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QUIET LIGHTNING IS

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sparkle + blink 70
© 2015 Quiet Lightning
artwork © Michelle Brandemuehl
michellebrandemuehl.tumblr.com
“On Hans Fallach’s Girl with Tarpan” by E.C. Messer
previously appeared in Caketrain
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.
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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 tl i g h tn i n g . o r g

CONTENTS
curated by

Heather Bourbeau, Matt Leibel & Evan Karp
featured artist

LARA COLEY

Michelle Brandemuehl
St Denis

ANDREW O. DUGAS Crossfire

1
3

LENORE WEISS Self-Evidence 7
LAURA E. RUBERTO

Cursing Lessons

11

ANDREA ALEXANDER

Portraits of the Bible Belt

13

KATIE JENKINS-MOSES

Thigh Kink

23

JAMES COTTER

When Humanity
Jumped the Shark

25

On Hans Fallach’s
Girl with Tarpan

31

E.C. MESSER

KALIA ARMBRUSTER Stay/Come

37

For Anton English
39

Christmas Tree, and Lights 41

Another Late Summer
Afternoon
43

The Pheasant
45
JOEL TOMFOHR

MATTHEW LEWANDOWSKI Swan Dive
CASEY CHILDERS

It’s, Like, a Whole
Regimen, Man

49
53

ET
QU I

G IS SPONSOR
LIGHTNIN
ED B
Y

lagunitas.com

QUIET LIGHTNING
A 501(c)3, the primary objective and purpose of Quiet
Lightning is to foster a community based on literary
expression and to provide an arena for said expression. QL
produces a monthly, submission-based reading series on
the first Monday of every month, of which these books
(sparkle + blink) are verbatim transcripts.
Formed as a nonprofit in July 2011, the board of QL is
currently:
Evan Karp
executive director
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:
e v an @ qui et light nin g . o rg

- SET 1 -

LLLLLLLLLL

ST D E NIS
For Gui
Aujourd’hui, en haute voix, j’ai lu le poème à Marie, le
poème qui dit que tu pourrais mourir et je ne saurrais
jamais. Après, j’ai entendu des morts, des hommes qui
ont déchiré ta ville, qui sont allés après toi, qui ont tire
des fusibles en metal dans des os, qui voulais renverser
du sang des corps comme le tien, dans le quartier
que tu surveilles, dans le quartier où j’ai dit, Mais je
me sens bien ici, n’importe ce qu’ils disent. Et j’ai cherché
les photos surligne pour juste un detail de toi, je me
sentais ridicule en regardant les fesses des hommes
bien blindé, en pensant que je pourrais t’identifier
par même ça, que je te connais tellement bien, chaque
centimetre de toi, le mouvement de ta marche, la ligne
de tes cheveux, que je connais même comment le tissu
te touche, comment tu le veux près, tu veux qu’il se
sent comme la peau, tu veux qu’il te tienne entier.
Today I read the poem aloud to Marie, the one that
says you could die and I wouldn’t ever know. And then
I heard about the deaths, about the men who ripped
open your city, who went after you, who lit metal
fuses into bone, who wanted to spill blood from
1

bodies like yours, in the neighborhood you patrol, in the
one that I said, But I feel safe here, no matter what they say.
And I searched the photos online for a glimpse of you,
feeling ridiculous for looking at the asses of heavily
armored men, for thinking I could identify you by
even that, that I know you that well, every inch of you,
the sway of your stride, the line of your hair, that I
even know the way cloth touches you, how you want
it close, you want it to feel like skin, how you want it
to hold you together.

2

A
AA

AAAAAAAAAAA

A

C R O SS F I R E
The driver-side window collapses to the seat like a
shower of shattered diamonds. Mary stares at the
blue-tinted treasure next to her, distracted only by the
dim buzzing in her head and the sudden wet warmth
creeping over her shoulder.
Flashes of lightning. Thunder shaking the whole car.
The sheet metal thunder of cheap sound effects. She
and Keith had recently seen a live performance of an
old radio play with a young man and woman who
would shake a dangling sheet of metal to produce the
sound of booming thunder. The couple, fresh-faced
and deadly serious in their vintage 1930s garb, were
about the same age as her own son, Martin. Whenever
they reached for the dangling metal, Mary knew the
thunder was coming any second.
Keith. Where was Keith? The ATM. I’ll be just a second,
honey.
Lightning brightens the car like flashbulbs. The
thunder comes with a rapid-fire immediacy. Less
BOO-OOO-OOM, more BOOM BOOM BOOM.
3

The entire windshield crystallizes and it’s like
staring into blind frost. Mary’s foot panics toward
an imaginary brake pedal but of course she’s in the
passenger seat, and the car is already stopped.
Indeed, the car is parked, Keith having only a moment
earlier pulled into the red zone outside the Bank of
America. The engine is idling, shift in Park, handbrake
up. I’ll be just a second, honey.
BOOM BOOM BOOMBOOMBOOM
She wonders if Martin would like to work in the
theatre, even if it means just shaking sheet metal to
produce thunder. He was in the drama club in high
school and seemed to have liked it.
Mary, her shoulder wet and warm, even though she is
feeling quite chilly, cannot for the life of her remember
the name of the play.
Keith would know. Mary thinks, I’ll call and ask him.
She glances around for her purse, where her cell
phone is tucked away, sees the red leather on the floor,
between her feet, diamonds everywhere.
She reaches for it but her arm doesn’t move. Mary
looks down the length of her arm, all the long way to
her hand, which is curled into an unresponsive claw. A
solid line of blood runs down her wrist, the side of her
hand, and finally her pinky, drip-drip-dripping into
4

