You are on page 1of 91

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 banterof 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

SUBSCRIBE
quietlightning.org/subscribe
info + updates + video of every reading

sparkle + blink 73
2016 Quiet Lightning
artwork Sarah Irvin
sarahirvinart.com
Would You Believe by Miriam Bird Greenberg
first appeared in Missouri Review
Signal to Noise by Robert Pesich first appeared in HillTromper
book design by j. brandon loberg
set in Absara
Promotional rights only.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form
without permission from individual authors.
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the
internet or any other means without the permission of the
author(s) is illegal.
Your support is crucial and appreciated.

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

CONTENTS
curated by

Meghan Thornton + Ian Tuttle


featured artist

Sarah Irvin

PETER BULLEN Author

MADELEINE MORI Sa-I-Gu

5
Arizona
6

Graceland Cemetery,
Chicago, il
8
RYAN JOHNSON Fallon, nv

Fuck for Story


Bitch Be Cool

9
11

CLAIRE MARGINE

Butter Lamb

13

CASSANDRA DALLETT

PETER BULLEN Dinner


LISA LOCASCIO

19

Catch Up Over Drinks


or Coffee

23

BRIGID HUGHES

Cage Free Eggs

25

KIRIN KHAN

Only People

33

HANNA PESHA Homage

39

KRISTIN ACREDOLO

I Ask

41

CHRISTINE NO

Western Ave

45

REI JACKLER

Not the Slut You Think She Is 47

MIRIAM BIRD GREENBERG Would You Believe

51

DANNY SCUDERI

Dear AJ

55

SARAH HENRY

Through the Window

59

EMILY KIERNAN

Country Dirt

65

DORIAN MOFFEI

Between Two Dogs

69

JASON BUCHHOLZ

My Life in 1312 Interactions


with Law Enforcement

71

ROBERT PESICH

Signal to Noise

79

ET
QU I

G IS SPONSOR
LIGHTNIN
ED B
Y

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
Kelsey Schimmelman
secretary
Sarah Ciston
director of books
Katie Wheeler-Dubin
director of films
Laura Cern Melo
art director
Christine No
producer/assistant managing director
If you live in the Bay Area and are interested in
helpingon any levelplease send us a line:
e v an @ qui et light nin g . o rg

- SET 1 -

PPP

PPPPPPPPP

AUTH OR
I love how you do that, she said.
I was flossing my teeth at the time. I felt the warm
glow of her admiration. You know what that can do. I
got the idea I could teach her things, be the well from
which she might quench her thirst. Her long, shapely
leg rested on the rim of my bathtub. I thought to
myself, thats my bathtub, thats her leg.
What should we do now? she asked in a seductive
tone.
I could read you a section from my novel, I said,
immediately regretting it, immediately sensing how
such an answer turns your life to shit.
Whats it about? she said, the light going out of her
eyes, her leg leaving the rim of my bathtub. I plunged
ahead, thinking who knows what; that I might,
through well formulated self- expression, win back her
former good feelings for me.
Well it involves a young man, who shall we say
aspires to be other than he presently is, who wants
1

his life to register as actual, as in...


I dont get it, she said, interrupting and reaching in
her pocket for some gum. Its later than I thought,
she added, checking her phone. I wanted to beg, say
please dont leave; its only nine-thirty and I am not
really a guy who wants to talk about a stupid book. Im
a guy who wants your leg back resting on the rim of
my bathtub, a guy who wants to be admired for the
way I thread that fine cord through my teeth. And I
was just warming up; there are many other aspects of
personal hygiene Id like to demonstrate for you.
I never got to say it.
The door slammed shut. The click-clacking sound of
her heels got fainter and fainter out in the hallway.

MM

MMMMMMMMMMM

S A -I - G U
Four-Two-Nine, 1992
Deep in the desiccation of Los Angeles lawns,

everythings been long half-bloomed.
A cigarette butt, a velvet breeze, now

begins the mid-air humming
of junked refrigerators out the backs of bodegas.
The thin red crime threads are cut,

the lawns gnarl in shadow:
oozing lemonheads glitter on the sidewalk

like the sweat of liquor money
that pools in Uncle Joos cash drawer.
I swab shelves of Soju and Goldschlager,

the Camel and chew, saved
behind this metal cage that lets only dust enter,

as a young brown boy drops a six-pack
of Miller High Life on Joos counter:
How much?

What do you mean how much?
For this man.

Im not selling you this.
3

Why the fuck not?



Because I see you! You steal from here every day!
You dont know what youve seen-that aint me!

Of course its you!
Its always you!
Joo screeches and halts like the Florence St. bus,

Boy curdles like a Sunday egg custard,
hotbox couple above us fucking, then shrieking,

the hairs on my neck all blazing:
The windows broken, the new guns cocked,

the ribs concave, the ears slashed off,
wings of dried blood, resting like a brown ash moth,

swept down the gutter, theyre illuminated,

gone.

RRR

RRRRRRRRR

FALLON, NV
alone at the saloon
cigarette smoke swirls
in wisps of cold light
I ask the bartender
does she have a room
to lie awake in all night
does she get gin
while the gray wool fog
is poisoned by the moon
Im just passing through I said
Im just like this smoke
breathe and Ill be gone

ARIZONA
fingertips on the neck of it
arm resting on the doorshell
I dont know where I dropped that flask
where head out the window I vomited
where it sprayed red as lust all down the interstate
I know my vision warbled as I drove
I know saguaros to lean away
I know coyotes to scatter
I know it was somewhere in Arizona
where a woman cut her wrists opening a pineapple
where the low sun took me in his jaws
and almost whispered me the reason why of
everything but for my body on his tongue

GRACELAND CEMETERY, CHICAGO, IL


we wet our fingers and dipped them in the urn but
the ashes were bland
and I felt less than immortal
he poured them into a plastic thermos and noses over
the rim
we inhaled the plume
but it was spoorless
we tried to scatter them
and became cloaked
in her shadow, pale as ghosts
though statues of marble and weeping copper dross
could see us leave, could smell her
could taste her in the air of our wake
that day we died
more than the passing of an hour would allow
walking backwards toward immortality
as time curved onward and away
hoping to meet her somewhere
on the other side of the circle
in a dark so pure that even death
can no longer see to collect
what is not left for him
what else is the body but an object to smelt and pitch
and see where dross does not collect?
what else is the body but one more thing to put away
at night?

Ryan Joh nson

C
CC

CCCC

CCCCCCC

CC

F U C K F O R ST O R Y

I met Jimmy on the block holding a boom box.


We fucked all night in someones spare room
it was a narrow bed he was dark skinned
with a gold tooth and a deep and lispy voice.
I liked the way he said icy like there were ss and hs
in it
We played H-Towns Knockin Da Boots
on rewind until we tire till the break of dawn
To this day I think of him when I hear the song
though I barely remember his face.
We were in Western Addition across from the
mortuary
A family business where he worked.
A business black folks stay in.
In Jim Crow days blacks were always allowed to bury
their own.
In the ghetto business is still booming.
I was leaving town the next day moving away
but kept his pager # for the next two years
hit him now and again though I think he might have
been married.
When I came back I asked him to pick me up in
Oakland
9

while he was collecting bodies.


It was Christmas Eve I needed to get to the city
spend the holiday with my home girls in Chinatown.
He scooped me up in the hearse
We got the corpse in North Oakland
at one of those big funeral homes
that takes up a whole city block
crossed the bridge with the shiny casket
me and Jimmy.
We never hooked up again after that.
It was just the fact I could say Id fucked a mortician
rode with the dead
seemed like an interesting way to show up for the
party
and I wanted to hear the way he lisped in my ear
when I was on top and we were Knockin Da Boots.

