You are on page 1of 87

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.
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

quietlightning.org/submission-details

JOIN THE MAILING LIST
quietlightning.org/subscribe
upcoming shows + deadlines + interviews
full text + video of every reading

sparkle + blink 66
© 2015 Quiet Lightning
artwork © Danielle Genzel
daniellegenzel.com
“To Whom It May Concern,” “Red,” and “The Subject” from The
True Patriot by Gloria Frym, forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvil in
Fall 2015
“Every Super Painful Thing That Isn’t Dying” by Colin Winnette
first appeared in Midnight Breakfast, Issue No. 7
“Risk” by Kathryn Ma first appeared in Other Voices, Issue No. 31
excerpts by Benjamin Hollander from In the House Un­American
(Clockroot Books, 2013)
“Abraham Lincoln Has Been Shot” by Daniel Alarcón reprinted
from Zoetrope All­Story (Fall 2006)
“The Formation of Soils” by Brenda Hillman reprinted from
Cascadia (Wesleyan University Press, 2001)
“On Carmerstrasse” by Brenda Hillman reprinted from Pieces of Air
in the Epic (Wesleyan University Press, 2005)
“Economics in Washington” by Brenda Hillman reprinted from
Practical Water (Wesleyan University Press, 2009)
“In Summer, Everything is Something’s Twin” by Brenda Hillman
reprinted from Seasonal Works With Letters on Fire (Wesleyan
University Press, 2013)
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

CONTENTS
curated by

Evan Karp
featured artist

Danielle Genzel

GLORIA FRYM

To Whom It May Concern
Red
The Subject

1
2
4

COLIN WINNETTE

Every Super Painful Thing
That Isn’t Dying

9

KATHRYN MA Risk

15

BENJAMIN HOLLANDER


from In the House Un-American
Carlos Wonders if the American
Green Card is Good
for the People from Lucca

23
28

Mr. Obama’s Fable
for Iran’s America

35

Pragmatism and Poetry in
Straight-Ahead Amerika

37

DANIEL ALARCÓN

Abraham Lincoln
Has Been Shot

41

KATIE WHEELER-DUBIN

If the First Half of My Summer
in New Orleans was
Swamped into a Week

55

TOMAS MONIZ Disproportionate

63

BRENDA HILLMAN

The Formation of Soils

73

On Carmerstrasse

75

Economics in Washington

76

In Summer, Everything is
Something’s Twin

81

A Summer Song from Old Berlin

83

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

Laura Cerón Melo
art director
Christine No
producer / assistant managing director
If you live in the Bay Area and are interested in
helping—on any level—please send us a line:
h elp @ qui et light nin g . o rg

- SET 1 -

TO W

GGG

GGGGGGGG

HOM IT MAY CONCERN

Why is it one can have lovely dreams and wake up
in a bad mood? Possible answers: diamond mining in
Africa, the age of terror, unknown source of scabies,
neighbor running industrial vacuum cleaner over
deck, warheads poised to ejaculate, premature master
plans, hegemonic discourse—out of the broom closet
into the oval office—deportations, hallucinations,
machinations, combinations of 1968 now faded,
segregations, simulations, marinations, acid flashbacks,
inhalations, whales washed ashore, rare birds alerting
humans, humidors, corridors, the fall of the Moors, the
stewing of the Jews, always a feud over a small piece,
who wants Siberia, who wants Africa, who wants cold
space, rhizomic cells, political spells, someone took the
handle off the scandal and now the pump don’t work.
But enough about me. To Whom it May Concern rings
conditional. It may not concern Whom at all. And yet,
it may, rather agnostically, play a small role in Whom’s
concerns. For a long time I used to go to bed early.
And now I is another and the bed, well, the world’s a
bed of hot wars. One has a bad habit of not letting
late risers sleep long enough. And one resents those
dreams that live better than one does.
1

RED
All day I followed Pascal’s advice. I did not leave my
room, and so did not get into trouble. I read, lunched,
drank, slept, and the phone rang twice, the last call
canceling that evening’s assignation. I was relieved. Yet
the shrill ring broke a deep afternoon nap in which
several pleasant dreams enacted themselves. Behind a
saffron scrim, the hero lay prostrate at the feet of the
heroine, in the Indian fashion, wiping the dust from
her bejeweled slippers. His crooked smile seemed
involved in her destiny. The tableau shifted. After
spilling red wine on a yellow shirt, I changed to red.
This glass leaks, I shrieked. Why would I want to go to
the theater that evening when I had already been.
Leaving one’s room inevitably costs, and I was in no
mood to spend. I only wanted to produce and this need
was so great that I thought I might bleed. A patchwork,
a stick figure, a collage of the real. Anything to make
something out of pre-existing conditions. At the very
least, more sleep.
Whatever was in the pantry, dinner. In truth, I had
only words, but so many, so difficult to select. How
lucky though, since I needed so little to make. The best
poem contains the smallest vocabulary. Distribution is an
entirely different matter.
2

There beyond the olive orchards stood a white-washed
house filled with large red pots, some the woman had
made, some from her grandmother’s kitchen. Crocks
that once held water, oil, syrup stood at attention on a
brick hearth. When I entered the bathroom, a yellow
dish filled me with joy. It held a bar of blue soap, like
the covers of a book. Oh to make something that might
hold another.
In the steep, winding Alpujarras south of Granada,
where the last Moorish king retreated with his
imperious mother, ranches still keep earthen jugs of
olive oil and well water in the cool of the kitchen,
under the blue tiled counters, safe and clean.
The jugs are taller than a child just learned to walk, but
quiet and immovable.
No guest is refused.
A walk along a narrow path revealed a pool of fallen
mulberries floating on the surface of the soupy water.
The dye would soon cover the diver, and there would
be food too. This act would not be leaving the house
too much.
As for the grapevines in the near distance, red would
have to wait until autumn harvest.
Green, how I love you too.

Glori a F ry m

3

THE SUBJECT
for E
For a long time, not only did I used to go to bed early,
I went to bed early, and I drank wine out of a water
glass. Until rather late in my cups, and long past granmère, gran-père, maman, mamacita, papi, abuelita,
and the rest had left me orphaned, suddenly I took
to drinking wine, especially inexpensive white, in
an elegant wine glass. Why? Because it tastes better.
It was all due to E. Not to the restaurants I used to
frequent, non, they often used the improper glass,
especially cafés and bistros in the town that never
stops eating until it goes to bed early, San Francisco,
or its neighboring studious Berkeley that eats while it
studies its neighbors and the tiny sushied portions on
plates the size of hubcaps, or the grand complexities
of Oakland’s Grand Avenue which is a study in the
sheer quantity of restaurants with fare from places
as disparate as Rangoon and Athens and as dissonant
as McDonald’s and Italy. No, these restaurants use, at
best, sturdy restaurant stemware and sometimes even
cafe glasses, the Picardie French bistro small tumblers
you may have at home that get cloudy and scratched
over time but almost never break—and if they do,
shatter into a million tiny crystals which require a
full vacuum cleaning, sweeping, and washing of your
floor because their miniscule projectiles fly above and
4

beyond any obstacles to their paths. Go ahead, drop
one, onto the kitchen linoleum, let one slip out of your
hands and experience something akin to pre-historic
humans witnessing the first starburst, only this glass
explodes below and hides in your dust bunnies.
Everything is precisely itself, in perfect quiddity,
yet the mere sound of each thing reminds me of
something else. Not metaphorically but digressively.
A word goes who knows where; the page on which
it lands is one that Borges might have written, had it
crossed his magnificent mind, or might have turned
into his one “novel,” which might have gained him
the Nobel Prize with which he was never bestowed,
despite the singular originality of his every sentence,
every paragraph, every tale he ever wrote, then having
gone completely blind, ever told. There are certain
writers, and Borges is among them, from whom one
can discover a substantial number of other great
writers; almost anyone who cherishes them may then
generate their own list of greats, such as Roberto
Bolaño, one of the greatest writers of my generation,
whose unclassifiable novels and stories Borges now
considers his legacy. Or vice versa. From Bolaño’s
recommendations, the reader’s world explodes like
a Picardie tumbler. All writers writing in the various
Spanish, Catalan, English, Italian, French languages
can be traced back to Cervantes’ overcoat if he wrote
of one, but since not, of Don Quixote’s hilarious,
sometimes perilous, always nut-bar on the road travels.

