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QUIET LIGHTNING IS:

a literary nonprofit with a handful of ongoing projects,


including a monthly, submission-based reading series
featuring all forms of writing without introductions or
author 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,
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pirate store, a print shop, a museum, a hotel, and a cave.
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2. you only get up to 8 minutes

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sparkle + blink 74
2016 Quiet Lightning
artwork Katie Jenkins-Moses
David, the Cephalopod by Ploi Pirapokin
first appeared in East Bay Review
Up, Apart, Away by Susanna Kwan first appeared in Devils Lake
Alexs Parrot by Sara Brody first appeared in Monarch Review
The Reluctant Artist by Dorothy Rice is an excerpt from a book of
the same title (2015, Shanti Press)
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

Christine No + Bel Poblador


featured artist

Katie Jenkins-Moses

1
Stay 4
CHRISTINA TRAN Leave
TOMAS MONIZ

excerpt from Tendril Wild

Broken Circles

7
10

lily outside the window


13
Maggie
15
BRADLEY PENNER
PLOI PIRAPOKIN

David, the Cephalopod

19

E.C. MESSER

If You See Something

25

BENJAMIN FINATERI Students

29

DOROTHY RICE

The Reluctant Artist

35

E.C. MESSER

Artists in Residence

43

DAVID WELPER Garlic

47

E.C. MESSER

The Avenues

57

MELISSA R. SIPIN

Isnt It Right

59

EMILY KIERNAN

The Old War

65

SARA BRODY

Alexs Parrot

69

TAMMY J. ALLEN

Soul Food

75

SUSANNA KWAN

Up, Apart, Away

83

MAYA SISNEROS Dawn

89

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 -

CC

CCCCCCCCCCCC

LEAVE
1 Fly Stand-By

2 Flee By Boat
When you fly, fly stand-by

When you flee, flee by boat
fly during the off season

leave as soon as you can, and
eat a good meal the night before your flight

dress warmly, dress in layers.
Arrive early

Arrive before dawn breaks
wait patiently as you are bumped from list to list

let go of time, let go of expectations
be prepared to wait until the final flight of the day

be prepared to try again if your first boat sinks
be prepared to not get on

be prepared to not get very far at all.
Try to get onto a direct flight

Try to reach your destination in one go
every layover means the risk of missing a
connection

you might end up in a refugee camp
1

you might lose an hour, you might lose a day



or a week, or nine months, or two years of your
life.
Keep your family close, but

Be prepared to part ways
send little brother along first if you can

go ahead, well wait for the next wave
see you when we get there

see you when we land.
Passenger Tran, please see the ticket agent at the
counter

Theres only one seat left
they will say. They will say,

Were going back to shore
The next flight isnt until 3

But where are the others? you will ask.
Do you want them?

You will ask, but where are the others?
once you are on the plane itself, you can relax.

later you will find out that the others ended up

in Europe
they will continue boarding after you are seated.

later, much later, you will have dinner with

them in Germany
you will be served complimentary snacks and
beverages.

together you will reconstruct the story of how

you all fled by boat
the flight attendants will prepare your cabin for
2

take-off.

together you will remember other aunt and

other uncle and their 6 kids
they will tell you to sit back, relax, and enjoy your
flight.

you will lament that none of them survived
you are on your way.

they didnt get very far at all
Listen as the flight attendant gives your aunt instructions for an emergency water landing

if you are pregnant, give birth after the boat
sinks.
pay close attention to the location of the lifevests

name your son Hoi San, name him Born at Sea.
in case of an emergency, leave your belongings
behind, but

keep an eye on your longings at all times.
in case of emergency, put your oxygen mask on
before assisting others

never leave your longings unattended.
lights will illuminate a path to your nearest exit

see you when we get there


see you when we land

See you when we get there.


See you when we land.

Ch ri st i na Tran

STAY
Wake up on a Saturday morning but
Dont get out of bed.
Dont get out of bed yet.
Lay facing the wall, shades drawn.
Listen to the sounds of
your mom making coffee in the kitchen.

the drawers open and shut, rattle thump

the water fills her mug, glug glug

the teaspoon clinks against the china, clink
clunk

(her white china cup with the violet rose and
green leaves and a delicate line of gold ringing the
rim, rimming the handle)
Dont get up yet.
Listen to the sound of
your dad riding his stationary bike, whirr whirr.
Whirr whirrrrr

(a futile attempt to rid himself of belly fat,

a fat you inherited)
Dont get up yet.
4

Listen to the birdsong outside your window, twitter


chirp. Twitter chirp.
Dont get up.
Dont get up yet.