the dark recess of the cup holder.
What was the name of that damned play?
Red and blue lights. Sirens. More booming thunder.
Outside the shattered driver-side window, a man
appears, his head covered with a ski mask. No, one of
those Mexican wrestling masks. Red, green, and white.
He does not look at Mary. She wonders if he knows
that she is even there.
A sudden knot of lightningthunderlightningthunder.
The man buckles, thrusting one elbow through the
window to keep from falling. His hands appear and he
claws the mask off his head. His hair is long and blond
and plastered wet against his forehead.
He is so young, younger even than her Martin.
Blood seeps from his neck. His hands swipe at the
wound, as if to pull out some offending arrow or knife
or spearhead. But there is only his blood.
His gesticulations grow more frantic, and then he sees
Mary. His eyes lock on her, like she has the answer. Like
she can save him. Like she can encourage him to try
out for that play, apply to this college, make pretend
thunder in the blue recesses of the theatre.
His hand reaches toward her, but she cannot reach back.
Andre w O. Du gas

5

Her arm is dead, reduced to an exit ramp for her own
blood. She shrugs, embarrassed. She wants to help.
More than anything she wants to help.
The young man’s gaze, dull and slow but nonetheless
focused, takes in her arm and her blood. She shrugs
again. His face tightens and he shakes his head. One
sudden effort and he jerks the door open. He falls
to his knees but still tries to press forward into the
Subaru.
He reaches across the spill of diamonds in the driver’s
seat and takes Mary’s hand in his, as if she could pull
him to safety.
Mary tries to grip back. She tells herself that it’s
enough that they are together. She takes comfort in the
pressure of their fingers wrapping around each other.
She relaxes back into the seat leather, appreciating
fully for the first time how luxurious it is. Keith had
insisted on the leather, damn the expense.
“You were right, honey,” she says aloud. “It was worth it.”
Mary closes her eyes and waits for the thunder.
Any second now, she thinks. Any second.

6

LLL

LLLLLLLLL

SELF-EVIDENCE
1
Underneath a drone of airplanes, I hear the chant of
clouds,
drift across the top of apartment buildings
singing songs to glass rooftops and satellite dishes
and crows
gathered on telephone wires
close to where people drink lattes with low-fat milk,
foaming
mustaches evaporate.
Long before
cataracts drifted above my head—
I was a girl handing out leaflets—
fingers greasy
black from mimeo machines
behemoths in every storefront where the changelings
of my generation spent summers
collecting petitions against the War in Vietnam,
marching down Fifth Avenue in a cavalcade of banners,
the Civil Rights Movement,
assassinations imprinted
on our brains, memorized the combination.
7

Interviewed paraplegic Vietnam veterans in VA
hospitals
who helped each other to commit suicide,
read Walt Whitman, celebrations
of good and plenty
gone to lumber, building ships, railroads, and cities.
I wanted a job to pay the red robin of my worth,
a woman who took a turn handing out leaflets
and baptized hurricanes with the names of men.

2
Later, I had a front row seat at the computer
revolution.
The first time I looked into a flickering CRT screen
and talked
to a stranger, the future
and its green letters
danced around my event horizon.
Real time meant wall clock time, tick tock right now
time,
But there were other times, a virtual time that lived
inside
an application, also borrowed time, stealing an integer
from one column to pay for the next, the way life and
death
are two sides of the same copper penny,
shopping carts rolling down the street empty.
8

Some traded picket signs to learn Assembly
predating C++ or Ruby, Moore’s Law
doubling every eighteen months,
a computer language of x’s and o’s that allowed
an operating system to know itself,
a president elected
because he knew how to work a TV audience,
another built his base with social media,
people hailed each other in a cloud of dust.

3
Now AT&T offers the cocaine of four additional lines.
We hold our cell phones to take selfies,
post the address of a new restaurant,
an electrified didgeridoo in the subway,
at a fundraiser reading poetry,
the rescue puppy who needs adoption,
new sketch of a jazz musician,
baby’s first birthday party,
graduations, baseball games, tomatoes in our gardens,
standing in front of a sign, a car, a house,
persimmons in a bowl with purple orchids,
marches on the streets of Hong Kong,
demonstrations on the streets of Ferguson,
people fleeing homes in Gaza,
and we want everyone to like us for who we are
Le nore We i ss

9

and we want everyone to like us for who we are
as a murder of crows gather on telephone wires,
as clouds keep changing
until the whole sky becomes one cloud,
and I hear a voice chanting and I strain to hear the
words.

10

LL

LLL

LLLLLLLLL

LL

C U R SIN G L E SS O N S
Christmas eve, the kids no longer at the table, my
seventy-year old mother tells us that when she was a
girl she used to stand in a corner of a room and curse
under her breath—vai a morire ammazzato, li mortacci
tua, mignotta. A string of glorious obscenities in her
native Roman dialect roll off her tongue like sweet
notes of a lullaby.
She wanted to hear the sound of those forbidden
words, feel them, she admits: “I liked how they
moved around in my mouth. Saying them out loud
made them real, even if no one heard me and I never
got caught.”
It’s touching to hear her tell this innocent story, so
different from her typical, much-repeated, girlhood
memories of American GIs giving her chocolate.
And then she adds, with a knowing gaze, “beh, si, bad
things they feel so good.”