Glori a F ry m

5

Where is E in all of this? I do manage to return to that
which has stimulated or that which is approximate
though not necessarily causal to my own travels.
Linearity is important to a glazier, and I am perfectly
capable of Aristotelian logic when required. But
nature does not require it and never demonstrates it
except as humans interpret the world outside their
bodies, or the world including their bodies, upon
which we place and view, through a lens selected for
close examination, Marxist theory or Gender Theories
or Post-Colonial Theory. Unfortunately, colonialism
is still alive, active, and even accelerating in those
locales where large numbers of persons from one place
of origin are forced to move to and then slave in the
service of the few, no matter the avowed constitution
of their sovereignty. The body contains the history of
all bodies that created it.
E knows that. What’s left of her kin have lived it
thoroughly and relived it during decades of analysis
and critical study. The wine glass, into which she pours
a perfect amount of a fine Sancerre, is an inheritance.
And I don’t mean she was bequeathed a set of nice
wine glasses by her aunt who perhaps had better taste
than her mother who didn’t drink at all but kept the
“good” glassware, china, and silverware in what was
called in her mother’s day, the “breakfront,” a special,
likely mahogany, glassed sideboard only opened by
permission of one of the parental unit for company or
holidays or polishing.
6

E, a friend from an exploded world, understands that
one word, one glass, one thought contains multitudes,
contains a history of the world that uses it. And if
that world should part into further worlds, and those
further still? For Emily Dickinson, who is not the E in
this writing, also understood that, wrote that, offered
that to anyone, regardless of their drinking habits,
kitchen equipment, and history. Digression is the staff
of life, I tell those who complain, but if I fail to inform
them in advance, they do fault me for the habit. Which
is like faulting someone for the texture of their hair.
Because this way of viewing and telling the world
arrives in the DNA. Perhaps if science could locate the
digressive gene precisely in the genetic map of three
individuals from different histories, one of the three
might cancel (or at least tone down) the unwanted
genomic sequence that enables such straying. The
same might be done with persons who meander from
their commitments and cause inexorable damage to
their beloveds, for surely the infidelity gene, which
could possibly be the drift gene, or the I-need-toget-out-and-conquer-though-return-to-you gene, or
I’m-just-like-other-men gene or other-women gene,
or any gene that promotes certain behaviors that
inadvertently devastate others—especially genes that
promote violence, and so forth, could be altered by
diversion from a third genetic component. Oh yes,
this would be a boon to human behavior and could
conceivably put an end to war, don’t you think? Is that
a reason why some people don’t like genome research?
Imagine a population incapable and unwilling to
Glori a F ry m

7

engage in violence and genocide.
Perhaps Stalin’s grandchildren have secretly signed
up for clinical trials, along with Mao’s and Pol Pot’s,
the Hutu’s, and Donald Rumsfeld’s. The conditional,
the subjunctive, and the passé composé versus the
imperfect are the luxury of poets. The animals used to
and still do go to bed early. They drink from the finest
troughs.

8

CC
CC

CCCCCCCCC

C

E V E R Y S U P E R PA I N F U L

T H IN G T

HAT ISN’T DYING

Ham.
Ham between two slices of bread is a sandwich and
that’s lunch. There is no reason to get fancy with it.
We own a store, my dad and I. We are storeowners.
Businessmen.
We open the backdoor around 6AM and a bunch of
different men carry in boxes of the things we’ve decided
we want to sell. My dad checks each of the boxes then
I unpack each of the boxes and put everything away
and then we’re good to go.
Around noon, we crack a beer and split it. My dad is
hilarious. They took his jaw last year so he’s always
picking up bananas or the telephone cord or a bunch
of scallions or something and holding them up to his
chin and making a big fake mouth and wagging his big
fake lips like a puppet and it’s hilarious.
Almost everyone in my family has undergone
one major surgery in the last twenty months.
9

We used to have a little money set aside. Now, we
are just getting by. I don’t talk about the surgeries to
customers because people tend to not like hearing
about them, or they like it too much and then they just
want to talk to me about their surgeries and I don’t
have time for that kind of thing. I’m trying to run a
store.
I spend most of my day stocking things or ringing
things up or hanging with Rudy or coming up with
good ideas.
Rocks.
Put down rocks and you don’t have to ice your
driveway every day.
School.
You don’t have to do it. You can chase down any kind
of idea you’re interested in and do it a lot quicker and
cleaner on your own than some random public servant
can, even if their heart is in the right place.
I tell my dad my ideas and he nods and seems pretty
proud of me most of the time, honestly.
Rudy’s the pizza guy. We’re more or less friends even
if I never go to his pizza parlor, which is okay-tomiddling and I, as a rule, do not financially support
okay-to-middling.
10

Sometimes Rudy and I take breaks together.
And sometimes I don’t see Rudy at all.
We like to smoke even though it’s going out of fashion.
I’m not particularly fashionable but I do notice things.
Like nests. I can look at a building then look away then
tell you where all the nests are—insect, animal, or bird.
Rudy and I do that sometimes—look for nests in the
fields and trees behind our store and his pizza parlor.
Rudy likes to mess with nests, but I leave nests
unmessed for the most part. Rudy kicks them or
throws rock at them, pours pizza sauce on them. Rudy
is a sick fuck in a lot of ways. Not in the worst ways,
but in the ways that can make you cringe.
That is the fundamental difference between Rudy and
me. I’m agreeable. I get it from my dad.
When we go out on the weekends my dad pushes my
mom around in her wheelchair and she’s either quiet
or unloading so much shit on him that I’m amazed he
can keep himself upright. Still, he jokes around and
puts a curly squash up to his neck and pretends to gab
and buys us things we need and keeps us warm with
a fire at the end of the day. And that’s the kind of dad
he’s always been.
Mom says it’s Dad’s fault her legs got the way they did.
Mom says when people are close they transmit things
to one another, whether they mean it or not. A bad
Coli n Wi nne t t e

11

choice or two can kick off an avalanche of misfortune.
It was only a few months after my dad got sick and
they took his jaw that my mom’s legs swole up and
they took those and then my heart stopped clicking so
they had to get in there and set it right.
And then it wasn’t even two days before they pulled
my little brother out of the river and popped out a
plug of branches, leaves, and bugs he’d swallowed after
the current dragged him down into the underbelly of a
beaver dam and just left him there.
Mom’s not religious or superstitious or all that nuts
but she notices patterns—and it’s hard to reject an idea
once it presents itself to you in the right way.
As she sees it, Dad smoked himself sick and they had to
cut it out, so it spread to her and they had to cut it out,
and it spread to me and they corrected it, so it dragged
my brother down and held him until it was all over and
done with.
More people started coming to the store after my
brother died, which I think is a good thing that came
out of a bad thing no one is thankful for.
If I’m being honest, it’s hard to know what dad’s thinking
most of the time. He wants us to be comfortable but
that makes us uncomfortable sometimes, just knowing
that he wants that. Still, I’m glad to know at least that
thing about what’s going on inside him.
12

My brother.
I think surgery is a great thing because it isn’t dying.
I think dying is something we have to do, but surgery
is something we get to do, if we’re lucky. And maybe
we should be thankful for that.
My dad likes mom to wear a blanket over her lap
when she’s spending time in the store, which keeps
her warm and covers the stumps. But she takes offense
sometimes and throws the thing off and stares him
down about it. I do not engage when this is going on.
I unpack whatever needs to be unpacked or go around
facing the labels out on all the boxes and cartons and
glasses and cans, so people can get a sense of what
we’ve got on offer.
Stress.
Stress is just energy you don’t know what to do with,
so I try to always be doing something useful or fun
enough. Rudy’s good for that.
Friends.
You’re not real friends if you can’t let them be who
they are. If you’re always trying to stop them from
crushing a robin’s egg or two.
One day, Rudy came out back and he had a dirty
bandage around his neck and his arm was gone.
Coli n Wi nne t t e

13

“Shit,” I said. “You had a surgery too.”
“I sawed into my arm,” he said, “and when that didn’t
kill me, I sawed into my neck as far as I could go. Then
I passed out.”
This wasn’t one of those situations where asking why
would have done much good so I said, “Well, oh no,
Rudy.”
Then I started thinking a lot. I thought really hard
about trying to transmit something good over to Rudy.
And after a little while it felt like I’d been too quiet for
too long so I said, “I’m sorry.”
Then, “Does it hurt?”
And of course it did hurt. And it was painful for him to
talk too much or answer questions. So we just smoked
for a while, until I spotted a fat bird’s nest in an old
dead oak and Rudy loaded it up with rocks.

