blur of empty pizza boxes, fake IDs, Kiwi-flavored
Mad Dog 20/20, and one late night of Truth-or-Dare
48

games during her 15th birthday sleepover. She and
Tony spent a lot of time with each other after that.
Hickeys turned into clothes burning, which turned
into fingering and jack-offs, which led to full blown sex.
They got sloppy, flirting in public and leaving condom
wrappers in Lois’s basement. It was like magnets were
lodged inside their bodies, compelling them to fasten
themselves together as often as time allowed.
Sometimes they had conversations with their mouths
closed when they finished. Their passion—severe
and unstructured—was a gift they’d both quietly and
readily accepted, a relentless force developing them
for what was to come.
When the rumors about Pete and Theo started, Lois
knew it would ruin things between her and Tony.
They were both surprised to hear about their brothers
being spotted in Pete’s car together, half-clothed
and erect, with racy photos of Theo found in the
backseat. Lois was warm with pride for Theo who’d
never shown an interest in girls. But, Tony was clearly
embarrassed and angry as if he’d been cheated out of a
lifetime of brotherly advice from Pete on how to be a
man’s man. He ended his friendship with Theo which
made it harder for Lois to see him and when Pete’s
sudden disappearance caused a community panic, it
completely thwarted their secret bouts. Sir and Justine
forbade Lois and her siblings to go anywhere outside
of school and church, an agreement they all assumed
would end once Pete turned up.
Lynsde y Elli s

49

Weeks later, someone found Pete’s headless, bulletridden body along the railroad tracks at the end of
their street. Rumors on the details of his death erupted.
Many claimed it was a hate crime in response to his
questionable sexuality. Others swore it was part of a
gang initiation. But, the majority believed he’d crossed
the wrong cop, got shot multiple times, and was
unable to avoid an incoming train that took his head.
Reports from several witnesses surfaced, but there
wasn’t enough evidence at the scene of the crime to
keep the case open.
Lois found herself on the receiving end of Tony’s
withdrawal and growing hostility after his brother’s
memorial. Nothing and no one could get through to
him. He’d developed a shadow that was eating away at
him from the inside out.
“Where are you in there?”
“I’m here, Lo.”
“No, you’re not.”
Their last conversation before Tony’s move was brief
and stilted. Lois swallowed hard, willing the smell
of old nacho cheese from the cafeteria to go away
before the heaving returned. She pressed up against
the lockers, liking the distraction of a padlock digging
into her lower back.

50

The shine in Tony’s penny copper skin was gone. He
smiled the way he did when Lois told him she was
pregnant. His tight chin and the emptiness in his eyes
were painful.
Lois knew it was over. She was surprised at how calmly
the revelation came. There’d be no accompaniments
to the doctor’s office, or talks about money for an
abortion. There’d be no joint announcement to her
parents; she’d have to tell them alone and risk the
consequences. There wouldn’t even be a cordial
friendship for the baby’s sake because, staring at each
other in the hallway, they both knew Tony could only
handle the option that wouldn’t kill what little was
left of him: he’d go away for a while.
Their bodies touched. It wasn’t a hug. Lois stepped into
Tony and they folded around each other. He smelled
wild and musty like he hadn’t showered in days. The
bush of hair growing past his neckline tickled Lois’s
wrists. She playfully tugged at his ducktail and circled
the inside of his earlobe with her thumb, pretending
to check for dirt. She felt him let her pull away first
and before her face crumbled, she stomped down the
hall toward the school’s exit doors. She couldn’t help
but look back. He was still smiling.

Lynsde y Elli s

51

CC
CC

CCCCCCCCC

C

I HAVE NO MOUTH

This is what I know. Your hand cups my breast, home
station. I hear,
I will take your life. You don’t say it, but I hear it. I
think
I want
You.
No, you.

53

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