11

A
AA

AAAAAAAAAAAA

A

PORTRAITS OF THE

BIBLE BELT

Portrait I: of my grandmother
Over the breakfast table,
forks scraping on coronet plates
with dainty blue trim,
she was “grimmaw” to me,
as in, “grimmaw thanks for making me oats,”
or “grimmaw, where is the sugar?”
but roosting among
flocks of mockingbirds
I sacrificed her name to the guillotine with a flap of
my tongue
Grandma, my grandmother,
the “d” an axe,
the memory of “d” burned into the fractals of my iris
so tonight I could only speak to her
with my head bowed.
Best the mockingbirds don’t know
the way grimmaw’s head bows,
back hunched over the butter churn until her speech
turns to whey,
whiskey floating through the room
as though her son thinks his moustache will filter
13

out the smell.
grimmaw used to tell me
if I sprinkled salt on a bird’s wing
it wouldn’t be able to fly
and I could catch one.
I didn’t believe her, but chased crows through the
flowerbeds with a salt shaker
so I could believe her when she promised me next
summer the bluejays would sing.

14

Portrait II: of my uncle, at his funeral
They lined his casket with purple silk
and rimmed his neck with the same
silk striped tie you wear to church on Sundays to
hide the buttons on your shirt
so the preacher can hide from your bare chest.
I say, Larry’s fingernails are too clean.
In death they made him lie,
the same as when he threw newspaper over the
empty glass bottles in the trash can before
grandma came calling.
In death they made him lie still
with lips shut over his tar-stained teeth
and hands unrounded,
ironed to his abdomen lest his calluses
pull threads on his purple satin pillow.
In his death they lied to themselves to grow a womb
to hold their sadness and hide it under the dirt.
I say,
they should bury him on Saturday night by the
bonfire while I skirt between their curses
and crawl up to the roof, unsupervised,
to hide from the cigarette smoke rolling off their lips
and pretend someone in an airplane will see me
waving.

Andre a A le xande r

15

But since grimmaw only recognizes him on Sundays,
they buried him in a suit
on a Sunday morning bathing in purple,
singing
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace
to Larry our king, our savior.

16

Portrait III:
of the family heirloom I keep in my pantry
Flour on the table edge
streaks white across her navy apron, egg splattered
against sunset air.
It smells like bacon
and sizzles like needles falling on the wooden floor
every afternoon by the window,
thumbing color swatches and old buttons.
I ate her grits and chocolate cakes
with the guilt of the floors she swept
and the sons and daughters who never called,
my arms pulley-rigged, spooning dirt into a mound
that grows behind our backs;
shields us from the summer sun.
Grass roots itself,
sticks in my bare feet as I turn around
to plow up the hill
straight into the heat of the oven’s mouth, hugging
her mother’s mother’s cast-iron skillet, seasoning
from years I never saw
flaking onto my grown palms,
molecules of lard or collards or venison.
Below, her navy apron is still prickled with grease,
and I’m licking icing off my fingers in the
morning.

Andre a A le xande r

17

Portrait IV: of my father
My father would furrow his brow,
forehead wrinkled up like cotton rows,
a series of rises and creases bunching up at the horizon
tapering off at the line where his hair used to be.
“Stop callin’ it a trailer. It’s a mobile home,”
he said.
What he meant was:
“I didn’t fail.”
This isn’t Georgia, where
the girls are sweet peaches sugary-sap-dribblingdown-your-chin sticky in the heat
Belles with petticoats
and lustful accents.
This is Bama, where
bits of pine cone stick
in the bottoms of naked feet pattering, panting
through the forest;
twigs sprout at jutted angles
from little banshee heads
whose cheeks never scrub clean.
When the tornadoes came in summer,
we’d all sit around the tv
struggling to remember which was ‘warning’ and
which was ‘watch’,
rain on the tin roof
18

like pebbles in my stomach,
bolts of light slashing the sky open
like my brush
thrown in anger
when it shattered the mirror,
thunder sending shivers all over the earth
like the cabinet trembled when my brother’s head
crashed into it
after he was thrown.
“Dad I didn’t mean to drop the eggs,”
he said
too late.
Last winter, I went back,
mascara coating my lashes
hair neatly brushed
confused for a Yankee.
My father looked
crookways
down
at my baby sister,
kissing her forehead
so softly,
the slitted eyes I remember
too tired to be angry.
“She is my second chance,”
he said.
He never could say:
“I’m sorry.”
Andre a A le xande r

19

Portrait V: of a blueberry donut I ate at age 22
I unzipped my white skirt
in a Chevron station bathroom
next to the Holiday Inn,
let it fall past my ankles
to pool around the black stalks
thrusting my heels away from the tile floor.
Four inches to make sure I was
almost as tall as the men,
but small enough to let
their sunshine faces beam down on
my flowered collar bone,
their sunbeam hands to entice me open.
The man tonight liked mini skirts.
He liked young girls,
so I wore light pink lipstick.
If I saw that man again now,
after changing back into
blue jeans and tennis shoes,
my lips would be four inches lower.
I would know that he felt my heartbeat
closer to his stomach.
I would know that the memory
of kissing his jawline
without having to pull his head down
by his necktie
belonged to a girl with longer legs.
20

Last week I had cried alone in the kitchen
over my last ten dollars, and the failed blueberry
pancakes
that hugged my spatula like a spool of tangled yarn.
The Chevron station had blueberry cake donuts
so I asked the clerk if she could make change
for a hundred dollar bill.
When she smiled I wondered if she knew,
if she’d been there before,
if she would have done the same.