14

BB

B
BBB

IN TH

BBBBBBBBB

BB

B

EXCERPTS FROM

E H O USE UN-A M E RIC A N
Fourth Testimony
(the New Men’s inmates speak)

In the name of who do they come into the prisons to improve
us
Seuss
Who
Dr. Seuss—
Why
He’s a can-do honest American guy. He can change us.
Improve us. As if we were children.
No, this can’t be the name they say to the State of Iowa
when they come into the prisons to change us
Why
He’s child’s play and we’re no children, we can choose
23

Choose?
To be Born Again
So what name do they say
They can’t
Why
Because they’re bound by the split between church and state
So what do the New Men do
They say no name: they only say: Bible values stand for who
we are
But in the name of who
They say: we can’t tell you
Why
Because the New Men say: for now, you are welcome to your
own story, you choose:
Can we? Can we? Yes, we can. We can change, we can improve,
American values and Universal values: one and the same:
just “think left and think right and think low and think
high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”
24

To say yes?
To say yes we can, to say it to the New Men, and then we
can
Can do what
Can make it happen, thank Him, in prison as it is on earth
then
Thank who
Jesus, who can be chosen
But not named
Yes, before the law this is no child’s play
Why
Because in prison you must be free to not name Him if you
want to change
Like adults?
Yes, like adults, living or not, now or then, today or tomorrow,
it doesn’t matter, but no children can be born again or
can be free to choose
Who says

Be nja mi n Hollande r

25

Evangelicals
Even angels?
Yes, even angels are adults born again, free to choose. But
children cannot be free to choose
Where
In the State of Iowa, in one wing of the prison, among the
New Men, they say:
“We argue for freedom to inner-change and not to name Him
before the law”
Who
They say: we can’t tell you
(But it’s really Jesus, no?)
Yes
Where
Before the law, in the State of Iowa, in one wing of the prison
On the inside
Yes

26

What else do they say
Among the New Men?
Yes
They say: whatever religion,
Never name Him
But do come in

after Winnifred Fallers Sullivan

Be nja mi n Hollande r

27

CARLOS WONDERS IF THE
AMERICAN GREEN CARD IS GOOD
FOR THE PEOPLE FROM LUCCA
Ten minutes after Elia’s father landed at night in
Lucca, he threw the car keys in the air and wanted
to return to Amerika. “I am sadly disappointed in my
Italian home-land,” he said, “once again.”
The Luccan airport rental car lady had given him the
keys and so he asked, naturally, where’s the car, as she
pointed in the dark to ten parking lots in back of her,
each the size of a soccer pitch, and said to Elia’s father:
“Somewhere out there. Just keep clicking the door
alarm on the keys and you’ll find it. Ciao.”
*
Back in Amerika, Elia had told Carlos that when his
father had returned to Lucca with him to renew Elia’s
visa, which would only last six months, the sleepy case
officer at the Italian consulate gave him a choice: “to
stay in America, you must either find a girl to marry or
get a student visa.”
For the first “must,” he had to pay a girl the money
28

he earned under the table (in nero) at his parents’ café.
For the second, he had to stop working under the
table at his parents’ café in order to study full-time,
which would do his parents no good, since they would
have to hire someone to work in his place at the café,
their expenses mounting, thus giving them even less
proof that they were boosting the American economy
through their foreign investment in a business, which
is what the Italian consul expected of them if they
were to stay, nothing less, than to show how they
could boost business to make it in Amerika. Of course,
these were the rules, he told Carlos.
Marry or study. Under the table (in nero).
“So where do you like it more: America or Italy?”
Carlos asked Elia.
“If you are able to live in America, you play by the
rules, everything is on the, how do you say, up and
up, so you know where you stand,” Elia said in model
English, and Carlos wondered: “on the up and up,” “to
know where you stand”—is this where the American
“upstanding citizen” comes from?
“Is it good to play by the rules?” Carlos asked.
“Well, yes, I mean—I know I need to marry or study to
be in America. One or the other—or both,” he joked,
“if I want to stay. In Italy,” he says, “it’s different:
everything changes by the minute. You never know
Be nja mi n Hollande r

29

where you stand. One minute I pay for a pizza, the
next minute I ask for a fork and then it’s a Euro for the
fork to eat the pizza and then I drop the fork and then
another Euro gone before the pizza’s even touched…
They call it coperto—a cover charge for, how do you
call them in English, the cutlery?
“But if the baby in the high chair next to me drops the
fork, well, the parents will not pay extra, no worries,
we’ll take care of it, the hostess says. And I see they
don’t pay for the cutlery, and that the price of the
cutlery can be negotiated, except for me: one moment
I have a spoon and knife in my hand, the next moment
I’m alone without the cutlery and wailing like a baby
in front of my thick cannellini soup.”
What Elia means, Carlos thinks, is this: The consumer
bureaucracy in Italy can reduce you to bawling like a
baby.
“Are you saying in Italy you can’t always get what you
want?” Carlos asks.
“Yeah, but if you try sometimes, you get what you
need.”
Well, Carlos thought, that certainly did sound like
the same old song, and he had heard it before. But he
wanted to find out more. So one day he called and
asked Hannah, who had just landed in the mothership
in the dry State of Oklahoma:
30

“America is special, no?”
“Yes, exceptional, Carlos,” as she dusted herself off
after seeing a local church’s “rain service,” “why do you
ask?”
“But the people are pragmatic?”
“Yes, they play by the rules.”
“No exceptions.”
“Yes, no exceptions.”
“An exceptional country which makes no exceptions.
How can that be?” Carlos asks.
“Because everyone is welcome.”
“Without exception!”
“Fair is Square.”
“Where?”
“In America.”
“It is where you want the green card if you can get it,”
Carlos says.
“And where Santorini wants a wine permit,” Elia says,
Be nja mi n Hollande r

31

“if he can get it.”
“Which is what you have, right?” Carlos asks.
“Yes, we have a wine permit. The lawyers came and
went. We had a hearing.”
“And the judge heard you,” Carlos says, “and now you
have a wine permit.”
“We played by the rules,” Elia says,“business is good.
We now serve wine with food.”
“And Santorini got married,” Carlos says, “and can stay,
which is also good.”
“Yes, he played by the rules, he married, but he has no
wine permit or live music and no one has come into
his café for days.”
“Yes, it’s sad and strange, he can stay but can’t serve and
you can serve but can’t stay—in Amerika.”
“Yes, it’s sad to say goodbye, to leave America, to come
in, to go out, like customers.”
“Even as you serve them.”
“That’s my right,” Elia says, “to serve wine.”
“Which Santorini does not have. It’s sad and strange:
32

he has no rights but the right to stay.”
“Without even the permit to cook or sing with a band
in his café.”
So he stays and, with his arms in a downbeat pointing
at the Green Street Mortuary Band marching down the
street, steps outside his café, waves his inside patrons
out, and screams: “Everyone, please come in, go out.
Everyone is welcome. Listen” (cueing the Mortuary
Band): “Live music at Santorini’s!”