Decades later, after they have passed,


after the house has been sold, after the china mug
and the standing bike are long gone in a landfill
somewhere floating on an ocean floe,
Wake up on a Saturday morning but
Dont get out of bed.
Dont get out of bed yet.
Read your little pocket computer while ensconced
under covers, twitter chirp. Twitter chirp.
Burrow a little deeper as you
Discover a line in a poem by Jennifer S. Cheng that
reads

Children of immigrants take their houses
wherever they go, its sounds patter and shake like a
drawerful of dishes, cups, utensils.
Nod your head gently, yes yes, and
Listen to the traffic outside your window: whoosh,
hum. Rumble hummm.
Listen to the beating of your own heart beating,
Ch ri st i na Tran

thump thump.

(incessant beating, impossibly still breathing,

a breath you inherited)
Dont get up.
Dont get up yet.
Feel the force of missing them unfurl inside your
chest,
gasp
hush
Dont you dare get up yet.
Stay.
Stay in bed.
Stay in bed

with the ache that means they once existed.

TTT

TTTTTTTT

e x c e r pt f r o m

T E N D R IL W IL D
banana
i envied my friends whose parents bought multiple
boxes of cereal / the choices we had when i spent the
night / at home i woke each morning to my mothers
absence & bananas purchased from the dollar bin /
one evening i complained that i hated them / black
spotted & smushy / my mom tried to convince me that
those were the tastiest spots / the flavor / but i knew
better / they were cheap / they were spoiled / rotten
/ the next morning i rose to find a bowl of bananas
cut up with the bruised areas removed / i threw them
away / desiring only captain crunch & a new mother
raspberries
when my mother splurged purchasing ripe raspberries
shed dole them out two at a time like rewards / like
payoffs / when she was gone id steal ten / lock the
bathroom door / slip one after the other on the tip
of each finger / like ceremony / like foreplay /
revel in the delicate balance between expansion
& destruction / between pushing too far or not
7

far enough / i felt dirty & unclean / i felt excited / in


the mirror id deliberately tease my own mouth / ask
quietly do i deserve this divine reward / id say yes but
think no / id feed myself one at a time whispering
to my reflection flush with desire that i was such a
goodgood child
dates
the way sweetness sticks to fingers / to lips / the way
memory holds what you once fondled in a taste / a
scent / ancient & earthy / like underarms unshaved
smelling feral & hungry / the desire to get dirty / the
gluttony / the hoarding & binging / the way dryearth
& heat create the flavor of darkness & moisture /
search for it under bedsheets / in backalley makeouts
/ in the groping of hand between belt & belly running
through pubic hair / in the tension between thought
& act / in the satisfaction of sucking meat off pit &
spitting pit into air
strawberries
the best things are what we grow / baby to child / bud
to flower / lover to partner / what fecundity we create
by how we love / a friend planted a persimmon tree
over her placenta / she shared the fruits with me years
later while our kids played / i taught my children to
call the cuts & scrapes they acquired strawberries /
bloodred & scabbedover / look what you grow / look
how you heal / once i planted strawberries with my
8

daughters to teach them some lesson long forgotten /


this spring i found the plant again / tendril wild & weed
covered / bearing small red berries / so angry sweet /
so intensely alive / tasting like leaving & returning /
like losing something & finding something else / like
seasons & surviving & harvests & life / like life

Tomas Moni z

excerpt from

BROKEN CIRCLES
i used to hate round things my dad telling me make
a fist circular & solid punching me to show how
hard a closed hand could be made us eggs sunday
mornings regardless of our chants for omelets or a
scramble he always served them fried & flat & round
he had circle tattoos on his hands that didnt connect
broken he called them told me they were a mistake
voice locked & tight
how to heal a broken man how to close the circle
how not to break
my lover laughed at my story said the opposite was
true the world works in broken & imperfect circles
like arms hugging a babys toothless smile the way
a dog spins around & around before sleeping the
word moon sung by nick drake the soft & rounded
edges of the adobe home
my grandmother was born in the fat & plump
sopaipillas my tia makes
one morning my son gathered blue eggs from our new
chickens we marvelled at their warmth feathers
10

still stuck to shell cradling them in the half circles


of our palms like precious things
father you are wrong everything connects nothing
is broken