10

BITCH BE COOL
The Trumping of America means no lives matter
means steal up the walls the fences the razor wire
shoot your neighbor especially brown
asleep in their car minding your business
stab brown berets with eagle beaks and talon
stick a flag up their ass for Christs sake
rotisserie
no apology rallies chant about guns guns guns
stew up of the masses water board or worse
call Indian people Isis awwww whats the difference
China, Mexico fuck em all build a wall
where the hell is Syria Iran Fuck that fucking Pakistan
Bomb the fuck out of the whole shit-uation
this is happening though its hard to believe when
the only news on TV comes from comedians
networks love this American Idol election
a more sinister Simon Cowell all cranked up
everyday orange face clown
and I quote
it doesnt matter what the media says
as long as you have a young beautiful piece of ass
Hair club for assholes calls us gold diggers
calls breast feeding disgusting
Hes going to sue you so
dont call him an orangutan
dont call him a liar
Cassandra Da lle t t

11

definitely dont call him for help


unless you got your white sheets on
your torches ready to burn
books borders and bitches
shut up he says security dragging you out
his fans kicking you down
this is red and blue
and oh so white this is for the pigs the dogs the slobs
woman not carved thin and vapid doll
he will talk about your bleeding
say youre gross call you animal
on podium after podium he will curse you all to hell
which is most likely where were headed
in a motherfuckin flag-waving cross-burning basket.

12

CC

CCCCCCCCCCCC

B U TT E R L A M B
Easter is for children and gluttons and ghosts. Aisles
bloom with chocolate bunnies in pastel foil. A busload
of Catholic school children fill the corner donut
store, buying dollar crullers with ash smeared on their
foreheads. Somewhere, someone elses son of God rises.
Polish Easter at my friend Laylas house is family style.
Linen and tweed, flushed bodies in good spring clothes,
painted walls suffused with sunlight. Strangers and
friends gather table-side; we tip back our heads and
slurp Buffalo vodka, full of sting and a wet smack of
grass.
Proper Polish, this spread. The hostess, Layla, luminous
kitchen minx, serves platters of hand rolled doughs,
stuffed and fried. Her feast makes the table groan
and bend its tired back. Platters of the seasons tender
vegetables, skinned and scrubbed and roasted alive.
Taut crackling skin and flesh basted with lemon juice
and rosemary. Even the butter appears sentient. Its a
traditional Polish Easter butter, delicately molded into
the shape of a lamb.
Together, we strangers scrape and saw, point and
13

taste. The magic of bodies at a table: we become


temporary family simply by eating en masse. We have
to brush shoulders, fill glasses. We must put our hands
in the same dishes, pass it left and feed a stranger.
Our digestive systems spend a partys length as twins,
identical pumpernickel and pork fat succumbing to
our bellies scientific machinations.
Its festive and familialhappy Easter, new friends!
Today were all Polish! Except, of course, I really am.
I cant tell you what town my grandfather was from, so
little did we dare to trespass the past. Our Polish family
table wasnt full of the previous generations dishes. It
was my grandfather eating tongue-razing hot soup
10 full minutes before the rest of us touched a spoon
to our fragile buds. How he swallowed a meal whole
and ate the table out from under our elbows before
we lifted a fork. (We learned. Our Thanksgivings take
20 minutes, at most.) My grandfather loathed rice and
potatoes because he ate them raw when they freed him
from his last concentration camp. His stomach, tight
with malnourishment, started and seared, a tangle of
nothing split open and lit. It killed a want for common
starches.
Heres a traditional dish: I dont know.
Heres traditional dinner table talk:You couldnt just
say Auschwitz canteen? my uncle and father would
say if they were sitting here, reading over my shoulder.
14

The room grows warm, thick with our communal


scent---sweating hair and sweet cheese dumplings on
the table, Kielbasa split skin-popping from a grill pan.
Someone exclaims, Layla, where did you get these
butter lambs? Theyre adorable!
Layla is in touch with her Polish roots now. Layla hit
the point in life where she wanted to put her feet on the
ground, dig her fingers into family history and heres
what she found: Her grandmothers kitchen. Family
stories. Polish bakeries and delis. Local shopkeepers
and Polish unions and social clubs. A constellation
of cultural connections that brought her, finally, to a
display of the most perfect little almond eared lambs.
It all sounds so fun. I ask her Are your parents Polish?
and she laughs. Oh no, just my grandmother.
My boyfriend says, Hey, shes just as Polish as you!
I take a piece of bread and eat it roughly. The waning
vodka in my blood stream is slowly dragging its crisp
fingernails across my tender brain. My head hurts.
Just as Polish as me.
In high school I wanted to apply for a scholarship from
a Polish Social Club---my grandfather was Polish, I
was Polish enough. I wondered what it would feel like
to belong to a culture that wasnt a liability. I saw my
fathers MySpace page once and it said the people he
Cla i re Ma rgi ne

15

most wants to meet are his grandparents. A Holocaust


speaker once told my class, Jews can learn how to
speak any language, when asked how he escaped
and leapt from country to country in Europe, an
affectionate shorthand for: The alternative is death.
A bottle is passed, a cloud of sweet boozy breath fills
the dining room. Laylas expectant face wants to
believe we could be cousins. Should she introduce me
to her butcher?
Can he make Auschwitz canteen grub? Can the two
of us sit through the truth and meet on the other side?
Im so Polish that they killed almost my whole family and
everyone left over was tortured into forever survivors.
But of course you cant say that. There is nothing to
say that isnt strictly unsayable and I, rudderless Pole,
have consumed my first relentless slurps of Buffalo
vodka-cold, warm, straight, swirled, ice, a fissure of
cranberry cocktail.
Shes just as Polish as me and just look at her. Ive never
been Polish a day in my life.
Tables are violent. Our rituals are sawing and scraping
and animal flesh in our teeth. Our blood alcohol spikes
and everyone sidesteps around the genocide in the
room. We eat family style, but lord knows were not
family.
16

I dont think revenge is much of a dish. How do you


serve it when everyone is dead? Who do you serve it
to? Certainly not sweet Layla, proffering poppyseed
strewn bread, warm from the oven, letting us all be
Polish if just for an afternoon.
I stay quiet.
I stay kind.
I do not say Holocaust at Polish Easter.
But when its time to cut the head off of the butter
lamb, there is brief violence in my dull table
blade. I slice through the tender butterfat fur,
smash its oily face into a split-open roll
and smear.

Cla i re Ma rgi ne

17

PPP

PPPPPPPPP

DINNER
All the guests were couples. I was the lone single. I
told myself not to think of it as deeply symbolic. I told
myself it might have been a coincidence, or maybe an
act of compassion on the part of the couples. I told
myself it would be over soon, like life itself, it would
not go on forever. Even when I had been doubled, Id
felt single. I didnt understand why. When Id said to
my partner Cathy that I felt single, she said: Well
fuck off then, which kind of confirmed my feelings.
People say its good to have a partner who confirms
your feelings, but in that case it wasnt so good. The
host of the dinner party had not told me that it would
be a couples party so maybe he didnt see it that way.
Maybe he had an enlightened view, and saw it simply
as a people party, and by virtue of me being a person
I was includable. Its good to be includable but you
never know how long its going to last. And I still felt
like the sole exception to something, which detracted
from any momentary joy associated with feelings of
inclusion. I hate when I have a moment of joy and
then a thought comes along to detract from it. But it
always happens. I wondered if the coupled people
who sat around the table from me also felt, on
occasion at any rate, like sole exceptions of a sort
19

and made up for the ensuing discomfort by snuggling


up with another sole exception in a shared bed at the
end of day. I felt like it was a fair enough theory. But
I didnt feel comfortable testing out my theory with a
question, because it simply wasnt the sort of question
it felt wise to pose as the one single person in a sea of
couples. What I have noticed, is the good questions
often have to be shelved, or saved for another time,
a time that never comes. Unless of course there was
to come a time when I myself might share a bed with
another person. But by then it might be too late, at
least too late to pose an honest question or get an
honest answer, one that would lend some integrity to
the research. If you want to maintain your integrity, a
shared bed can pose unforeseen challenges.
Two large bowls of noodles slathered in meat sauce
were passed around. This was a cultured crowd
and the food, which came without a salad, or really
without vegetables of any kind seemed orgiastic and
out-of-place. That consoled me since an out-of-place
feeling was one I felt a special kinship with. A very
drunk woman sat across from me, which I have never
really objected to. As a rule, I rather like it at first, then
later not as much. She placed a tremendous pile of
noodles on her plate. I loved the lusty way she did it.
This is food, Im having some, was the kind of style in
which she went about accomplishing it. I was starting
to admire this drunken woman, who told me her name
was Sandra. I had not asked her her name. Between
mouthfuls, she just came right out and gave it to me.
20