Andre a A le xande r

21

K

KK
KK

KKKKKKKKKKKK

KK

T HI G H KI N K

I got a thing for thighs.
I wanna cross my legs.
That’s it, I’ve got a thigh kink.
I see those spindly legs crossing.
Even the meaty ones too.
All these feminine legs crossing, sometimes even legs
attached to dicks.
They crossing too.
Damn, those crossing legs be the image of a woman.
All proper and shit.
Perfect for women in skirts. In dresses. In culture.
Any proper lady got to cross her legs.
My legs must be broken. Or maybe I am.
My legs don’t cross. My thighs too think. Gotta
physically pull up one leg onto andover the other.
Then like held by a rubber band the leg will
eventually shoot back down. My legs must be
broken.
Thick fatty thighs just don’t leave enough space for
crossing. Instead my legs spread open.
It’s some improper shit.
Sometimes I cross my ankles. But eventually that
hurts and gets old too. I yearn to cross my legs.
I gotta thigh kink.
23

JJJ

JJJJJJJJJ

WHEN HUMANITY

JU M PED THE SHA R K
It was the year the Patriots went 19-0 that things
started going poorly for humanity.
this aspect of the story was not reported on.
for years before this the unimaginable had become
imaginable so many times,
that it meant less and less to imagine anything.
the export of the American lifestyle was rapid, and
everyone in China started driving cars.
the exact breaking point could not be pinpointed.
if you asked some family, it would be the day their
son or daughter stopped keeping up with the
burden of each day,
lost their job, and succumbed to this or that.
the way a suspension bridge, if neglected, will pull at
all points, until some weakest point unravels
its cable braid,
starting a seaward cascade.
25

nobody knew, watching the presentation of the
Lombardi trophy,
that all humans before and after,
had aspired to this point,
and would use it as reference.
that all tales of myths of glory,
all pomp of Rome and madcap Mongol sieges,
were approximations of this.
that from this time on, when the present was
compared with the past, there would be no
forgiving vagaries of a blurred historical record,
to help us discount what we had once been.
this time, a perfection we could not live up to ever
again was captured in high definition.
sometime before, a guy named Gene Sprague jumped
off the Golden Gate Bridge, after walking back
and forth for 90 minutes,
with his hair whipping about
and his life’s agitations playing
repeatedly on his face
and in his nervous and surprisingly ungrand gestures.
and he stood, on a rail, facing away from the water,
and tipped away from foot-traffic,
with Christ-like arms
and two or three unscored gymnastic tumbles, into
an ocean
26

that is no great fan of the Patriots,
even though they were the greatest of all time.
and this leap was captured as part of a feature film.
the clip then was posted, once or twice, or so, on
YouTube and people put the music they felt fit to
it.
this is an obscure reference,
the analogy to past works
being the historical or minor figure
for whom a scholar would require a footnote
to explain
or even justify.
now of course,
the only universal of this age,
being the lack of all universality
and so the equivocation of everything,
this reference isn’t the type a scholar could explain or
justify.
now there are resources to research that make their
funneling of the characters of a poem or a
reference unnecessary.
only the Patriots, whom everybody knows, and
FreekboyG, whom nobody knows, remain in the
common voice.
and after the Patriots, there was no point in
Jame s Cot t e r

27

singularities, and no story could have a happy
ending.
humanity held on for a while,
fidgeted, looked upon Tom Brady’s god-like face,
and surrendered,
in careless spirals
and collapsing bridges.

28

- SET 2 -

EEEEEEEEEEE

O N H A N S FA L L A C H ’ S

GIRL WITH TARPAN
The painter Hans Fallach, whose work is largely unremarkable but who has risen to prominence in the
Western art world for his unnerving 1912 composition Girl with Tarpan, is remembered this month with
a special exhibition in Munich, the artist’s hometown.
On the occasion of its near-centennial, I have taken
the opportunity to revisit this improbable masterwork,
which I first saw on tour many years ago in a cramped
secondary gallery of the Los Angeles County Museum
of Art and have followed with great interest ever since.
The painting was composed quite purposefully in the
Impressionist mode, a style from which, throughout
his entire career, Fallach never deviated. Briefly summarized, it depicts an early 20th century European
zoological garden, presumably in spring. In the foreground we are given a partial view of a large-animal
enclosure in which a single, petite quadruped resembling a tarpan—the Asiatic horse whose 1909 extinction was challenged by the zookeepers of Munich,
though long after Hans Fallach’s time—stands
in quiet obedience. At the heart of the painting,
trapped on the opposite side of the enclosure, stands
31

a girl in a lemon-yellow pinafore gazing intently and
almost entirely at the tarpan—though also, very
slightly, at the viewer. She cannot be more than eleven
or twelve years old, and she regards the tarpan with
such esteem and longing that we are led to believe
she wants nothing more in all the world than to lay a
small, unassuming hand upon its sloping mane. Other
details of the scene are cursory at best (a pathway, a
building or two in the background, some kind of sky);
it is the congress between girl and tarpan alone which
generates the painting’s curious, unlikely power.
From a technical standpoint, the painting’s efficacy is
difficult to explain. Fallach’s slavish devotion to the
Impression as late as 1912 is initially suspect, on top
of which the painting’s adherence to its chosen style
is incomplete. Rather than capturing the light and
image of a passing moment, Fallach’s girl and tarpan
sink forever into the canvas in an eternity of girls
and tarpans. Meanwhile, the extraneous background
details of the painting detach themselves and float
away, leaving the two figures on a nearly-empty plane.
In addition to these shortcomings, there is the rest of
Fallach’s oeuvre to consider; how could the author of
such petty canvases as Königinstraße Window-Box and
Early Afternoon in the Blue Doorway have executed the
astounding Girl with Tarpan? Failing any explanation
of natural talent, aesthetic sensitivity, or artistic development, the secret of the painting’s success in the
wake of so many failures may perhaps be found in the
artist’s biography.
32