Be nja mi n Hollande r

33

34

MR. OBAMA’S FABLE
FOR IRAN’S AMERICA
President Barack Hussein Obama should have listened
to Abbas, Carlos’s gas station mechanic:
“How curious you Americans are,” Abbas said. “Iran
has an election and it is contested and then hundreds
of thousands of the veiled and unveiled throngs in
Tehran come out in protest in the streets and America
says, why won’t their Supreme Leaders listen to these
people who want freedom like we have it here in
America,” and Abbas like a human jinn wheel turns on
a dime and says, “this is hard to hear this ‘like we have
it here in America’ because only a few years earlier
in a contested election in Florida your own Supreme
Leaders make a decision for Mr. Bush and then no one
shows up in the streets of Florida, why not, and it is
enough for little Mr. Gore the loser to face the camera,
conceding, for everyone to just, well, they go away,
they go home.”
“This should not have been my story,” Abbas says to
Carlos, “this should have been Mr. Obama speaking
from his bully pulpit the rumor of a fable from the
facts on the ground in Tehran, his Iranian vision
of what is possible in protest for Mr. Gore and the
people of America when they don’t just quit and go
Be nja mi n Hollande r

35

home, and for their Supreme Leaders. This should have
been,” Abbas says, “his squeaky wheel getting us all the
grease.”

36

PRAGMATISM AND POETRY IN
STRAIGHT-AHEAD AMERIKA
About her sons, Carlos ben [ ‫ ] בן‬Carlos Rossman’s
mother offered this answer in a high-pitched Leipzig
accent: “Two are poets with their heads in the clouds.”
“And the third?”
“He’s a pilot.”
His mother did not mention that the pilot had
lymphoma: eight years of his stoicism and good cheer
around a disease he contracted in the 1960s courtesy
of the United States Air Force, which he never blamed
for his sickness, only joining a class-action suit against
the government on behalf of the Atomic Veterans,
but it was a simple suit, no rancor. For measuring the
planes’ instruments in flight, and for washing off their
radioactive shmutz once they landed, under the code
name Operation Dominic, a Pacific Island A-bomb
ocean test drop, he received fair compensation for his
atomic cancer. And he left it at that: no blame, that was
the mission then, let’s just get the money now.
The publicity photos have him smiling through a
white mask like Gomer Pyle, wearing white gloves
as he sponged down the planes. Years later, when
Carlos told him about the stills, he said “what mask,
Be nja mi n Hollande r

37

what gloves,” that could be anybody, and then joked
that the only (g)love he ever got in the military was a
punctured condom.
He underwent multiple bone marrow transplants and
radiation therapies, until they lost count, and like the
pragmatist pilot he was, he retired at the VA hospital,
living off VA health benefits, in Central Florida,
cursing out socialism yet living off VA benefits in
Central Florida, a Central Socialist Community of
Government Veterans’ Affairs Men who wanted the
socialist government out of their lives while getting
VA benefits. These were military men, measuring men,
not crude “how big is yours” measuring men, some
even gentlemen, certainly never caught with “their
heads up in the clouds” men, since they were always
looking at the odds, as if the odds were navigable
clouds.
His mother knew the odds were not good, but she
also knew how great a pilot he was, how proud she
was. “That’s my pilot!” she proclaimed, always on a
mission, although she did not know how much greater
a pragmatist he would turn out to be. Once, when they
wheeled him in for a transplant, they asked him if he
wanted to be kept alive on a respirator “if that was the
only option.” Mumbling through his oxygen mask, his
wife and children around him, he asked, straight-faced,
as if making a bargain: “is the government paying for
the machine?”

38

“That fuckin’ crazy, what he said,” Carlos heard the
Haitian nurse say. “That fucked up cold, man.”
In the dead ward air, no one heard: “That’s my
pragmatist!”

Be nja mi n Hollande r

39

- SET 2 -

DD
DD

DDDDDDDDD

D

ABRAHAM LINCOLN

H AS BE EN S H O T

We were talking, Hank and I, about how that which
we love is so often destroyed by the very act of our
loving it. The bar was dark, but comfortably so, and
by the flittering light of the television I could make
out the rough texture of his face. He was, in spite of
everything, a beautiful man.
We’d lost our jobs at the call center that day, both of
us, but Hank didn’t seem to care. All day strangers
yelled at us, demanding we make their lost packages
reappear. Hank kept a handle of bourbon in the break
room, hidden behind the coffee filters, for those days
when a snowstorm back east slowed deliveries and we
were made to answer for the weather. After we were
told the news, Hank spent the afternoon drinking
liquor from a Styrofoam cup and wandering the floor,
mumbling to himself. For one unpleasant hour he
stood on two stacked boxes of paper, peering out the
high window at the cars baking in the parking lot. I
cleaned out my desk, and then his. Things between us
hadn’t been good in many months.
Hank said: “Take, as an example, Abraham Lincoln.”
41

“Why bring this up?” I asked. “Why tonight?”
“Now, by the time of his death,” he said, ignoring me,
“Lincoln was the most beloved man in America.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Or was he the most hated?”
Hank nodded. “People hated him, yeah. Sure they did.
But they also loved him. They’d loved him down to
a fine sheen. Like a stone polished by the touch of a
thousand hands.”
Lincoln was my first love, of course, and Hank knew
the whole story. He brought it up whenever he wanted
to hurt me. We met at a party in Chicago, long before
he was president, at one of those Wicker Park affairs
with fixed gear bikes locked out front, four deep to a
stop sign. We were young. It was summer. “I’m going
to run for president,” he said, and all night he followed
me—from the spiked punch bowl to the balcony full
of smokers to the dingy bedroom where we groped on
a stranger’s bed. He never stopped repeating it.
Finally, I gave in: “I’ll vote for you.”
Lincoln said he liked the idea: me, alone, behind a
curtain, thinking of him.
“I don’t understand what you mean,” I said to Hank.
“Here you are with me. Together, we’re a mess. And
42

now the wheels have come off, Manuel.”
“Like Lincoln?”
“Everything he did for this nation,” Hank said. “The
Americans had no choice but to kill him.”
I felt a flutter in my chest. “Don’t say that,” I managed.
Hank apologized. He was always apologizing. He
polished off his drink with a flourish, held it up and
shook it. Suddenly he was a bandleader and it was
a maraca: the ice rattled wonderfully. A waitress
appeared.
“Gimme what I want, sugar,” Hank said.
She was chewing gum laconically, something in her
posture indicating a painful awareness that this night
would be a long one. “How do I know what you want?”
Hank covered his eyes with his hands. “Because I’m
famous.”
She took his glass and walked away. Hank winked at
me and I tried to smile. I wished he could have read
my mind. That night it would have made many things
between us much simpler.
“The thing is,” Hank said once he had a fresh drink,
“there’s a point after which you have finished loving
Dani e l Ala rcón

43

something, after you have extracted everything of
beauty from it, and you must—it is law—discard it.”
This was all I could take. “Oh Christ. Just say it.”
There was a blinking neon sign behind the bar, and
Hank looked over my shoulder, lost himself in its
lights. “Say what?” he asked.
“What you want to say.”
“I don’t know what I want.” He crossed his arms. “I
never have. I resent the pressure to decide.”
Lincoln was a good man, a competent lover, a dignified
leader with a tender heart. He’d wanted to be a poet,
but settled for being a statesman. “It’s just my day job,”
he told me once. He was sitting naked in a chair in my
room when he said it, smoking a cigarette and cleaning
the dust from his top hat with a wooden toothbrush.
And he was fragile: his ribs shown even then. We were
together almost a year. In the mornings, I would comb
out his beard for him, softly, always softly, and Lincoln
would purr like a cat.
Hank laid his hands flat on the table and studied them.
They were veiny and worn. “I’m sorry,” he said, without
looking up. “It wasn’t a good job, was it?”
“No,” I said. “But it was a job.”