Fair enough I thought, and most sociable. I think


she knew things, like how the real questions seldom
get asked. And she probably could tell that I was an
appreciator of her appreciations, her relationship to
the noodles being one obvious example.
I felt sure she sensed my growing admiration.
In this way she was her own type of sole exception;
exceptionally attuned to a particular type of admirer.
She let me know that she was an artist who specialized
in installations, and said she could place me in one
of her installations because her intuition led her to
believe Id be very installable. I was ready to have her
stick me any old place she wanted. She had formidable
teeth, not something that worried me, and also a stain
on her white blouse that did worry me. I wanted the
power not to fall under the spell of that stain, which
had become, in terms of impression, as significant as
the person wearing it, if thats the proper way to speak
of a stain, as something worn. I made efforts to look
away but was continuously drawn back. I wanted to
alert her to it, but because of its location that felt too
daring, because as everyone, particularly her partner,
would surely know, her breasts were inside that blouse.
It was really the only place her breasts could be. I
wished that the stain had been on her sleeve, because
a stain on her sleeve would have led me to point out
its exact and fortuitously innocuous location. That
would have been perfectly appropriate and even
useful, and I had this theory that women appreciated
P e t e r Bu lle n

21

men who were useful. But a stain shows up where it


wants to, and thats life as Frank Sinatra once sang,
and a great many other people have come to much the
same conclusion.

22

LLL

LLLLLLLLLL

C AT C H U P O V E R

D RINKS O R C O FF EE
Hey. Lets. You know? I understand you are coming to
me dogsleigh across ten thousand miles of tundra, and
I know this is different from what we discussed, but I
hope we can catch up over drinks or coffee.
Hi there! Thanks for the update note. Can I call
you? You had in your mind this vision of the two of
us floating over the city, cocooned in spun sugar and
stuck together at the crotch, but after giving it some
thought I would love it if we could instead just briefly
encounter one another in a crowded elevator at my
office. Seventh floor, one forty-three pm. Be there!
It will be great to hear how you have been! Hope
we can get to everything in the seven seconds I have
allotted our interaction. I know we discussed taking
a room at the five-star hotel for seventy-two hours of
bathing in draughts of each others joy and loss, but
it works better for me to spy you from an opposite
train platform and raise my hand in a wan gesture
of recognition, never entirely sure that its you at
whom I am waving. Cant wait to see you!
We had discussed you painting your name on
23

my back with your tongue, but can we instead have


you do an aisle or two with me at the grocery store?
Definitely New Age Drinks, maybe Ethnic. I know
we said wed descend lost into the city catacombs,
grope forward with only desire to guide us. Right
now Im feeling more of a see each other at the bar
and yell incomprehensibly over the music, meaning to
but never actually talking kind of thing, though. You
know?
When you said that you hoped we could spend time
together, I know what you had in mind. Us driving a
melting black road hellfire down into a void, sunset
optional, our clothes and bags and jobs and lives and
faces burning off and into the nothing behind, until
we are only two energies clinging to the others axis,
your mouths crying onto my hands and cock until
your tears are what we are and the car is just a bubble
and we evaporate into the unblinking eye of the sun.
I know thats what you wanted. But the truth is that I
am terrified of you. In my sleep your desire opens up
in front of me, a red maw, and I tremble. Whatever
toe or foreskin I once dipped in there was quite the
risk, and now I think the excitement I felt when you
snake-moved until your skin came clean off was in
fact horror. For the rest of my life its going to be flatfront-khakied brunettes with a genetically diminished
capacity for pleasure for me, I think. Im lucky, I realize
now, that I got out with my dick and face intact.
I hope you understand. We can talk about it, over
drinks or coffee.
24

BBB

BBBBBBBBBB

C A GE FREE E G G S
The One Where Nagelberg and I Understand Each
Other on a Spiritual Level
Before going to my friend Nagelbergs place tonight,
I stopped by the Haight Street Whole Foods and
asked a white kid with dreadlocks who worked there
if they had any horchata. The clerk looked at my
mouth instead of my eyes as I talked, which made me
uncomfortable, and then he said, Hmmm, lets go
check the soy milk aisle, and I followed him.
I was a little nervous because I had just stolen a
kumquat from the kumquat display for Nagelberg
because, if you ask me, everyone should be surprised
with a freshly stolen organic kumquat from time to
time. In that same coat pocket I had also brought a
small scentless votive candle to give her. You never
know when the next big earthquake is going to hit,
and I hate to imagine my friends in the dark.
On the way, we walked by a wall of cage-free eggs,
which didnt make any sense. Presumably the
chickens are cage-freenot the eggs. I imagined
thousands of eggs walking around a large yard and
chuckled to myself.
25

Theres no such thing as cage-free eggs, I said to the


clerk.
Scuse me? he said.
Never mind, I said.
In the soy milk aisle, the kid sighed and explained
that the Whole Foods in Potrero Hill had all sorts of
horchata, but that they didnt seem to have any here.
No horchata? I yelled. What kind of bush league
Third World Whole Foods is this? He gave me what
seemed to be a sincere apology, but Im not sure because
I have a hard time telling the difference between
sincerity and sarcasm these days. I smiled sincerely and
the kid looked at my mouth again, so I imagined what
it would be like to kiss him. After deciding it might
not be too bad, he said something about how much he
loved hemp milk and I said, Whatever.
When I got to Nagelbergs house and gave her the
kumquat and the candle, she said thank you. Did you
know that you eat the whole kumquat? she asked.
Skin and everything? I said yes, but the truth is I have
never actually eaten a kumquat. No one has ever given
me one.
Then she said, Thats funny, the candle I was just
trying to light is all burnt out and she went ahead and
lit the new one I had just given her. I laughed because
I could never light a candle that way. All mine are still
on reserve for the next disaster.
26

The One Where I Realize Im Doing It All Wrong


Yesterday Nagelberg and I were talking about men,
and for some reason The Helicopter came up.
Whats The Helicopter? she asked.
You dont know what The Helicopter is? I was
stunned. How could a pretty girl like Nagelberg have
gone her whole adult life without running into a
Helicopter or two? Its when a guy grabs his penis
at the base and then swings it around like a propeller.
You know, like a helicopter.
I demonstrated with my imaginary dick and made
the ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch sound of a helicopter. Suddenly
I realized how much I was enjoying myself, and then
instantly hated myself for corroborating Freudian
psychology.
Never seen it, she shrugged.
If I had a dime for every time Id been chased around
a living room by a man doing The Helicopter, I said,
Id have enough money to pay for an hour of metered
parking in San Francisco.
Well, she said. I must not be dating the right type of
guys.
Sure, I sighed. The right type of guys.
Bri gi d Hu gh e s