Hans Fallach was born in 1880 near St.-Jakobs-Platz
in Munich, a German Jew with an inexplicably Gælic
surname. Little is known of his origins except that his
father was a cloth merchant and also, perhaps, a tailor.
Of his mother, Fallach mentions in passing (in an
ardent letter to German poet Stefan George that never
reached its intended recipient) her shockingly red hair.
No additional details survive.
Fallach did not appear before the gods of history in
earnest until 1900, his twentieth year, when he began
to show his work in the cafés and minor salons of
Munich.
By that time it seems that he had broken entirely with
his natural family—whether for personal or professional reasons, fear of anti-Semitic censure or simple
indifference, we do not know.
Hans Fallach became an Impressionist painter at a
time when Impressionism was out of fashion everywhere—even Americans were, by that time, beginning
to look at hard angles with something other than
derision. The Gallic discipline arrived late in Germany,
if it can be said to have arrived at all, eclipsed as it
was by Post-Impressionism and later, the Expressionist works of Der Blaue Reiter. Somehow Fallach
managed to exist entirely outside these advances; the
elegant simplicity of Max Liebermann was perhaps
his sole contemporary influence. Through his early
twenties he continued to paint in blissful ignorance
E.C. Me sse r

33

of modernity. Meanwhile, both the conservative and
the elderly grew fond of his work, steeped as it was in
orthodoxy and sentimental calm. By 1904 Fallach had
earned enough money to quit his day job at one of the
cafés which grudgingly hung his paintings, and to wed.
In 1905 he married Gerta Grün, the Gentile daughter
of a Münicher house-painting contractor and retailer.
(Despite the claims of more fanciful historians, it is impossible to determine if this same man later hired onto
his crew a young Viennese transplant with artistic pretensions named Adolf Hitler.) From his father-in-law
Hans Fallach obtained for his work not the paint itself,
but the supplies with which he mixed his own oils.
Following the birth of their only child, a dour and
troubled boy christened Nils after neither his Jewish
nor his Lutheran forbearers, Hans and Gerta grew
apart—he retreating into painting, she to the succor
of a child with the unsettling habit of smothering
sparrows and other small birds in turpentine-soaked
pillowcases. In the wake of his son’s increasing
violence, Fallach began to concentrate greater and
more protracted intensity on landscapes and fauna;
his human figures, already dim and out-of-focus, now
disappeared entirely.
In 1912, Nils Fallach strangled and butchered a large
albino peacock that had managed—who knows
how?—to escape from a wealthy neighbor’s aviary.
The results of the boy’s efforts were arranged carefully
34

on his parents’ bed, awaiting eventual discovery by
his horrified mother and permanently staining the
Bavarian lace duvet (a wedding present from Herr
Grün). It was perhaps this act of barbarism on the
part of his son, the last he would ever witness, which
inspired the series of events resulting in Hans Fallach’s
only masterpiece.
That night, Nils was spirited away by agents in the
employ of Gerta’s father. He told his daughter and
son-in-law that the child had been sent to a country
hospital that specialized in such situations. The next
day, the grieving mother took to her bed and Fallach
to the streets of Munich. In the evening he returned to
his studio only, and through the tradesman’s entrance.
He never again set foot in the house. Two weeks later,
Girl with Tarpan sat finished on an easel by the door,
but Hans Fallach was gone.
Following the turmoil of two World Wars, the
painting was unearthed as a symbol of German
cultural endurance and for years made a grand tour
of Europe and the Americas. Finally, judged too oldfashioned for the Pinakothek der Moderne, the painting
was installed in the Neue Pinakothek, where it may
now be viewed alongside a smattering of the artist’s
minor works; generously donated by prominent local
citizens. Critics with more speculative minds than
mine have suggested that the Girl of the painting’s
title was sacrificed to both Fallach’s domestic despair
and his artistic ambitions—that this great work came
E.C. Me sse r

35

at the price of a human soul. More difficult to dismiss
than this absurdity is the appearance of the tarpan,
impossible between its 1909 extinction and attempts
at its regeneration in the Fascist 1930s. One can easily
imagine that Fallach saw such a beast prior to 1909,
perhaps on a youthful outing, which he recreated in
1912 from memory and extant zoological sketches.
What one cannot imagine is that the scene between
girl and tarpan is anything other than a moment from
real life. Of the fourteen days spent in the studio,
the actual process behind Girl with Tarpan, and the
eventual whereabouts of its composer, we know
nothing. However, we do know that two weeks prior
to Hans Fallach’s disappearance and the painting’s
discovery, a twelve-year-old girl was reported missing
from Tierpark Hellabrunn—the Munich zoo.

36

KK
KK

KKKKKKKKKKK

K

STAY/COME
When you said goodbye,
your voice was as soft
and as thin as a goldfish tail.
We thought I should leave the station
before the train came,
and my feet took me outside.
I walked with an ache,
something like a pin in my hip,
sand gathering in my throat,
an empty seat.
I couldn’t see you in the train
and summer ended.
Time went back to moving
the way it’s supposed to.
Nothing was slow,
my blood was blood, fluid and quick.
I couldn’t see you in the train,
the space between us was heavy, was solid.
You sat still with salt from my eyes on your neck,
and I rocked and rocked
like a peach in boiling water.