Tomas Moni z

11

BBB

LILY O

BBBBBBBBBB

U TSID E T H E W I N D O W

inside the window


a cold hard floor
& Coltrane
rivers
on her player
rain
the door

a threshold
we come

to close
theres a look on her
piano keys
they bloom
beneath the cheekbone

soft
steady
hands we press
together
in the leaves

be lily
between

this whitened
sheet & mulch
of several roses
13

the bare & mineral


breaths we take
behind
a petals curve

14

MAGGIE
1. Suppose poem a verb: like love: I poem you, X, I do.
I poem you more than X or Y or whathaveyou. And
like lovedelicate minutiae, time of attention
poeming, like loving, doesnt care to be found out.
Have to. To poem is to love the difficulty of it. The
satin strain. Blindfolded, feeling for silk. To find it.
Have you?
2. 85th & Broadway. Little brown stone Central Park.
A cut just below your lower lip. Probably the Pop
Rocks. The red ones, always. As if color could be
further revealed by slitting. The first taste of you was
a boiler room. Red is a boiler room. Taking the 1 or 2
into Chelsea for blood oranges.
3. Sherwin-Williams on Broadway, Oakland. You
choose Pompeii Blue. I, Meltwater. Most of the
kitchen is an afternoon. An after-the-fact. As if
pastels resolve rich with the sun. We resolve in
swatches of Bluejay. That tweedy bird.
4. This poem isnt about you.
5. Now, suppose poem as fuck. The act of. Holes.
Streams. Knee. Neck. Dimples of spine. Never does
Bra dle y P e nne r

15

this poem mean forever. To fuck as poem is moment. As


fleeting as coming. But Ive come to write. Whats put
down is done. Then again, same with love.
6. But back to this blue jay, the one outside my
kitchen window. Always pining over what makes
another nest. What the other takes. Poems, maybe.
Whatever it is, its always taking. As if to say do you see
me for all my blue? Do you know why I ruffle this crown?
And the mourning dove says nothing, coos slight in a
yellow dusk of window.
7. I used to write poems for you. With you. Now, I
just fuck.
8. In the first essay of Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche
claims the lamb cannot separate strength from
expressions of strength, that lamb holds the bird of
prey accountable for being a bird of prey. Whats put
down is done. The deed done, the deed being everything. The doer: merely a fiction added to the deed.
9. The doer is this poem. Like Nietzsches flash of
lightning, its the deed of the deed. You see, you love,
you fuck, you poem, but its in lieu of action. Action
which brought the seeing, loving, fucking, poem.
Metaphor reacting in metaphor. The act of. But what
does Nietzsche know, anyway? Nietzsche never
fucked a day in his life. Love, yes. Too much, even.
But thats not the kind of love Im talking about.

16

10. To poem, then (I guess), is to will. The blue jay in


meltwater. Meals in the kitchen. To love the fucking.
The fucking being poem. The peeled blood orange of
a subway. To breathe & mirror the verb of it.

Bra dle y P e nne r

17

PPP

PPPPPPPPPPP

DAVID,

THE CEPHALOPOD
1. At the California Academy of Arts and Sciences,
a sign above the octopus exhibition said: No flash
photography allowed at the octopus tank. I wouldnt
want to be on display for the world to see either it
would be too much like my high school in Hong
Kong, where word spread like rain clouds in the
sky and judgment came down like flashes of light.
Octopuses can change colors to blend into the background,
I read in the little information box on the side. I
thought of how cool it must be to blend into the
background at whim; the cells in my body expanding
to camouflage me, my cells responding quicker than
my heart would. At twenty-seven, I had slept with a
hundred men and I could sleep with a hundred more.
I guess my body did respond quicker than my heart.
2. The octopus is an amazing creature with three hearts,
two branchial ones that pump blood through each of its
two gills, while the third is a systemic one that pushes
blood through the body. When I was thirteen, my
French teacher David asked me if I would have
coffee with him after school. We met on a humid
September afternoon at Mido Caf where the
19