27

The One Where We Learn French


The other Saturday night I attended a Bastille Day
party at the W Hotel. Despite plans for a Girls Night
guaranteeing drinking, stories about sex, and the men
wed been having it with, my typical enthusiasm for
these activities eluded me.
Id spent the afternoon wandering around naked
in my apartment, as I am wont to do, repeating the
word Bastille, to myself, bass-tee-yuh, thinking about
that time in Paris six years ago when I was berated
by a crpe vendor for using incorrect conjugation. I
paused to check my reflection in the mirror, bass-teeyuh, remembering how inadequate hed made me feel.
That evening Nagelberg and I got ready together
the way we always do. I coated my lips in gloss and
complained about the lack of fish in the sea lately.
Nagelberg said it sounded like a good night for a swim.
I told her I hadnt been interested lately, and she said
she found that hard to believe.
We arrived at the hotel before the other girls and
headed for the bar. Chandeliers, martini glasses, a
$3 coat check. Nothing like the hollow wood of the
spaces I prefer to hunker down in. Two models in
white pouf wigs and thigh-highs offered us Mardi Gras
beads or plastic skimmer hats, all of which generated
an immediate internal list of shitty things to say, but I
corked it because the disparities didnt seem to bother
28

anyone else. Crammed elbow-to-elbow waiting for


the bartender, I heard a hard sniff, then another, and
realized the Suit-and-Tie behind me was doing blow
off his house key. I could see the flex of his jaw, the
tension in his teeth, and for a moment I missed one of
my ex-boyfriends.
I considered ordering a stiff drink but settled on
champagne, suddenly in need of a prop more than a
buzz. Nagelberg got water. A gamey fellow mistook
our smiles as an opportunity to grind his pelvis in our
general direction. I yelled over the techno that Id seen
an episode of Deadliest Catch the night before, and
something about the way the boats got swallowed
by the waves. Nagelberg told me to knock it off and
suggested we wander.
We headed towards the photo area, drawn like bugs to
the bulb. Im the photographer, said a short fat man,
gesturing to black bags of equipment on the floor. Do
you want your picture taken?
Behind him on the thinly carpeted floor was a large
bed draped in red and white sheets. Not a pair to
hesitate, Nagelberg and I kicked off our shoes and
climbed on. We arched our backs and batted our lashes
at the camera. Lift your chins, the fat man ordered.
Touch your hair.
When it was over, Nagelberg rolled off in search
of her shoes. I curled around a pillow and closed
Bri gi d Hu gh e s

29

my eyes to watch the electrical parade of floaters


swimming across my lids from the flash. I could feel
the photographer sit down on the edge of the bed. I
do professional boudoir photography, he said, hitting
the b hard enough to blow a wisp of my hair from my
face.
Boudoir? I cooed, the word betraying the scowl on
my face.
Just then the rest of the girls arrived like a perfumed
missile of clicking heels and swinging ponytails. One
of my friends pecked the photographer on one cheek,
then the other.
Brilliant, she said. I see youve met.
You two know each other? I asked.
Oh yes, she said, wrapping a long arm around him.
Hes the one who invited us.

The One Where Nagelberg and I Deal with the


Cage-Free Egg Issue Once and For All
The other day, Nagelberg called me and told me to
come with her to find some new clothes at the mall.
I didnt want to, but I had to acknowledge that Id
been wearing the same dowdy black khakis and blue
30

sweatshirt several days now, and it would be a good


idea to go shopping out of the need for something new
rather than something practical.
When we got there, Nagel said the big, noisy, confusing
maze of a mall made her feel anxious. And as we looked
at the giant five-level color-coded map for a bit of
orientation, I realized that after twenty-nine years of
avoiding malls because theyre banal and coffinesque
and full of bag-toters who think that buying whatever
they want is the same thing as freedom, they also make
me feel anxious as well.
Lets head for the elevator, I said, steering us towards
Nordstrom.
Once again I was trying not to think about the true
definition of cage free eggs so I said, Apparently
maxi dresses are all the rage right now.
A Nazi dress? Thats absurd, Nagelberg said.
What? No, Nagel. A maxi dress, I said and pointed one
out from the no less than eight girls toddling around
in the long summer sheath.
Whew, she said, clearly relieved, and we laughed like
maniacs just like we always do. Thats a dumb name.
Sounds like maxipad.
Can you even imagine? I said. A Nazi dress? I dont
Bri gi d Hu gh e s

31

care how hip they get, Im not wearing a Nazi dress.


Seriously, she agreed.
Then we found her some jeans, and I bought a new
sweater, and we went for dinner at our favorite place
and had drinks at The Libertine, where drunk guys hit
on us even though we werent wearing maxi dresses.
And in the end it was the kind of night that reminds
you everythings all right, even if cage free eggs are
anything but.

32

KKKKKKKKKK

ONLY PEOPLE
When they lived in the brick rental house on Osprey
Lane, when she was four or five and just beginning to
differentiate her form from the rest of the world and
its inhabitants, Breshnas best friend in the whole wide
world was Katy. Katy was everything Breshna was
notslender limbs to her chubby frame, milky skin
to her walnut brown color, blond waves to Breshnas
oil slick of straight black hair. And most importantly,
at least, so it seemed to Breshna, green eyessheen
stargay, that treasured Pashtun feature, featured in
tribal songs of eternal love, eyes that cause madness
and lust and devotion for the ages. Yet somehow, by
some alignment of stars, Katy loved Breshna. They
played together every dayhiding their My Little
Ponies in the backyard to discover later, riding bikes
and pretending they were horses, dressing dolls
up and parading them through the doll town in
miniature convertibles to parties in doll mansions,
and playing house, or more specifically, Husband and
Wife. Husband and Wife involved the removal of
all clothingunderwear included. The two parties
would then lie in bed naked next to each other and
rub their bodies against each other. The individual
performing the role of Husband is expected to
33

be the more active participant, and is often on top


both parties are expected to alternate husbandly
duties. No kissing. No real exploring with the hands,
absolutely no penetration (How? Where? It simply
was not part of their awareness)more of a kind of
alignment-based frottage, touching as curious animals
do, with the fullness of skin as sensory organ, by feel.
Answering only the question, What kind of touch
would feel nice? and then providing that touch to
ones partner, expecting, and almost always receiving,
that same touch in reciprocity. It was best done in the
late afternoon, when ones parents were napping or
otherwise engaged, and no one bothered to check on
two little girls taking a nap in the bedroom.
Another way of putting it:
The sheets pulled overhead make a secret room,
a flowing, sighing room, shaded but not dark,
feet tucked in, giggling. Skin tingling, glowing,
ripplingis yours?
warm in placescheeks, the center of chest
flush.
skin feels too tight on hands, tummy hurts a
little bit, cramping, hot breath on neck.
air soft and warm, clean sheets and salt water.
Thigh is touching thigh is touching thigh is
touching thigh. Knees rub against each other.
34

Your lips darken and deependo mine do that?


Chest flat like mine. Trace fingers on it, mostly
to get you to trace your fingers on mine
lazy drawings that make skin tingle and bloom.
Bloom.
Mummy reads Breshnas diary junior year and cries for
days without explanation. She picks Breshna up from
school early in the middle of the week without a word
to Breshnas father, saying they are going on a girls
only trip (he never asks for details regarding girlsonly events, assuming they are of a biological nature
so intimate and sacred he cannot dare to breach even
the boundary of inquiry), and drives directly to the
family psychiatrist, silent but shaking, the diary at
her side. Breshna is grateful for the silence, seeing the
diary lying there between the passenger and driver
seats, knowing there are so many reasons contained
therein for her mother to be upset with her, and she
uses the silence to steel herself should this girls-only
trip culminate in a beating. Instead, Mummy pulls her,
gripping her triceps in a solid pinch, into a nondescript,
one story brick building.
She knew her brothers were brought to a psychiatrist
regularly, and that her dad occasionally saw one when
he would stop talking or leaving his room for too long,
but none of the girls were allowed the luxury of a
Ki ri n Kh an

35

struggle with their inner selves or outer realities. She


had never been to this building before.
The white-haired man with fleshy red face, the
psychiatrist, sitting behind his desk squints from
behind his narrow rectangle glasses and asks Breshna,
When did you know you were attracted to women?
What could she say? Im not sure what you mean.
Who else is there?
When did you notice your, erhm, sexual attraction to
women? The doctor speaks slowly, as though Breshna
doesnt speak English. As though she knew the words
for such things in Pashto.
I dont suppose I ever really noticed it. Until everyone
else did, I mean. I suppose I pay attention to what
moves me.
And women move you. In a way that men do not.
Statements, not questions. Breshna pondered that for
a while, gazing down at the lines in her palms, her
fortune written unintelligibly there. Her parents sent
her here. It is an extravagant expense for them, but
not more costly than the rumors of a lesbian daughter
would be. It is a compassionate response.
Breshna? Men do not move you? He presses. She
chews on that while he goes on.