37

JJJ

FOR

JJJJJJJJJ

A NT O N E N G LIS H

Lying about, you see him. It is you. It is some
afternoon or another. It doesn’t matter. Maybe it is the
late August afternoon of going to Wakanda Park on
Lake Menomin. Ah Ojibwe county. Your mother has
wet hair. Her skin smells of sun block, some strange
coconut, and pine needles. There are snacks; cold
chicken from yesterday, yes. Potato chips, salty, yes.
Pop, fizzy and cold too and sugary, yes. How content
you are. You go down to the sandy shore. Other people
stand in the water—young fathers with pale skin, the
beginnings of the bellies of adulthood and, yes, of old
age. Young country mothers with pale skin, too, yes.
The stretch marks that come from giving birth. They
are halves of people in the water. You are between
older brother (please don’t drown me) and younger (I
will not drown you). Turn around. Quiet Mother looks
back at you. One. Two. Three. All three of you are one.
Does she smile when she waves? Yes she does. You
swear you can hear the click of the many rings on the
long, slender fingers of her strong and delicate hands.
She sweeps salty potato chip crumbs from the picnic
table, yes. They land next to drying and dried out
pine needles. You smell the pine needles from here
at the shore. You swear it. At the shore, your feet
39

disappear into the water. Now shins, now knees, and
now shorts. The next part is the worst. It is cold, yes,
and it is wet. Now he becomes half a person like the
others in the water.

40

CHRISTMAS TREE, AND LIGHTS
The green-black Christmas tree at night in the living
room sat silent when the boy returned home with his
dad.
“Wait here at the door,” his dad said, and he disappeared
behind the tree. Now the green-black tree glowed
warmly with its varicolored lights. “Why couldn’t you
stay out at Jim’s?”
“It smelled funny,” the boy admitted. “I couldn’t sleep.”
“Shall I lay the sleeping bags out under the tree?”
His dad had a strange way of talking. Everything out
at Jim’s house seemed rough and hard, unrecognizable.
“Yes,” the boy said.
The boy went up the stairs to the bedroom that he
shared with his younger brother.
“David,” he whispered. “David.” He touched David’s
shoulder gently. “Come to sleep under the tree with
me and Dad.”

Joe l Tomf oh r

41

Now the boy, David, and their dad lay beneath the
glowing tree and outside a light dusting of white snow
began to fall. The snow fell without a sound until all
three, father and two sons, slept. And while they slept
still it fell through the cold and dark winter night.
This would be the last holiday season for his dad in
the house.

42

ANOTHER LATE SUMMER
AFTERNOON
At the edge of the family, there he stood. It was
another late summer afternoon—they all seemed like
late summer afternoons. They were gathered around
the lawn chairs in a circle in the shade of the wide
trunk, of the big leaves of the catalpa tree: mother,
father, two older brothers and younger. The younger—
he was the youngest of them all—was held between
his mother’s strong legs. At the edge of the circle they
had made, there he stood. There was the boy, at the
edge of his family. He wore blue shorts. He wore no
shirt. His small tummy and chest were brown from
the sun, his face pink. From the edge of his family he
saw his father, slender father. Here was the story that
his slender father told while they were gathered in the
circle beneath the shade of the catalpa tree as the sun
slowly made its way across the now late afternoon sky.
He began: “When I was a boy, not much older than
you, Joel, I was sick.”
All of the brothers looked to their mother, and she
nodded yes, it was true. “Your father almost died,” she
said.
Joe l Tomf oh r

43

“I almost died,” he said. “But I went to the doctor, and
I stayed in bed all winter while all the other boys and
girls my age played in the snow.”
He and his brothers were silent. At the edge of his
family the boy stood, held by his love for them, held
by their love for him. The family dog that had been
sleeping in the warm sun, the black cocker spaniel
came to sit beside the boy. He ran his small fingers
through the dog’s thick, black fur. The dog loved it
when the boy did this.
“But in spring,” his dad said. “In spring I became better,
and I was saved by love. My parents and my brother
and sisters took care of me. They loved me.”
The boy looked to his mother as she held his youngest
brother between her strong legs, and he caught her,
unaware of herself, looking away lost, it seemed, in a
thought that was not now, that was not here.
At the edge of his family on this late summer
afternoon—they all felt like late summer afternoons
back then—there he stood held by the love and the
mystery of his family.

44

THE PHEASANT
“Did you see it?”
“I saw it.”
“Did you see it?”
“I saw it.”
They walked along the fence of the property of a farmer
his dad knew. Father and three sons—the oldest was
twelve, the next was ten, and the boy was five. He held
his father’s big hand and it was warm. The air was crisp.
The trees had lost most of their leaves by now. Those
that clung to the withered branches were brown and
brittle. The sky was clear and blue. His father had
spotted a pheasant, the bright red tail of it.
“Where is it?” the boy asked.
“Shh,” the oldest brother said.
“I see it,” said the brother that was ten.
The boy’s father scooped him up in his arms so that
Joe l Tomf oh r

45

he could look from above. “Do you see it now?” he
whispered with warm breath in his ear.
The boy looked. The grass around the lone leafless tree,
its branches and trunk withered and strong at once.
Gnarled. And then from the brown brittle, deep green
almost not green so deep alighted the pheasant, the
bright red tail of it like a fresh red wound.
“I see it,” the boy said.
“In the thicket.” His father smiled at the boy in his arms.
“Do people hunt those?”
“They do. The meat tastes good.”
“I would not eat them.”
“Quiet,” said the older brothers. “You’ll scare him away.”
From the thicket , the snapping of the twigs, the dry
cold near winter landscape gave them up and the
pheasant stood still.
“Where’d it go?”
And then thump, thump it rose from the thicket in a
blur.
“Wow,” the boy said, following its arc into the clear
46

crisp blue sky. The sun was so bright that the boy lost
the bird in the lances of light, and it was gone to him.
The moment had ended. His father set the boy down
and took the boy’s hand in his warm hand. The two
older brothers ran ahead, and they all moved forward
together through the crisp morning air of their late
fall walk.