shutters were always down, and sunlight shone


through in stripes. He was tall, gangly, and smelled
like coffee. I liked the way his pale hand looked
against mine, the way his yellow beard looked coarse
but was soft to the touch, and the way our eyes were
open when we kissed. Octopuses dont have eyelids,
so they have no choice but to kiss staring at one
anothers pupils.
3. Two-third of an octopus neurons reside in its arms, not
its head. As a result, the arms can problem-solve how
to open a shellfish while their owners are busy doing
something else. The arms can even react after theyve
been completely severed. When David asked me to
buy Trojans from 7-11, I tried to tell him my body
wanted something my neurons could not get together
fast enough to object. He asked me if I had been
with any other man before and I said, Sure. I wasnt
sure if being finger-banged by another thirteen year
old, Jack Whitson, who had announced to his entire
rugby team that I was his girlfriend, counted. But I
was sure that if I had been with any other man, he
wouldnt have mattered then.
4. The octopus is a social cephalopod; when isolated from
their own kind, they will sometimes shoal with fish. At
school, David spent lunchtimes in the staffroom. I
spent lunchtimes watching Jack play rugby on the
field. David would ask me in the evenings if I wanted
to go to the movies for once, instead of hiding in his
cave-of-a-studio. What would Jack say if he saw us?
20

I asked. What could your boy say? David said. No


one would suspect an older gwai-lo with his young
Chinese wife, I said. Octopuses love roaming around
the seabed, collecting discarded shell halves and
carrying them back to their corner. Whenever they
got scared or threatened, they would enclose themselves inside these shells. The truth made us retreat.
5. After a long day of foraging for food, octopuses can
follow their own mucus trail back home, but they
generally use visual landmarks to navigate around
their environments. By November, I had learned how
to make David smile. Learning how to make David
smile meant I knew how to make men smile. I had
complete control when I put the tip of my tongue
gently in his opening, and when I slapped his chest
while sitting on top of him, and when he laid across
my bare chest to fall asleep. Then I would slip my
panties back on, my bra, my white collared shirt, my
beige skirt, and my leather shoes and walk home
undistinguished in my uniform. At dinner with my
parents, I stopped serving my father first. I claimed
the first helping of sea bass, the meat white and juice
running down the sides, breaking the skin with my
spoon.
6. Humans, like octopuses, have almost entirely soft
bodies. The only difference between an octopus and
a human being is that an octopus has a beak. But I
would like to argue that even a humans mouth could
turn into a beak when angry. He can snap, draw
P loi P i ra poki n

21

blood, and break things with his teeth. Jack asked


me why I didnt hurt when he entered. I told him he
wasnt the first. You slut, he snapped. Such a slut.
He drew blood. He broke things in his room that
night, like staplers, his computer screen, his shelves,
his heart.
7. At school, five girls in the bathroom cornered me
to ask how sex felt. I told them that sex with someone
you love felt soothing, like swimming in the Pacific
Ocean, but then they laughed. Their shrill laughter
severed my nerves. Octopuses dont have any internal
temperature regulation, so if you freeze them, you can
get them to the point where they fall unconscious.
When the principal asked me what had happened;
since September, in the caf, in the movie theaters,
at his house, my veins turned into ice. He asked me
many things like, Did he make you do it? Did he
make you I heard them all laughing at the girl
who couldnt keep her legs closed, their laughter
hacking my limbs.
8. After mating, its game over for octopuses. Males wander
off to die. The females body undertakes a cascade of
cellular suicide, rippling from her optic glands through her
tissues and organs. It was 4 p.m. on a cold December
Tuesday, and everyone knew why David had been
fired. Come with me, he said at the school gate. We
can go somewhere anywhere, but here. He put
both hands on my shoulders, his tentacles wrapped
around me, blowing soft, wet kisses on my arms. I
22

wanted the circular suckers to take me and leave


a comatose body behind. Maybe the suckers, too
slippery, wouldnt hold, and I would have to shove
the entire arm down my throat. I felt sorry saying
no. I was sorry that he got fired. I watched him
walk away, my two branchial hearts pumped blood
through heaving breaths while the third one pushed
sorries through my body.