36

Is it the men of your culture? Not all men are like that
you know. Oppressive. Backwards. Youre very lucky
to be in America; there are a lot of good men here, who
would let you work and wear shorts and you wouldnt
have to wear a headscarf. You could, ahem, have sex
with them, you know, erhm, without judgment. Men
are different here. He looks at her sympathetically.
Breshna feels her face flush with a brew of anger and
shame.
No, no, not like that, its not, I mean, theyre not like
that either, its justtheyre just different, is all. It feels
different. Thinking about men makes me tired. Really
tired. At least that much is true. She looks at the clock
behind his head and hopes thats enough to get her out
of there todaya little truth in exchange for a sanity
pass, at least for today.
Who else could there possibly be?
When women have been the focal point of attraction,
the ones she has always been closest to, the only
ones she was allowed to be alone with, sleep alone
with, the ones who whispered with blossoming rose
lips secrets into her blushing shell ear, the ones who
walked by and lingered in the swish of skirt or wave of
trailing dupatta. The ones she touched, who touched
her, before she knew what sex was, what attraction
was, when she only knew who made her feel safe and
who didnt, who was like her and who wasnt.
Ki ri n Kh an

37

Who else was there but women?


When a man was a heavy plodding weapon, a heavy
hand pushing her head down to prayer or a blow
job, all his secrets, all his sex and all his power, all his
and not hers, men with mustaches seated reclining
on cushions in the mens room while she sat in the
kitchen or a bedroom with the women, men reclining
with their legs bent and spread apart at the knees just
enough, as though aiming their genitals at her, holding
her hostage while telling her to fetch more ch.
When women, soft and fleshy, shared some of their
fullness with each other, leaving each hollow in her
body fulfilled. When they left and her bed was filled
with silver glistening on her body and the scent of
salty air and water-soaked flowers in her mouth, hair,
sheets.
When women were the only time and place where
she was allowed to be soft and open, eyes soft, heart
soft to the point of aching, to breathe in and out to
match them. The only people she had touched before
a man forced himself inside her, splitting her from
the inside out with a growl and weight that paralyzed
her.
Women were the only people.

38

HHH

HHHHHHHH

HOMAGE
My skirt unraveled as I wore it, leaving silver sequins
everywhere I went
a slug trail of beauty
an homage to my family.
Listen to the silences of my body.
Where does she wait to be held?
Its okay if words come slowly, a sentence an hour
This is how the world is put together.

39

- SET 2 -

KK
KK

KKKKKKKKKKK

I A SK
I ask but
no one can tell me
where Ive been.
Ive been living outside.
But no one can tell me
where Ive been.
I was chased away,
and my pursuers were many.
When I stopped running,
I was alone in the forest.
Yellow pine, beetle-dust,
needles and amber.
I slept; I awoke
by a small, cold river,
a river of water;
water the color
the color and keenness
of thousands of small cold knives.
I followed a crow, one branch to another, highcrying.
41

I followed a rabbit and burrowed into quaking grass.


I broke the steel surface and followed an otter;
I slipped up under the bank and I hid.
I dissolved into clouds,
splayed thin over canyons.
I dropped from the sky
and into the earth.
I lived in the earth for seventeen seasons, and then
I crawled out of a hole in the ground
like an ant.
There was a scattering of raindrops
cratering the dirt, and then nothing.
Thats how it is for me.
Nobody knows where Ive been,
and no one can tell me.
Ive been living outside.
But where I have been, nobody can tell me.
I heard horses hollow hooves
as they ran past me.
But I couldnt catch them
by their glistening necks,
or their brown manes streaming.
I heard humming, so I followed a honeybee
to the side of a mountain. I found pungent herbs
bruised and clinging to rocks;
42

tangled within their white flowers


were masses of crawling bees,
crawling and crawling, crippled with pollen.
Once a bear on the rocky slope
Shale-slid and tumbled.
I remember hearing
the bear huff-cough
as he struck the earth and slid
in a loud flat clamor of clacking shale,
and how silence drew back at the bottom of the slope
until the bear climbed into his skin again and walked
away,
shaking the heat from his enormous shoulders.
Thats how it was for me
when I was living out there.
But nobody knows where I was.
No one can tell me the names of those places,
Not the place by the river,
Nor the place where the bear fell.

Kri st i n Acre dolo

43

CCC

CCCCCCCCC

WESTERN AVE
Todd says the lights green and were not moving.
Todd says love is a cheap trick.
Todd says he loves The Germsbut wont play them on
our way to The Roxy. Todd says cause its lame.
Todd says he doesnt believe in boyfriend-girlfriend.
Todd says dont ruin it the experience.
Todd flicks my hand from the radio dial.
Todd flicks his Parliament out the window.
Todd calls Parliaments P. Funks.
Todd says noise is the shit.
Todd says Those People move hella slow.
Todd says the shits in the static.
Todd says something smells like fish.
Todd says its this street. Nah,
Todd says its Those People. Yea.
Todd says its their genes, pocket billfolds, thieves.
Todd addsgreen card, green card, passport. Dirt.
Todd says hes got license.
Todd saysflash em your tits.
Todd says they stare.
Todd says Im boring.
Todd saysand their eight kids; yardbirds.
Todd lights a P Funk.
Todd says punk rock is the noise.
45

Todd says love is some bull::shit.


Todd saysget on the bus, man. Honks.
Todd says hed rather eat shit.Todd sighsat the
Mango Lady.
Todd sighsat the bouquets and white buckets.
Todd sighsat all the germs.
Todd says get out and walk, then.
Todd says dont touch the radio. Anyway, he was
joking. Todd cuts off a rusty Datsun, hauling old
stoves. Honks. Todd gives the finger to the kid
riding shotgun. Honks. Todd says he loves Jeeps.
Todd says he loves The Germs.
Todd says he just loves too hard.
Todd says waitand picks a blonde strand off the
dash. Todd has a theory:
Todd says chicks always leave shit behind.
Todd hands me the strand
Like, here, those bitches.

46

RRRRRRRRRRR

NOT THE SLUT

Y O U T HI N K S H E IS
1.
Foster care is not the slut
You think she is
I know, I know...
Her skirts hiked high
Her heels bleed red
Shes a real bitch
Im not arguing with this!
Sure, Foster Care
Got funk, got gunk
Got shit, got splatter,
Foster Carell leave you
Naked on a platter, eaten,
All gone (The way
You ordered it) if you ask,
But Foster Care, shes no slut.
Shes just a Junkie
47

Just wants a fix


Of some home-like substances:
Butterscotch, Christmas Lights,
Whole Roast Family on Vacation, to
Shoot into her veins so hard
It shakes her out of all her
Dresses. Like now. In this bed.
Where youre kissing me.
2.
There goes the best minds of my incarceration led
Half starving, wild, wandering for ice cream cones
Through streets of social working busy-beasts:
Off, to the Soda Fountain Juvenile Detention
Feasts!
To the Candy Cane Sacrifice of CPS house calls!
(Seriously. They took me out for Emporio Rullis
Ice Cream before dropping me at my foster home)
because the government knows that no
matter how little Mint Chip you throw at
kids before walking us to our lynching line,
we wont question why theyve sent us,
we wont question their crimesbecause

48

We just want one sweet mouthful


Before we go quietly
Into our adulthoods
Of numb-tounged,
Homelike-substanceless sobriety.
3.
And now you ask on my pillow
About the cravings as if
Its impossible that
Im still hungry
For food in this mood,
But Im famished.
Quick! Someone get me
A cookie, Im jonesin
For a sister!
Though, sometimes
Your families
Just taste like it, too
Sometimes someones sprayed PAM
And added hot sauce
To hide the bitter taste
Itll leave you, and then
Youre lost in the metallic tang
Biting down like a bear clamp
When you try to love again

Re i Ja ck le r

49

So go on, try:
Keep up your slut shaming
While I stand pretty;
While I redo your tie;
Shudder as if youve discovered
Something might be bitter
In the meat of my thighs,
But dont mistake this
Foster Care kids aint the Sluts you think we is.
No glittery highs and sequined shoes,
No prancin, techno dancing. Not even
Booze. Just nothing left to
Taste, except
You.