44

He rubbed his eyes. “If I don’t stop drinking, I’m going
to be sick. On the other hand, if I stop drinking… Oh,
this life of ours.”
I raised one of his hands and kissed it.
I was a Southern boy, and of course it was something
Lincoln and I talked about. Hank didn’t care where I
was from. Geography is an accident, he said. The place
you are born is simply the first place you flee. And
then: the people you meet, the ones you fall for, and
the paths you make together, the entirety of one’s life,
a series of mere accidents. And these too, are accidents:
the creeks you stumble upon in a dense wood, the
stones you pick up, the number of times each skips
across the bright surface of the water, and everything
you feel in that moment: the graceless passage of time,
the possibility of stillness. Lincoln and I had lived
this—skipped rocks and felt our hearts swelling—just
before he left Illinois for Washington. We were an
hour outside Chicago, in a forest being encroached
upon by subdivisions. Everywhere we walked that
day there were trees adorned with bright orange flags:
trees with death certificates, land marked for clearing,
to be crisscrossed by roads and driveways, dotted with
the homes of upright American yeomen.
Lincoln told me he loved me.
“I’ll come with you,” I said. I was hopeful. This was
years ago.
Dani e l Ala rcón

45

That morning he’d gone to the asylum to select a wife.
The doctors had wheeled her out in a white gown and
married them on the spot. Under the right care, they
said, she’ll make a great companion. Her name was
Mary Todd. “She’s very handsome,” Lincoln said. He
showed me a photograph and I admitted that she was.
“Do you love her?” I asked.
Lincoln wouldn’t look me in the eye.
“But you just met her today.”
He answered with a sigh. When he had been quiet
long enough, he took my hand. We had come to a place
where the underbrush was so overgrown that the
construction markers seemed to get lost: everywhere
were mossy, rotting tree trunks, gnarled limbs and
tangled vines that hung over the trail. Lincoln kept
hitting his head as we walked.
“This forest is so messy,” he complained.
I said, “You’re too fastidious to be a poet.”
He gave me a sheepish smile. It’s true I never expected
to grow old.
Back at the bar, Hank was falling apart before my
eyes. Or pretending to. “What will we do?” he pleaded.
“How will we pay the rent?”
46

It was a good question. He slumped his shoulders and
I smiled at him. “You don’t love me,” I said.
He froze for a moment. “Of course I do. Am I not
destroying you, bit by bit?”
“Are you?”
Hank’s face was red. “Wasn’t it me that made you lose
your job?”
It was good to hear him say it. Hank had been in the
habit of transferring his most troublesome callers to
me, but not before thoroughly antagonizing them,
not before promising that their lost package was
only the beginning, that they could expect far worse,
further and more violent attacks on their suburban
tranquility. Inevitably they demanded to speak to a
manager, and I would be forced to bail out my lover.
Or try to. I wasn’t a manager, I never had been, and
the play-acting was unbearable. The customer barked
insults and I gave it all away: shipping, replacements,
insurance, credit, anything to get them off the line.
Hank would be listening in from his cubicle, breathing
a little too heavily into the receiver, and I knew I was
disappointing him. Afterward, he would apologize
tearfully, and two weeks might pass, maybe three,
before it would happen again.
It took accounting months to pin it on us.

Dani e l Ala rcón

47

Now Hank sighed. “It sure was hot today,” he said.
“Did you feel it? Pressing up against the windows?”
“Is that what you were looking at? The heat?”
“What would you have done without me anyway? How
could you have survived that place?”
I didn’t answer him.
We emptied our pockets, left the bar and walked into
the night. It was true that the heat was never-ending.
It was eleven thirty or later, and still the desert air
was dense. This time of year, those of us who were
not native, those whom life had shipwrecked in the
great Southwest, began to confront a very real terror:
summer was coming. Soon it would be July and there
would be no hope. We made our way to the truck.
Hank tossed me the keys and I caught them, just barely.
It was the first good thing that had happened all day. If
they’d hit the ground, we surely would’ve spent hours
on hands and knees, palming the warm desert asphalt,
looking for them.
“Where to?” I asked.
“You know.”
I drove slowly through downtown, and then under the
Ninth Avenue Bridge, and out in the vast anonymity
of tract homes and dry gullies, of evenly-spaced street
48

lights with nothing to illuminate. We had friends who
lived out here, grown women who collected crystals
and whose neighborhood so depressed them that they
often got in the car just to walk the dog. Still, beneath
the development, it was beautiful country: after a half
hour the road smoothed out, another ten minutes and
the lights vanished, and then you could really move.
With the windows down and the hot air rushing in,
you could pretend it was a nice place to live. A few
motor homes tilting on cinderblocks, an abandoned
shopping cart in a ditch, glittering in the headlights
like a small silver cage—and then it was just desert,
which is to say there was nothing at all but dust and
red-rock and an indigo sky speckled with stars. Hank
had his hand on my knee, but I was looking straight
ahead, to that point just beyond the reach of the
headlights. With an odd job or two, we might be able
to scrounge together rent. After that, it was anyone’s
guess and the very thought was exhausting. I felt—
incorrectly, it turns out—that I was too old to have
nothing again.
Lincoln and I spent a winter together in Chicago. He
was on city council and I worked at a deli. We couldn’t
afford heat, and so every night we would curl our
bodies together, beneath a half-dozen blankets, and
hold tight, skin on skin, until the cold was banished.
In the middle of the night, the heat between us would
suddenly become so intense that either he or I or the
both of us would throw the covers off. It happened
every night, and every morning it was a surprise to
Dani e l Ala rcón

49

wake, shivering, with the bedclothes rumpled on the
floor.
I’d made my way to southern Florida by the time he
was killed. It had been eleven years since we’d been in
touch. For the duration of the war I had wandered the
country, looking for work. There was a white woman
who had known my mother, and when I wrote to
her, she offered me a place to stay in exchange for my
labor. It seemed fine for awhile. At dusk the cicadas
made their plaintive music, and every morning we rose
before dawn and cleared the undergrowth and dug
canals in an endless attempt to drain the land. There
were three men besides me, connected by an obscure
system of relations stretching back into the region’s
dim history: how it was settled and conquered, how its
spoils had been divided. There was a lonely Cherokee
and a Carib who barely spoke and a freed black who
worked harder than the three of us together. She had
known all of our mothers, had watched us grow up
and scatter and return. She intended to plant orange
trees, just as she’d seen in a brochure once on a trip
to Miami: trees in neat little rows, the dull beauty of
progress.
But this land was a knot, just a dense, spongy mangrove
atop a bog. You could cup the dirt in your hands,
squeeze it, and get water. “It’ll never work,” I said one
afternoon, after a midday rain shower had undone in
forty five minutes what we had spent a week building.
She fired me then and there, no discussion, no preamble.
50

“Men should be more optimistic,” she said, and gave me
a half hour to gather my things.
It was the freed black who drove me to the bus station.
When he had pulled the old truck out onto the road,
he took his necklace from beneath his shirt. There was
a tiny leather pouch tied to it.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s a bullet.” He turned very serious. “And there’s a
gun hidden in the glade.”
“Oh,” I said.
He barely opened his mouth when he spoke. “That
woman owned my mother, boy, and that land is going
to be mine. Do you understand me now? Do you get
why I work so hard?”
I nodded, and suddenly felt a respect for him, for the
implacability of his will, that was nearly overwhelming.
When I had convinced him I understood, he turned
on the radio, and that’s when we heard the news:
Ford’s Theatre, the shooting, Sic Semper Tyrannis.
The announcer faded in and out; and though I would
miss my bus because of it, we found a place with good
reception and without having to say a word both
agreed to stop. The radio prattled breathlessly—the
assassin had escaped—no, they had caught him—no,
he had escaped. It was a wretched country we were
Dani e l Ala rcón

51

living in, stinking, violent, diseased. I listened, not
understanding, and didn’t notice for many minutes
that my companion had shut his eyes and begun, very
quietly, to weep. He closed his right fist around the
bullet, and with the other gripped the steering wheel,
as if to steady himself.
I’ve been moving west since.
That night we were fired, Hank and I made it to the
highway, heading south, and then everything was easy.
Along the way I forgot where we were going, and then
remembered and then forgot again. I decided it was
better not to remember, that something would present
itself, and so when the front right tire blew, it was as
if I had been waiting for it all night. Hank had dozed,
and now the truck shook violently, with a terrific noise,
but somehow I negotiated it—me and the machine
and the empty night highway—in that split second, a
kind of ballet. Hank came to when we had eased onto
the shoulder. I was shaking, but alive.
“What did you do?” he asked, blinking. “Is this Mexico?”
It seemed very real, what I felt: that truck had, through
mechanical intuition, decided to blow a tire for me, to
force me to stop. I turned on the cabin light. “How
long has it been since you stopped loving me?”
“Really?” he asked.