Joe l Tomf oh r

47

M

M

M
MM

MMMMMMMMMMM

SWAN DIVE

MM

M

Today I watched a pigeon commit suicide. I mean, he
really stayed up there contemplating for like, ten or
fifteen minutes. I was waiting in line for a sandwich
so I didn’t have much else to do but stand and watch.
The thing about eliminating your own map via tall
city building if you’re a pigeon is that the rescue team
doesn’t have to shout with one of those bull horns
from the ground level to try to talk some sense into
you. They can literally fly right next to you and have
a chat about whatever they chat about. Usually things
like, “you don’t have to do this,” “what would your
mother say?” or, “think about your little sister,” etc, I
think. You could even have some friends fly up there
and bring you a few beers, watch the baseball game
together through some guy’s window, who is probably
also drinking a few beers. All of this made this choice
of the pigeon’s, I mean standing on the ledge and
going for the ultimate plummet, seem pretty awkward.
He could have just flown in front of a train, stayed in
the middle of the street when a car tried to pass, or
even kept his place on the sidewalk while hundreds of
tourists herded through town without even looking
where they were going. The spectacle, though. It’s
all about the show, the statement, the message to
49

your fellow community. I still don’t know why he
chose the old fashion face first dive.
The thing was strange to watch, notwithstanding the
awkward fact that this pigeon had made up his mind
that it was over. I mean, you see a pigeon fall, and
it’s like, he could just save himself at any moment by
flying away. So I was standing there like expecting
a spectacular recovery, one all his friends would be
proud of. But, nothing. Just: thump. The bird must
have really been fed up, to go out like that and all.
But the way that it looked, that was the most intriguing
part, falling with like a blatant disregard for the law of
conservation of angular momentum. The bird stood
up there, perched right, kind of walking back and forth,
bobbing his head in and out, looking at something on
the roof, looking up, looking back down, sort of sizing
up his options I guess. So then the moment came. He’s
all in. No escape.
Actually here’s another fascinating thing. For a bird,
the ledge does not equal the point of no return, does it?
He’s got like a few more seconds where he’s got to be
committed to the fall, so he doesn’t abort the mission
and all. But he’s decided to take the first step now, at
the ledge. He’s facing forward, away from the building,
looking out over the other buildings and toward the
rest of the city, head held high, proud. His feet are
wrapped around the railing as he pivots forward. It
starts slowly. At first it’s not clear, maybe he’s just
50

a little inebriated and losing his balance. But then
he speeds up, pivoting downward, head now racing
toward the horizontal position. This circumstance,
the force of gravity on the center of mass of the bird
combined with the fact that his feet are attached to
the railing, sets up what is called in the profession
of physics, and, like, many other mechanical trades, a
lever arm. This generates an initial amount of angular
momentum so that as the bird decides to let go, he may
not have a lot of self confidence, but what he’s got is a
lot of angular momentum.
At this point, it’s hard to say what’s going through the
poor little guy’s cranial nervous system. He’s probably
actually pretty nervous. As he pivots down, when he
reaches approximately a horizontal position, his wings
puff up and you could almost think he was about to
abort. But it’s just a brief little puff as the air rushes
up between his wings and his body. He must be pretty
relaxed, actually, because this puff seems to catch
him off guard. But then he quickly pulls his wings in,
bodyward.
And then all the angular momentum just seems to, like,
vanish. He is pivoting downward, gravity generating
the A.M. and then he decides to let go. Then the puff
thing happens. Now the sucker’s really falling, not
attached to anything. Hundreds of years of physical
intuition would tell you that this bird should keep
rotating, head over heels if you will, while he falls,
so the good old angular momentum vector L doesn’t
Mat t h e w Le wandowski

51

change because now that he’s let go the lever arm is
gone. Rotational and translational motion decoupling
is what we should have here.
But what really happened was when his head finally
reached the maximum downward position, all
rotational motion stopped and this poor guy was swan
diving like a bullet directly for the pavement, which
I guess he didn’t really see, given the position of his
eyes and all. He was more like looking up and down
the street to see if anything interesting was going on.
Come on, he must have known he was the only show
on this block on this AM.

52

CC

CCCCCCCCCCCC

A WHO

IT’S, LIKE,

LE REGIMEN, M A N

So Ricky’s sprinting back and forth between a
dumpster and a pile of discarded Eddie Money
cassettes in the alley behind the 7-Eleven.
Coach doesn’t see much point in it, and he says as
much, but Ricky figures he oughtta at least try to get
something out of these sessions to justify the money
his mom is spending.
It’s not much—
“just a little beer money,” is how Coach put it with a
wink, which had been way cheaper than the other
running coaches she’d called
—but in the six weeks since they’d begun training
together Ricky’s form has gone completely to shit and
he’s lost more than a minute off his mile.
It’s probably the smoking.
Coach insists on it.