50

MM
MM

MMMMMMMMMMMM

MM

W O U LD Y O U BELIE V E

Three blocks from the Cyprus Freeway in Oakland,


which collapsed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake,
with a line by Sue Moon

We climbed from the mouth of a volcano


all year, the year I moved west with my sweetheart
to live three blocks from where the earth had broken
open. Men in the Acorn Projects
remembered pulling strangers
trapped in their cars to safety. Brother,
one told me hed said, we can be afraid
of each other again tomorrow. Twenty
years after, theyd made good
on their promise. By then I waited weekly
in a food line
alongside Chinese immigrant women who fished
plastic bottles from the trash, eyes
roving for a coin, a lost prize, at the curb.
51

Sometimes
Id lift my hand to the lip
look out over the volcanos rim, and there,
in a crevice, a scrap of paper, shining:
someones private prayer
or prophecy. Everybody held out
hope, tended their small hustle. Women knocked
on the door selling broken-heeled shoes, loquats
picked in an abandoned yard, would try the knob
if no one was home. Could I make change
for a twenty, asked someone, unfolding one
shed manufactured from a dollar bill.

Would you believe
what lengths I went to, to call myself
happy then?
Star of blood that blooms
beneath a bruised fingernail, star
of silence left high in the heart of a room
after the doors slammed. A couple sits, watching
one anothers reflections in a mirror. The two
talk like this as evening falls
around them, and neither has the heart

52

to get up and turn on the light. My bodys here


but no ones in it, writes a friend; for me
its different. Id spent my childhood
in a house made of bees; on hot days honey
dripped through cracks in the ceiling. Me, I hummed,
coiled tight. It hadnt been long since Id slept
in a creosote field while grainers crashed
in the switchyard nearby. Actual tumbleweeds
turned like prayer wheels crossing the tracks
and the constellations coyotes called to,
streaked across the night, were more miraculous
than freckles on the face of god. Around then,
hitchhiking past Death Valley, a pair of truckers
stopped for me. I used to haul cattle
to LAX, one said, But I couldnt take looking
into their mournful eyes anymore. I guess I wear
my heart
on my sleeve, he said. They were climbing
through the Sierras to pick up a load of honey, telling
jokes,
they both had wild white beards. I hadnt yet come
in my life to peer over the lip of a volcano,

Mi ri a m Bi rd Gre e nbe rg

53

I wasnt yet made of a cicadas coils


and tymbal. Still, I carried a bit of string, a quipu I
used
for eavesdropping on the passage of time.
If someone had put a knife in my hands, even then,
Id have taken it.
I can hear
two birds quarreling, tangled in midair. Im afraid
one day Ill find myself trash picking, tearing
corners from a twenty. Im afraid Im no longer
lost as the runaway I met hopping a train
out of Colton that summer
who carried a small white jar of her own baby teeth
with her in her pack.

54

DDD

DDDDDDDDD

DEAR AJ
Youve been gone from this earth
Longer than you were ever on it.
The curtain call has been longer than the show itself,
And my heart has been clapping ever since
That day in June
When my dads black Cadillac turned the corner,
Slow with the weight of bad news,
And found me on the sidewalk walking with my mom.
I had just gotten a haircut.
Long on top, shaved underneath.
It was 1996.
So I felt the breeze on my neck
When he told me you died.
That your memorial mass would be on Monday.
He asked me if I was ok.
I think
I dont really know.
Its hard to process never again
When youre just 10.
When the only things that makes sense are
Super Nintendo Mortal Kombat tournaments,
Chicken fingers,
And laser tag.
55

We did all of those in one night.


On one of your last nights.
They never told us the cancer was winning from the
start.
You werent there for the beginning of 5th grade 9
months earlier.
The teachers came in.
They said you were sick
In a tone heavy with defeat.
They said you had cancer in your bones.
We cried.
I dont know why.
Cancer was a word like universe or algebra or
girls
We kind of knew what it was
But we were too young to really understand,
Too young to know how the chemo
Killed your childhood in slow IV drips
Long before the cancer ever did;
Too young to know that the strands of hair youd
send in
As you dealt with going bald
Were road markers on a dead-end street shorter than
we ever knew;
Too young to know that the trip to France for the
miracle holy water
Was a Hail Mary different than the Hail Marys we
said for you at school;
56

But not too young to understand


That watching you fight over those 9 months
Taught me more about living
Than living ever could.
You taught me about time,
About how seconds and hours and days
Are just numbers that were living in
With no guarantee for the next one,
So take a moment.
You taught about laughing,
That it doesnt make everything better
Because its not supposed to.
It makes everything perfect right then,
So do it. Do it often.
You taught me that dreams are taking a few steps
When life is a wheelchair;
And when I saw the pictures of you putting on your
wetsuit
For over an hour because your body
Was more like water than the ocean you wanted to
get into,
You taught me that fighting
Is throwing enough punches with your lungs
Until you breathe enough strength to swim one last
swim.
Your last wish was to ride the Pacific,
Danny Scu de ri

57

To feel the power of nature carry you again


Before it carried you away.
I wonder if the horizon looked within reach that day.
I wonder if you felt your own current.
I wonder what it was like,
To be 10 years old,
Floating in that water,
Knowing what you knew,
About days, and hours, and seconds

58

SSSS

THROUG

SSSSSSS

H THE WIN D O W

We decide that the squirrels are actually fairies because


we want them to be. The afternoons are long and we
want magic. They chatter at us from the trees, we talk
back in earnest. Were invaders in their kingdom, two
small girls squatting in the dirt, poking sticks into the
ground. Both of us in dirty shorts and T shirts. Maya
and I tilt our heads up, trying to catch sight of them
leaping from branch to branch. Theres a mosquito on
her knee but Im not going to smack it off.
Come down, we wont hurt you.
But we will, we hurt things. Maya knows how to fry an
ant with a magnifying glass. She doesnt do it in front
of me anymore because I cry like a baby. But I know
how to snap a punch towards my little brother if he
pushes me too far. We are capable of hurt.
The trees stand straight up around us like were on the
inside of a matchbox. The ground is matted with dead
pine needles and the whole world is brown with the
dead heat of late summer.
***
59

Magic doesnt come. The squirrels laugh in squirrel


language. We go inside because my parents are packing
up the truck to go to the river today. Redwood Creek
has mostly stopped running with snowmelt, and Mom
thinks its hot enough this afternoon to brave the
water. We get ready and Maya hides behind my closet
door to change into her bathing suit. She comes out
all bones. Theres a red dot on her leg where the blood
sucker landed.
Above us, I know there is a blizzard of stars rushing
behind the sky, and that things can hide behind other
things and its possible to not even know it.
***
We swim like were made for water. The swimming
hole is at the bottom of the valley, where the creek
trickles low around the boulders, and then deepens as
it runs below the bridge where the cars race and spit
exhaust into the air. I slip my head down under the
water and open my eyes like Im looking out from the
inside of an emerald. Tiny silver fish dart around our
legs and taste test our skin. We scream just to scream.
***
Mary and I start third grade in the two room school
house down at the other end of the valley. We dont
like the other mountain spawn but were okay with
each other because we live on the same dirt road, and
alliances must be made if one is to survive.
60

Shes the only one that knows how cruel the blonde
boy on the bus was last winter when my parents got
busted for growing weed. I only figured it out myself
because I came home from school and the brand new
yellow generator was gone. I asked Mom where it went
and she said cops and nothing else. All the things we
were to lose as a family would be a slow unfolding
after that.
The blonde boy said he was going to tell everybody and
I turned away and looked out the window at the seam
of the horizon, where the forest met the grey hanging
clouds in the distance. My face was dark with heat, eyes
shining over bright in the glass reflection. I couldnt
face him until I could get pale and expressionless again.
If I turned around I would give us away.
Outside the dark bones of the trees staggered across
the hills beneath their pure white crowns of snow.
***
Hes in the grade below me this year so I dont have
to look at him too much except for when were in the
lunch line. He throws temper tantrums during PE that
scare me. His uncles name is Robbie and they live
on the property just up the way. Robbie hates us for
reasons Im not entirely sure of. I think it mostly has to
do with the weed stuff, but made worse by my moms
patchwork skirts and my dads long hair.