52

I nodded.
“What month is this?” Hank said desperately.
I didn’t budge.
“Are you going to leave me here?”
“Yes,” I said.
He smiled, as if this were a moment for smiling. “I’m
not getting out. I paid for this truck.”
“No you didn’t,” I said.
“Still,” he shrugged, “I’m not getting out.”
Which was fine. Which was perfect. There was a spare
in the back, but it was flat too. If one must begin again
late in life, better to do so cleanly, nakedly. I left the
keys in the ignition. Out here, outside our small city,
the air had cooled and I breathed it in. Life is very
long. It had been years, but I recognized the feeling
immediately. It wasn’t the first time I’d found myself
on a dark highway, on foot, with nowhere to go.

Dani e l Ala rcón

53

KK

KK
KKK

KKKKKKKK

KK

KK

I F T H E F IR ST H A L F O F
M Y SU MM
E R IN NE W O RL E A NS
WAS SWAM
PE D INT O A W E E K
Monday

I want to crow my womanhood so loud the southern
live oaks sway and tear huge cracks into the cement, I
want to talk to someone I don’t know every day this
summer, and get struck by the identities I form so
incredibly different from the last. I want pork juice to
drip down my face and rain water to make my clothes
stick even closer to my sticky skin and I want to tell
my lover I love him every day more weirdly and whole
and I want to be me more and more. Erica, right now I
feel like a Christmas ornament that’s been too long in
grandma’s attic, all chrome matte, all dusty dirty, too
much time spent with a man who’s louder than me, I
need to find my people who tender my tinder, you hear
what I’m saying? I strut around this shotgun house
naked with calluses caked in dirt. I observe my lover
so closely I wake him from sleep. I introduce myself
to bookstore owners and filmmakers with beer on my
breath. I don’t feel at home here, but I will. But I
will.

55

Tuesday
I found a grapefruit in the backyard this afternoon
growing from a wild grapefruit tree and made some
juice out of it with a ‘lil bit of tonic and gin. My
housemate Kelly is considering catching a cat she will
kill and eat. Because the ground beneath New Orleans
is too low and the water table too high, bodies are
said to pop out of the soil like jealous lovers. My lover
is a jealous lover. I have insisted we stay in an open
relationship. I don’t know if he was jealous before or
after I told him I couldn’t commit. Maybe I shouldn’t
read my love letters out loud to him. More routines
include: communist swine taco social; smoking spliffs;
making love; drinking tea; drinking Campari over ice;
masturbating in the kitchen; feeling sticky; taking off
my clothes; taking cold showers; making chai coffee;
taking Sirius, my lover’s dog, on runs to the levee;
wondering where the time has gone; telling Sirius to
kiss me; telling Sirius I love you I love you I love you. I
first heard the word swole a week ago and it fits with
my current state of affairs, what with the heat and the
food. I’m drunk right now, and stoned. Then my lover
informed me it was a term bros use with one another
to invite each other to the gym. I don’t go to the gym,
but I’m all about swole. I wanna get so swole I secrete.
In spurts.

56

Wednesday
I want the waters to rise within me, I want to be made
of willow grass and soot, not brick, not cement, I want
glass, I want water, I want you to break me, see into
me and through me, I want to emerge from the water
like a badass siren. I want my monstrosity laid bare. I
want acceptance. Your thunder is so fucking loud, I’m
all ears and eyes with you, where is my dragon, where
are your questions, ask me questions.
Thursday
I want to swim in the ocean after a feast! I want to
fry gourmet shit in the back of a truck before the
stars have left. David Buscho said the melons and the
peppers were delicious in Louisiana. It’s true. I grew
some peppers under the guest bathhouse and they
were spicy as fuck. Sometimes when I’m at Stacy’s
castle, I feel like a ghost or another piece of furniture,
only I’m not accruing value over time. Stacy’s castle is
on the corner of Desire Street and Royal Street, which
fits. I’m always in heat and my lover’s a prince. I’m
reminded of that horoscope Sophie Reiff read to me in
upstate New York last summer about how much I need
people to see me. I don’t want me and my lover to just
support each other in accompanying roles, I want us
busting out different dance moves on the same dance
floor, you hear what I’m saying? I don’t know how
Kat i e Wh e e le r- Du bi n

57

to do that with him. Maybe I don’t know how to do
this with any of my lovers. Jesse, please live here for a
month in August. I will make food for you and tea for
you my love. I don’t know how drunk I am right now,
only that I am sleepy-drunk, so that gives you some
notion. Earlier today at Country Club, a naked chick
said to another naked chick in a singsong voice, “I love
smoking weed” but maybe I was just hearing things.
Sometimes, I hear things I want to hear. I don’t think
I would be happier if you were here Raphael, but I
fantasized on July 4th biking around the neighborhood,
sweat rolling off my filed edges, and running into you,
you also on your bike. That sex love smirk on your face.
Friday
My lover read Tom Robbins and I read William Gibson
as we waited for the police to come. Before they came,
we found my lover’s keys in his truck’s ignition. We
think maybe it was kids who stole his bag out of the
guest bathhouse, and they didn’t know how to drive
a stick. Which is lucky. I’m a very lucky person. My
lover has very bad luck. While we waited for the cops,
I made a lot of tea. While making tea, I fantasized
about fucking my lover, all day long, cuz we hadn’t
for a while, and also because of the heat, and also
because I was born in the year of the dragon, plus I’m
a Capricorn which is a goat; when I start to look at
the signs…there’s nothing I can do about this sex drive
but appease the gods, you know? Anyway, my lover
made this Foige gras and lobster sauce over polenta
58

and before that I made a cantaloupe rose smoothie and
before that, chicory burdock cinnamon tea, before that
coffee. I may be eating out of boredom or lust, that’s
a thing. I like to eat Pizza Delicious cauliflower rolls
and I like to make love after waking up, the kind of
love where we both cum, quietly or spectacularly. I like
cold showers and big dogs and snoballs with whipped
cream imbedded within them. I like Dan Z because he
waits for you to respond and I like jumping around in
the rain with Kayla, who is a mermaid (real talk: she
was born with gills; loves water; she’s a redhead; she
paints; she’s got a temperament like Ocean Beach’s
riptide). I tried Sirius’ lung dog treat yesterday and it
was delicious at first but soon became not delicious
because it wasn’t seasoned and even though it was
venison, it was a lung dog treat and what the fuck was
I doing. What am I doing? I haven’t come with you
yet. What does it mean if I haven’t come with you yet?
What am I doing? I am sick of vacation.
Saturday
I’m glad I didn’t work in the kitchen at Camp Tawonga
this summer, I’m glad I threw my fate to the wind!
In this new lifestyle, I bleed on the new moon and
my dreams clutch at me. I take care of a spirit dog
that reminds me of when my family was whole. My
unemployment check from California gets to me every
two weeks. I drive down to Grand Isle to go swimming
in the Gulf of Mexico. I’m happy. I’m happy. I’m just
getting settled. I ate 32 oysters in one sitting today and
Kat i e Wh e e le r- Du bi n

59

found a pearl in one of them. I practice at telling people
who I am because that’s what a confident man does. I
want to be a confident man, cuz they get things. They
make people believe in them, like moving across the
country with them. I am an artist and twin and writer
and poet and filmmaker and storyteller and ascending
Pisces. I’m bad at following directions. My mom called
me Katie Bird and I’m trying to become Katie Dragon
but it’s hard here, cuz I feel like I’m trapped under a
swamp and all I want to do is fly above it. The swamp is:
my lover in love with me and my voice a ghost and my
heart in drought and us living in the same bed and this
land a hot humid stranger pressing in on me. Who are
my allies. Who are my friends. Can my family survive
without my mom holding us together. Will my father
and I ever be friends again. Will my friends make my
lover jealous? My lover told me I’m teaching him what
it means to be human. I don’t know you, he says.
Sunday
Every southern beast wants to be treated as a delicious
monster or dragon queen and this queen needs to
get fucked, I need to fuck, there is no way around
it. This morning I am overcome with hunger and
your leaving—for ten days—exasperates this hunger.
Every leaving is a death, and I am afraid of the stretch
of days without you, with this hunger of mine. All I
want is my meat to tender. Please tender my Tinder.
There is a monster inside me, that drives my hunt, and
this monster is crooning low in my ear, I feel rather
60

desperate. Like I want to stroll naked into Country
Club and find a kind-eyed stranger with a beautiful
cock and lots of patience. But the thing is, I want you,
I don’t want a stranger of a friend, I want you, but you
are gone, and while you were here we didn’t fuck, and
now all I have is this want. I am afraid you can’t give
me what I want, what I need. I need help knowing this
dragon. I need help knowing this dragon.