53

“Man’s gotta smoke,” he says. “Life don’t do a man any
favors. No point in doing any favors for life.”
The drinking’s not helping much either.
The fact that Ricky’s fifteen and bound for state
championships doesn’t matter a whole lot. The
only thing he’s gotten better at in the last six weeks
is hiding a hangover and staring into the middle
distance after making some obtuse philosophical
comment on the absurdity of human existence.
So he runs sprints between sips of Coach’s special
blend of schnapps and Steel Reserve while Coach
drills him on the hierarchy of oppressive institutions
that secretly run the world from behind the scenes.
It was an easy enough mistake to make. His parents’
optimism and thriftiness combined with Coach’s
misleading flyer that read, “You can never run fast
enough. Call Coach.”
Plus the tabs across the bottom of the flyer with the
telephone number had made it seem pretty legit.
That he wasn’t so much a running coach as a guy
named Coach who posted flyers all over town
with vague, nihilistic aphorisms and the 7-Eleven
payphone number was an easy detail to miss.
He’d coached life choices, swimming, archery,
54

business management, sales, crossfit, jazz vocals,
bouldering, retirement planning, crew, grant writing,
and artistic gymnastics as a result of similar misunderstandings throughout the years.
Nobody ever got what they’d come for, but nobody
ever cared too much after a week or two in Coach’s
company.
They’d wander town at dusk under his direction with
smokes dangling loosely from the corners of their
mouths while he illustrated the pointlessness of it
all, throwing rocks through the windows of check
cashing places and nursing homes; setting mailbox
fires; and opening fraudulent shell corporations in
the names of distant relatives.
Eventually each of his clients was so broken down
that they’d stop coming to Coach altogether and
fade into the background where they were quickly
forgotten.
But Ricky was special.
His passion for track and field coupled with his
natural capacity for apologetics insulated him from
Coach’s more caustic traits. He just kept turning up.
And he just kept trying to improve despite Coach’s
consistent encouragement to the contrary.

Case y Ch i lde rs

55

“Keep on running,” Coach says. “Never seen a horse
that could win against the ground forever.”
Ricky considers that thought as he tags the dumpster
and makes a quick pivot. He feels his legs soften, the
malt liquor digging its syrupy claws into his muscles.
“There’s only two kinds of men,” Coach says. “Dead
ones and ones that don’t know they’re dead.”
It’s a grim perspective.
Ricky prefers to fantasize about smashing Cruiser
Hawkins at state. Cruiser Hawkins with his perfectly
feathered hair and sick abs. Cruiser Hawkins with
his #squad of sick-ab’d, feather-haired bros. Cruiser
Hawkins with his big brother’s international orange
Jeep Wrangler and “Oh hey Ricky what sort of whip
does your brother drive? Oh sorry, bruh. Forgot your
brother was dead.” Cruiser Hawkins with his fourminute-seven-second mile and hey-Ricky-smell-myfinger grin.
If he beats Cruiser he’ll lead the field, take home
state—maybe even a school record.
But Coach is quick to dissuade. “Don’t buy that shit,”
he says. “You’re just a sack of teeth and wet meat
with strong legs. Old Man Time’ll come around
soon enough to collect whatever makes you worth a
nickle.”
56

Laid out on his mattress with his rumpled sport coat
and two dollar slacks, with his coffee-stained button
down, blown-out loafers and promotional neon
wayfarers, Coach looks like a caricature of a famous
writer or forgettable college professor.
Ricky runs harder to shake off the idea of some
sadistic personification of Time coming to take away
his speed and good looks and twists his ankle in the
process.
He muscles through the pain with a visible wince.
“You ever seen a gun?” Coach says, digging through
the folds of his valise as Ricky rediscovers his stride.
“A gun is a perfect machine with a single purpose, but
whether or not it serves that purpose—”
He produces an overripe banana to illustrate his
point.
“—it’s still a fucking gun.”
Ricky pauses to reflect on that, lighting a fresh smoke
and taking a long sip from his booze-filled Slurpee
cup. “So you’re saying I’m a good runner even if I
don’t win?”
Coach nearly chokes on a mouthful of partly-chewed
banana laughing at that. “Jesus, kid. No. What even is
a good runner? I’m saying get a gun.”
Case y Ch i lde rs

57

Ricky eyeballs his sneakers, unsure of how best to
respond. “But why?” he says, hoping it effectively
articulates how little he understands why.
Coach shrugs. “There’s tall people and there’s tall
people, man. What do you want me to say?”
A long silence passes over the 7-Eleven alley and
neither of the two is in any particular hurry to see it
go. Ricky smokes diligently and considers Coach’s instruction. Coach deftly shotguns a tallboy of Modelo.
“Hey Coach,” Ricky says. “How come you’re like this?”
And the question’s not mean. It’s earnestly curious
if anything, like how Ricky might ask his mom why
his dad gets quiet whenever Ricky walks in the room,
like even if his mom and dad were cutting up before
he came in and his dad was laughing or something,
how the room gets so quiet that it’s almost like the
air is made out of glass so thin that the slightest
sound would shatter it all and kill everyone in there
with the shards.
He asks it like that, and that’s maybe even how
Coach takes it.
“Aw shit,” Coach says. “You know how it is, kid. You
try and you try until, you know, you tried. The rest is
just days and nights. Toss me those smokes.”

58

He doesn’t know what Coach means, but he laughs
a dumb laugh and nods his head knowingly before
tossing the smokes just the same. What he does know
is Cruiser Hawkins isn’t going to beat himself at state.
What he does know is he’s not coming any closer to a
four minute mile so long as he’s standing still.
“Alright,” Ricky says, flicking his cigarette butt
over the alley’s wooden fence and crouching into a
starting stance. The pain in his ankle seems miles
away, dulled as it is by alcohol, and the only thing
Ricky feels with any intensity is the approach of
victory, earned by dint of his implacable spirit. “Time
me on this next lap, Coach. This is gonna be my best
one yet.”
But Coach does no such thing, having passed out in
the fading evening sunlight, and little of what comes
after is of any particular consequence.

Case y Ch i lde rs

59

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