Sa ra h He nry

61

I hang around bored on a Sunday waiting for Maya


and theres the crunching sound of someone walking
towards the door over the gravel and I run to the
window and look out, but its not her coming over
to play. Its Robbie, and hes got a black rifle hanging
across his back.
The dogs go crazy and my mom screams words Ive
never heard before. I wont forget them but Ill never
use them. I just stand frozen and wait for her to give me
a signal about how to act. Im old now, Im the biggest.
My brother isnt home and Im glad he isnt. It should
fall to me to bear the brunt of this instead of him.
Alison is still a baby with a red rumpled face. I worry
about her less because shes too little to remember fear
or pain in concrete bursts like we can.
I know things he doesnt know. I carry the secrets that
my parents are too careless to properly hide from us. I
know that behind the laundry soap in the bathroom
theres a binder full of pictures of naked people lying
close together. Theyre cut and pasted onto college
rule notebook paper. They look like theyre hurting
each other. I think my dad does it but Im not sure why.
Robbie makes his point and goes away, the rifle
glinting in the sun as he stalks back up his road. The
dogs come in, sheepish, looking for reassurance. My
mom apologizes for screaming, also sheepish, looking
for the same thing. I give it to her. In that moment I
hate the way she smiles. I go in my room and close the
62

door and get out my colored pencils. There are fairies


in my coloring book but I picked the wrong colors.
Theyre not pretty like theyre supposed to be.
***
Magic comes but it doesnt stay. It looks around our
house and leaves fast. I get home from the first week of
school and kick off my shoes, toss my purple backpack
on the floor. Mom roots through the cabinets in the
kitchen but theres not much in there. Im hungry but
I dont want English muffins with margarine. The
dogs wag their tails and jump around, frantic with
happiness that weve returned to them.
I go around through the sliding door out back and
climb up the path towards the meadow up on the hill
behind our place. The dogs follow me. Im not afraid
when Im with them, even though the woods are full
of dangerous things.
The meadow is just up ahead, where the trees thin
out and the light is brightest. Dark waxy leaves brush
against my legs in a soft whisper as we walk. The hawk
circling above us turns his golden eye toward the sun.
Pine branches laden with needles drift in the air, and
copper winged butterflies flutter and land on the last
of the calendula flowers. They take their time because
they know theyre beautiful. My teacher says youre
never supposed to touch their wings, its killing them
but its doing it slow and cruel.
Sa ra h He nry

63

Theres a new sharpness in the air, I can feel its brusque


touch. Fall is coming, is perhaps already perched on
the ridge behind us, ready to tip over and flood this
valley with rain and fog and pale lichens. I step out
into the last of the light and stretch out my arms like
Im holding the sky up, bare feet in the dirt and the
broken stalks of dead grasses.
The night will settle soon and bring hordes of
mosquitos and the ghostly shadows cast by the moon
and trees. Time is short before I have to go in. The dogs
sit and wait for me to start walking again, panting and
rolling their dark eyes.
The top of the sunset turns blue and muddy and Im
still standing here, caught in between two seconds,
this moment and that one. Im in one place but I can
sense another. A thing hiding behind another thing.
I bring my hands back down and stuff them into the
arm holes of my T shirt. In a minute Mom will start
the generator and the sound will tear through the
forest like an ugly saw. The lights will come on and
glow orange squares in the dark. Ive seen it before.
I pull my arms free from my shirt and call the dogs.
Their ears flip up and they grin like maniacs, dance
towards the path home like stars.
I walk away but I always walk back.

64

EEE

EEEEEEEEEE

C O U NTRY DIR T
The summer I was sixteen, I spent all the money Id
earned bagging groceries at a run-down supermarket
chain to buy a container of chilled horse semen. I lived
in Pennsylvania, and the big chestnut stallion with
the long neck and expressive eyes who was providing
the spooge lived in California, so this was a high-tech
endeavor. Modern shipping practices. Express rates.
The semen came in a big, silver tube full of liquid
nitrogen, like they store dead alien fetuses in on The
X-Files. The delivery had been timed to coincide with
the mares fertility cycle, and the vet was on call. This
method of impregnating horses is more turkey baster
than IVF and not particularly reliable, so I had already
worked out the number of hours I would spend
looking up produce codes and applying manufacturer
coupons if a second try were needed, but I was lucky.
Just as health class videos had warned me, it only took
one time.
Id been riding since kindergarten and thought I was
going to continue for the rest of my life. Summers
were spent cleaning stalls in exchange for lessons,
horse shows every weekend. We had two horses
my gelding, and a mare who mostly hung around the
65

back field gaining weight. My gelding was getting old,


and the mare wasnt busy, so it seemed reasonable to dip
into my Mikes-Hard-Lemonade-and-ChumbawambaCD fund to breed a replacement. I ended up running
away with my boyfriend six months after the foal was
born and quit riding for a decade, but who could have
seen that coming?
Years later, a different boyfriend tells me about his
adolescence in rural Ohio, where his mother would
sometimes send him off to spend the day with Mr.
Pyles, who drove the semen truck. In Ohio, they didnt
have to rely on FedEx. They had, instead, a truck full
of cow sperm, which would just sort of putter about
from farm to farm on little reproductive errands. This
sounds very All Creatures Great and Small to me.
Ive never been to Ohio, but imagine it is a lot like the
English Dale Country: clattery old lorries bouncing
along the rolling, green hills, a shaggy alsatian nipping
at my boyfriends heels as he jumps down to open a
gate for poor, arthritic Mr. Pyles, dressed perhaps in
a herringbone vest and newsboy capand I realize
I am actually picturing Tristan Farnon, the young
reproductive vet in James Herriots books, on whom I
had one of my first crushes. He was kind of a bad boy,
and most of his storylines had to do with jerking off
bulls.
Childhood is a mortifying thing, best forgotten.
My boyfriend isnt sure why he was sent on these
66

semen-truck ride alongs, but in that time and place


it didnt strike anyone as odd. While we had very
different childhoods, this makes me feel close to him.
We were such good country people, with our little vials
of sperm. My mother has always made a distinction
between dirt and country dirt. Country dirt was
preferable to dirtpreferable even, in small amounts,
to cleanliness. All horse-borne dirt was country dirt.
Jizz too, probably. I think if I ever have children, I
will have to raise them in the city, and this frightens
mecould I Iove such sterile little aliens, without the
fertile tang of earth upon them?

Emi ly Ki e rnan

67

DD

DDDDDDDDDDD

B ET WEEN TW O D O G S
We cremated the dog today.
In its ashes, we found a mechanical
toy monkey with a cymbal in each
hand. The banging of its cymbals
was erratic, like heart palpitations.
We didnt skip a beat,
and got a new dog.