Kat i e Wh e e le r- Du bi n

61

TTT

TTTTTTTT

DISPROPORTIONATE
As a single man in my late thirties, I am aware that my
belly should not protrude farther than my penis.
At this point it’s a tie.
I’ve been paying my 24 Hour Fitness membership
and going regularly at least once a month for about
three years. That’s thirty-six times. I know that I need
to go more often than that. But I can’t seem to break
the once a month habit. A while ago, I figured I’d ask
around and see what other men are doing to maintain
their vim, their vigor.
My lover Jared said, Absolutely nothing and neither
should you. I like big bellies. He reached over and
rubbed mine. Somehow, this bothered me and after
he said that I went twice in one week, an inspired
anomaly.
Bob, who bartends at the divey lounge around the
corner from my apartment, immediately asked when
I told him I needed to start working out, What do
you do when you go to the gym?

63

I said, Some light weights and then I spin on a
stationary bike.
Bob the Bartender stopped wiping the counter and
looked at me serious and asked, Do you wear spandex?
I said, I do but—
I knew it, he interrupted, You totally wear spandex.
You do.
I just nodded and said, Yes. Yes, I do.
He walked away glowing like I made his night.
Sitting with me at the bar, Jason, with his pockmarked
face, soil under his fingernails, and fine, greasy hair,
said, That’s why I don’t have a car. It makes me have to
bike everywhere. Look at these.
He proceeded to roll the black, denim shorts he wore
up above his shockingly hairless and muscular legs. He
left them that way for the rest of the evening, bragging
to the Thursday night regulars and various customers
about his self-described biker thighs.
Walking home one night with Mr. Delbert, who had to
be pushing seventy, I asked him about staying healthy.
He said, I ain’t ever worked out in my life except for
chasing my kids around the house. But now I just walk
Mr. Dog.
64

I imagined his small frame, his slow and delicate
footsteps, walking Mr. Dog, his eighty-pound
Rottweiler.
That’s gotta be some exercise. He’s huge, I said.
I wouldn’t get no small ass dog, Mr. Delbert said.
What’s the point? A small dog doesn’t scare anybody
and it just irritates the shit out of you. Plus, you don’t
even need to walk a little dog. With Mr. Dog, he keeps
me honest. I have to walk him every damn morning.
I said, Mr. Dog scares my daughter all the time. She’s
nicknamed him Monster.
Mr. Delbert smiled and said, I like that. But to be
honest, Mr. Dog is just a big ol’ sweetheart. You’d be
surprised how many monsters really just nothing but
little babies on the inside.
Mr. Delbert opened the gate to his house. Mr. Dog
barking at me and pacing back and forth waiting for
him to come in. He then grabbed Mr. Dog’s jowls,
tugging hard from the left to the right and back and
forth whispering to the dog, Are you a monster, Are you
a monster.
It was my daughter who broke the workout morass I
found myself in.
In her senior biology class, her assignment was to
Tomas Moni z

65

measure different human bodies and figure out body
weight/mass index comparable across gender and age
lines.
Dad, she said, I need to measure your body for my class.
Absolutely not, I said, adjusting my posture a bit.
Dad, she said, Seriously, I need to do this. I need to get
an A. Don’t you want to support my education?
Her hand on her hip. Her face crumpled in reproach.
Her long hair pulled up in a bun that punctuated the
top of her head. She said it like her acceptance to
college depended on my participation. She said it like
I’ve failed her for most of her life.
Wrapping the yellow measuring tape across my
forehead, she measured my skull.
Big huh, I said.
Average, she responded.
She measured my chest.
She said, Breathe in and out.
I did again and again and again. Like I would never
stop.

66

Next, my armspan. She gripped the tip of my finger on
my left hand and asked me to hold the end of the tape
measure and she then stepped to the other side of me.
I felt infinite. She continued to measure. The distance
between my armpit and waist. The distance between
my hip and foot. She had a look on her face. Intense.
Driven. Beautiful. I felt myself expand.
I asked, Do you remember when I used to ask you if
you knew how much I loved you and you’d say this
much and measure a few inches with your fingers and
then I’d say, even more and you’d measure maybe a foot
with your hands and I’d say nope, it’s even more than that
and you’d measure out farther and farther until you
couldn’t possibly stretch out any more.
Hold still dad, she said.
I couldn’t hold still. I dropped my arms. I needed her to
hear me. I needed to know she remembered.
Do you, I asked.
She lowered her measuring tape and looked at me and
said, Of course I do, and then she hugged me and put
her head to my chest. She said, I hear your heart like
it’s speaking to me.
When she got to the circumference of my belly, she
actually laughed out loud.
Tomas Moni z

67

What, I asked.
Nothing, she said.
What, I demanded, raising my voice like I meant
business.
Well, she said, and she wrote something down in
her notebook. Then as if proving a hypothesis she
announced, You’re disproportionate.
How am I disproportionate, I asked.
Your head and your stomach. You better do something
if you want to live a long healthy life. She turned and
walked away, her hair bun bouncing with each step.
From that point on, I have changed my behavior. I’m
doing something. Of course, I want to live a long,
healthy life. For the last couple months, on my drinking
Tuesdays and Thursdays, I buy bitters and soda for the
first hour and then drink one shot of Bulleit over the
second hour as I sit in the bar making small talk with
Jason and Mr. Delbert, watching the basketball game.
I bike instead of drive to do my errands, smiling as I
think of Jason’s thighs. When I slip on my black and
neon orange spandex shorts which match my black
and neon orange spandex top, I smirk thinking about
what Bob the Bartender would say if he saw me.

68

But I haven’t stopped.
I feel good, but my belly refuses to retreat. I wonder if
it’s genetic. I rub it and feel the muscles under the skin,
the fat, the jollyjolly bounce and shake of it.
Today, as I finish a project revamping a restaurant’s
website, I decide to go biking for exercise and pleasure.
I shut my laptop and grab my bike. I fly out of my
apartment and down my street over the speed bumps.
I howl at Mr. Dog in the yard. For once the dog doesn’t
rush the fence as I pass, but continues to sit at the
front door of Mr. Delbert’s house.
I bike to the shoreline, bike past cars stuck on the
freeway, bike past Golden Gate Fields. I hear the flap
of my windbreaker. I blend in with so many of the
other riders in matching outfits. I stare at the thighs
of the men and women and appreciate the androgyny
of it all. I imagine measuring each person, instructing
them to move and bend, to stretch their bodies wider
and wider.
It’s getting dark as I ride up my street but I’m not
worried about time because my daughter’s with her
mother and I have a salad waiting for me at home.
I see a fire truck and a white animal services vehicle
with lights flashing.
I continue past my house because the emergency
Tomas Moni z

69

vehicles are in front of Mr. Delbert’s house. There’s a
small crowd of neighbors.
Hey, I ask a lady in a uniform, where’s Mr. Delbert.
The person living at this house? They took him to the
hospital, she says.
Is he alive?
Not sure.
How can I find out?
Check the hospital, she says.
One of the older neighbors shakes her head and says, It
didn’t look good.
I feel my sweat starting to dry on my body in the cool
night air. I watch the lights flash red and yellow on the
houses. I hear a whimpering from the white truck.
I say, What are you going to do with Mr. Dog?
Take him to the shelter because he’s a risk. He wouldn’t
let the emergency workers get to the patient.
I walk to the animal control truck and look at the dog
muzzled and slobbery.