69

JJJ

JJJJJJJJJJJ

MY LIF
E I N 1 3 1/2 I N T E R A C T I O N S
W

ITH LAW ENFORCEMENT

1. My dad plays racquetball with him. Hes on the


swat team and he looks like Captain America,
only bigger, stronger, and Santa Rosas safety is
beyond question, but then, suddenly, hes in a
cast that stretches from his chest to his feet.
2. Kyle and I are riding our bmx bikes through a
construction site, joyfully kicking over colored
wooden stakes which seem put here just for this
purpose when he approaches, pulls a badge out
of a denim jacket, and growls, Get the fuck out
of here, you little shits, and dont let me catch
you here again. Later we decide his badge had
to be fake, because a real policeman wouldnt
swear at kids like that.
3. Erics dad is at work so some of us are hanging
out at his house after junior high one day,
lighting firecrackers. The officers arrive and
ask if we were shooting guns. They draw their
nightsticks, shove past us and into the house,
and poke through the closets. Weve just
learned that this is probably illegal, but we do
not protest.
71

4. Im going to let you go, he says, handing back


my license. I know your dad. I let out my
breath and drive away, my car full of friends
and light contraband, including my homemade
numchucks. Ive studied my Bruce Lee and I
take them almost everywhere. Ive seen too
much shit by now.
5. Officer, I wasnt drinking, I only sort of lie
they didnt catch me, and even to a seventeenyear-old a single tall can of Budweiser is barely
drinking. The cops had come to the school that
night loaded for beara neighbor had called
and reported a team of computer thieves with
crowbars. They arrived, guns drawn, yelling like
gladiators, only to find a few teenagers sitting
on picnic tables, a couple of empties in the
grass. They hauled us in for curfew. My protest
is for the benefit of my parents, who are on the
other end of this officers phone call. He doesnt
really care if I was drinking. He knows it was a
dick move to collar us, and hes trying to make
it sound like hes doing something productive
with his night.
6. There are two of them, both undercover: one
fat, one skinny, like Disney villains. Im about to
touch a flame to a paper grocery bag filled with
all the evidence Dave and I could find at our
friend Toms fraternity house when they enter
the courtyard and approach. Hold it right there,
72

boys, says the fat one. Tom had called me just


as Dave was arriving at my place for a burrito
run, and muttered something unintelligible.
Later I would piece it togetherVete a mi casa
y quite todo. But because I wasnt accustomed
to picking up the phone and receiving criminal
directives in whispered Spanish, I was confused.
What, man? Im in jail, he hissed. Go to
my house and destroy everything. Im stupid
and panicked enough to comply, and now the
easiest sting operation in history is about to
net a pair of perps and a bag full of counterfeit
sports and concert tickets in various stages
of production. Its game day; thousands of
spectators exiting Memorial Stadium would
file past and see me cuffed in the back of the
cruisermy shaved head, my Phillies blunt shirt.
Dave will become a lawyer; Ill become a
writer; Tom will become a Johns Hopkins
anesthesiologist but then a series of botched back
surgeries will leave him disabled, on painkillers,
teaching community college in Oregon, and in
a series of relationships characterized by abuse
and violence. Two will go too far. Six of eleven
charges will stick. Hell be 63 when he gets out.
7. Im waiting for a train at a sidewalk caf in
Aswan, Egypt when a tall, thin man with leathery
skin asks if he can join me. He begins in halting
English; we establish that he is a local officer
Jason Bu ch h olz

73

and that I am a student. Do you study karate?


he asks. Yes, I say. It is actually taekwondo, but
this doesnt seem like the time for technicalities.
Do you love your teacher? he asks. I think
of Dr. Ken Min and his thirty-plus degrees of
black belts, who fled North Korea on foot when
he was fifteen, and supported his family by
wrestling for sacks of rice. Yes, I say. He nods,
our search for commonality accomplished with
surprising ease.
8. Im exhausted, only just barely rehydrated, but
just with it enough to appreciate the unique
experience of watching my own car get pulled
overfrom the vantage point of the cruisers
backseat.
9. Another backseat, but this time Ive been invited
to bring my beer. Id been wandering the streets
of Dubrovnik, getting drunk with a Canadian
schoolteacher and a sickly Estonian, when wed
gotten lost. The patrolmen found us and offered
us a ride back to the old city. They are about our
age, all smiles, probably an hour or two from
beers of their own.
10. Hes in a good mood, nowchatting about his
work on the drug task force as he drives me to
county, a felony-sized bag of marijuana on his
floorboards. If I were a savvy criminal instead
of a nauseous twenty-two-year-old Id be able
74

to see his mishandling of everything up to this


point: his false pretense for pulling me over;
his failure to accept my repeated refusals to let
him search my car. After a long stalemate that
played out on the shoulder of I-70, just east of
St. Louis, Id finally caved when he threatened
to call in the dogs. A lawyer will make all this
disappear with a phone call, but not for some
time. For now, all of my worldly possessions
have been ransacked and impounded. Ill spend
the day wearing orange in a holding cell with
a couple dozen other men, listening to stories
of their ruined lives. Ill eat undercooked beans
and burnt cornbread and shit in a stall with
no door. My parents will wire bail just before
nightfall and Ill spend the night in a nearby
motel, watching monster trucks on TV, loud sex
in the next room.
11. Fuck, Butthead, Harold says. I dont know
what Im going to do. Ive known Harold
since our seventh-grade wrestling teamme
in the second-to-lightest weight class, him at
heavyweight. Now he has three daughters under
the age of six, a commute from Santa Rosa, and
constant overtime in response to the Occupy
movement. Hes always called me Butthead,
both because my last name demands it and as a
memento of our time spent watching the MTV
cartoon. Hes told me stories of responding to
gunfire and being unable to do anything but
Jason Bu ch h olz

75

hold the victim as she bled out. In recent weeks


hes had to pull his gun twice, once when he was
off-duty, pumping gas. Hes in counseling, but
he needs more. Hes not sleeping. All I can say is
that Im grateful there are people like him to do
this job. By people like him, I just mean people
other than me. Deep down I know hes no better
equipped for this shit than I am.
12. MacGruff is here but hes never introduced, and
he never movesjust stands in the shadows in
his threadbare mask, emanating terror through
the theater. I feel awful for my three-year-old
son, whos in the front row between my wife
and me, collecting a lifetime of nightmare
material. A bicycle officer is onstage, talking
about public safety. On his way down the stairs,
carrying his bike, he loses his balance and begins
to tip over, right onto us. I leap up to brace him,
but he rights himself. I got it, he snaps.
13. Three officers stand in my front yard. On a chair
on my porch sits Hasim, an elderly Turkish
gentleman, sipping a glass of ice water. He knows
he used to be a professor of engineering, but
he doesnt know where he lives, or whom hes
supposed to be with, and hes embarrassed. Id
found him in the street, lost, obviously confused,
muttering about car rentals. I brought him home,
got him some shade and a drink, and called the
police, who arrived a minute latertheyd
76

already been canvassing the neighborhood for


him. When they arrive he thinks hes in trouble,
but then he grasps the situation, and he relaxes.
This is such a nice town, he says. One of the
officers gestures towards me. You should be
thankful we have people like him here, he says.

13. Postscript: My friend Harold called me last
week to congratulate me on the release of my
book. He has been promoted to plainclothes
investigator and hes off the street. He and his
wife Shannon will welcome their fourth, a boy,
next month.

Jason Bu ch h olz

77

RRR

RRRRRRRRRR

S I G N A L T O N O IS E
Stop Tata! Stop right here!, my son announces
as we return home from a long evening walk.
He walks to the edge of yet another garden
stretching out his arms
as if to hug someone invisible.
Hello Flowers! he announces.
With his face, he caresses calla lilies, lavender
even the dandelions blooming in the gutter.
He whispers to them. It takes some time,
a secret between him and the flowers.
When an understanding is reached, he stands up
and announces loud enough for the neighbors to hear,
Thank you Flowers! Good night!
Cmon Nikche, lets go home,
thats enough. I say, impatient, turning to go.
Shh! the response as we walk away.
What are they saying to you?
Shh! You talk too much. You are noise!

79

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

info + updates + video of every reading


Read quietlightning.org/sparkle-blink

every past show

Scene l i tseen . co m

calendar + reviews + interviews + purviews

Also by Quiet Lightning


quietlightning.org/books

The Sacred Text of Rosa


Who is Great
by marcus lund
illustrated by stella peach

by

Breast Milk
tupelo hassman

if you want to be one of them


playing in the streets
by zack haber

- april 4, 2016 -