70

I say, Can I take him?
The fire truck pulls away, and she’s now the only
official left.
Please, I say.
Can you control him, she asks.
Of course, I lie.
She looks to see if anybody is watching. She says, Then
take him quickly. I don’t want to have to do all the
paperwork anyways.
I turn to the dog locked up in the kennel on the truck.
I have never petted him before without Mr. Delbert
standing right there. I usually just bark or howl or say
hi when I rush by the house. Mr. Dog has only ever
barked at me.
I think: even monsters are babies on the inside.
I say, Hello there Mr. Dog. You’re ok, you’re ok. I
repeat it like a lullaby or a prayer. I reach in blindly,
knowing it’s the dumbest thing I could possibly do. I
take off the muzzle and grab the collar. I pull him out.
He bounds out immediately and sits beside me like a
wounded thing. I stare for a second at him, his big eyes
and heavy breathing and slobbery lips looking back at
me. I lead him and my bike back to my apartment and
Tomas Moni z

71

he heels like I’ve walked him every morning.
Later, I feed him some bacon, the only meat I have in
the kitchen because I’m trying to not eat too much of
it. I’m trying to stay healthy, to live long. I make him a
place to sleep in my room with a few towels. Sometime
in the middle of the night, Mr. Dog sneaks into my bed.
I wake to see his looming figure blot the light from the
streetlamp outside my window. I watch him try and
get comfortable, circling and circling. Eventually, he
simply falls onto me, heavy and warm. His head in the
curve of my armpit.
I know I should shoo him off the bed but I pet him
and he stretches out wide. I wonder how long he is.
The distance between paw and chest, between head
and tail. I wonder if he’s disproportionate as well. He
doesn’t seem to mind the way my belly fits against his
body. I wonder if he’s worried, if he feels loss, how
much he might miss Mr. Delbert. I reach down and
put my hand on his chest and feel his heart. It beats
in steady, constant thumps like he’s answering me: this
much, this much, this much.

72

BB
BB

THE FO

BBBBBBBBB

B

RMATION OF SOILS

For forty million years

a warm, warm rain—

Then the sea got up to try to relax.
Vulnerable volcanoes had just melted away.
He worked below, translating the author’s imps and
downs,
His ups and demons—;
pines grew skyward though the pines were not.
Thus began long episodes of quiet,
nickel laterites not ready
for the slots.
It took periods of soft showers attacking the dream
under the silt-covered sun,
Osiris washing his fragments,
Leda swimming with her vagabonds.
Everyone is made essentially the same way.

73

Through notebooks of tight red dirt
Franciscans walked upside down under us:
Aluminum oxides, incidents of magma,
And I had to go down in the earth for something—
Iron sediments spread over the foothills where Caliban
had his flat;
I was wearing the brown sweater when we spoke,
My heart and the one below translating his heart out.
But by that time, what?
Experience had been set up, at an angle.

74

ON CARMERSTRASSE
Beneath balustrades selected against
your going, a breezened
day anticipates a hope;
then the walk into
each word is infinite
and navigates the stumble.
under the porticoes at
childhood’s edge where half-said
sentences assemble in bombed
or not bombed corners
you, hurrying back to
the poem near a
compound diplomat’s swanlet canal’s
day from a bottle
where bears hold hands:
whether or not you
do the work involves
negotiating with the drama
of class shadow. Now
a trance has been
cast over the world,
but which? From a
chained bench, the soul
turns to its example.

Bre nda Hi llman

75

ECONOMICS IN WASHINGTON
I’m sick of irony
Everything feels everything
Everything returns to earth
There are no spaces between us
If you walk past the U.S. Securities & Exchange
Commission
numbers speak in color
by the order of the dream
Chartreuse 4s talk to blue 8s
9s speak yellow
There is fever in the badges of the guards
Inside the Federal Reserve
humans twirl the national debt
on its orange 1s
& the gray 11s are spinning too
Humans take a pile of blue 8s from a teacher in Des
Moines
& spin them to day-traders in Cancun
76

They take brown 5s from a waitress in Detroit
& give them to gamers in L.A.
If it is warm you can send yourself out
as a 7 because 7s can fly
They fly over buy-out specialists
lobbyists drinking lattés
with classic sweetener nearby

Bre nda Hi llman

77

If you go to the Capitol
you can send reports to the provinces
of astounding sights you saw there
Numbers plot as you walk to Congress
like Italian anarchists from Petaluma
in 1948
Rooftop trees make a pirate flapping
as you walk from Union Station
There is fever in the badges of the guards
I’m sick of irony
Everything feels everything
Feels itself as nearly lived
even colorless floating dollars
that have done violence &
have lain down to absorb the blood
& fluttered home to die
Numbers feel as they are spent
especially the 2s tinged with cinnamon
migrating over commodity policies
Your great reliable love will never be used up
even as you focus on materials
You are very tired i know
You shouldn’t have to travel

78

But in your wisdom
you can send yourself out
as a shaman pushes himself
from the mouth of a lily
to fly over the Pentagon clutching

Bre nda Hi llman

79

a chrome 10 or a vermillion 6
to enter the world with feeling
People on their lunch breaks
are reading nearly weightless
novels on benches in the park
making 9 to 5s with their legs
eating take-out
feeding bits of tuna wrap to
Capitol Hill squirrels
A poem changes nothing
Bring it anyway
This isn’t a political poem
There are no results in poetry
A shaking doubt has instructed you
to address the long wars
with your short cries
Not to live against earth
You who have so little time
You to whom others have written
You a citizen of matter & beyond

80

IN SUMMER, EVERYTHING IS
SOMETHING’S TWIN
Tell your mother’s first syllable the moth
to bring its trigon to the doorframe…
the universe is speeding up,
electrons swallowed by the rose—

you work so hard, too-hard-too-hard.
Humans have made a disaster but

—but what, sister?
—but nothing, pencil. tttap-tap.
Such a short season between dogwood
& tiger-lily. Sunscreen sinks
between hairs on your arm. Western yew
[Taxus brevifolia] requests a canopy…
People come here for their bit of joy,
they gather in western towns,
radicals growing weed in the woods, makers
of quilts & clouds, loggers, keepers
of the sick with their hounds; they
rest on weekends, in bars,

for love without reason or ledger;
Castor & Pollux sink in the cougar’s cry…
in a month or so, the sky will swallow Gemini—
hurry now, for the hive is ill,
Bre nda Hi llman

81

the cedar branch bows low as the wagon passes
& earth lies in the long earth bed…
Plenty of accidents come your way
but today you are otherwise,
today you train yourself to be safe, to work
as Billy has trained the little horse—

82

for CH

A SUMMER SONG FROM
OLD BERLIN
i plucked a little
leaf from Hegel’s grave;
it glowed from scallops
in a coat of
arms, & silence was
one of its features—;
in nearby Europe, they
are storming the palace;
lindens wait like history—;
you were calmer when
she was there, reading
in the grander glare,
reading dates by the
canal in pewter light,
the myth of living
more than once, as
Hegel thought (& thought)
like that creature under
a waterfall, the one
with the jewel in
its forehead, the myth
of desire being satisfied,
o calm calm leaf
of nothing & all—

Bre nda Hi llman

83

Subscribe q u i e t l i gh t n i n g . o rg

info + updates + video of every reading

Order lulu.com/spotlight/sandblink

back issues

Scene l i tseen . co m

calendar + reviews + interviews + purviews

Also by Quiet Lightning
quietlightning.org/books

by

Breast Milk
tupelo hassman

if you want to be one of them
playing in the streets…
by zack haber

- june 4, 2015 -

Related Interests