P loi P i ra poki n

23

EEEEEEEEEEE

IF Y O U S

EE SO MET HIN G

A man with a life-sized stuffed goat


and Rottweiler dog
strapped to his rolling suitcase
gets on BART one stop after mine.
Too dirty for childrens parties
and too clean for homelessness,
his act is a mystery.
There is also a mask.
A stale smell of goat and Rottweiler dust.
If you see something, say something.
You have a place you like
to get on the train
one end or the other
the fast walk to catch the front car.
A middle seat, facing forward.
But when Im alone Im alone
with these decisions,
no one to watch me
cross the yellow tiles too early.
25

Alone to wedge myself safely


against the window
staring out at nothing
cant help looking out windows
for the absent view.
Alone with the secret small pressure
of the Clipper card
tucked away in my pocket
and the image I have
of myself riding.
If you see something, show someone.
Im alone with the goat
and the Rottweiler dog
filling my nose with their dust,
whispering their act to me
through plush lips,
how they ran in circles
on legs stiff with batting,
swiveled their stuffed hips
through the hula hoops
of listless hipsters,
how they jumped so high
alongside Fishermans Wharf
that a little girl screamed, smiling.
If you hear something, listen.
26

I am alone waiting for you


to meet me at the caf,
to come home in time
for a game or a meal
if the 24 bus or the J train
or the SFO/Millbrae line
are coming on time.
Outside, the lions heads
fly off the faades
of stuccoed buildings.
If you see something, please, say something.
But it is impossible for me
to be alone in this city,
not when I have
the Tuesday noon siren;
a lucky penny on the sidewalk
outside the now-closed
Lucky Penny diner;
the kindly tone of the lady
reminding me (for my own safety)
to keep my head up and my phone down
while riding MUNI;
the voice of the BART station
assuring me all the elevators
E.C. Me sse r

27

are working;
every one of my
disembodied companions
If you know something, tell me.

28

B
BB

BBBBBBBBBBBBB

STUDENTS
Van, Emma, Xue Xi, Liem, Karen.
They arrive early, time enough to snag a good seat, get
ready. Every day.
Hanna, Moon, Shu Fen, Thu, Javier.
Good morning, Ben.
Good morning. How are you?
I am fine. Not bad. Good. Nice to see you today.
At City College of San Francisco, students learn
English to talk to their children and grandchildren,
to communicate with co-workers, for personal
fulfillment, to enter a vocational program, to become
U.S. citizens, to get a better job, to enter a credit
program, to go to a university.
Warm up: Conversation.
Amy, how was your weekend?
So-so.
What did you do?
Saturday, I stayed home, cleaned my house. Sunday, I
went to Chinatown and bought some food.
What did you do this weekend, Dan?
I relaxed. My friends and I played soccer. It was a
nice weekend.
29

Students talk in groups, then report back to the


class: Lucy worked. Shi Ping went to her cousins
birthday party. Matt watched the Warriors.
Rebekah took her daughter to the movies. I ask
what movie. Frozen. It was good. Sin King stayed
home on Saturday. On Sunday, she went to church.
Mandy paid her taxes.
Adjectives: -ed vs. -ing endings. Claudia tells the
story of the pants.
The problem with the pants was weak fabric, weak
seams. So, Ben reached up to write on the board . . .
and rip. Claudia makes a tearing sound, moves her
hands like shes the one doing the ripping. Ben was
so embarrassed. She laughs, a hand to her mouth,
and finishes with a muffled, Imagine, your pants rip,
so embarrassing.
The future. Yan says, My husband will go to China
for five months. I ask about Yans plans while her
husband is away. I am happy. I am free. Yan is short,
thin, in her seventies; on Wednesdays, she gets her
hair done at the salon. She likes cardigans, blue jeans,
and black Chuck Taylor high-tops. She continues: I
will play ping-pong every day with my friends. I will
win. Yan reaches into her bag and takes out a paddle.
Her face hardens, she swings her forearm, slicing the
paddle through the air with a high follow through.
I tell her, topspin. She repeats topspin; the new
word gives her trouble. I make a poor attempt at
imitating a ball increasing in speed after it hits the
30

table and I repeat, topspin. Yan shows off her form


once more and makes a whoosh sound. Yan will
dominate her friends at the ping-pong table.
Writing class. In February, love stories. The
assignment surprises students. They arent used
to seeing the sentimental side of their teacher. To
prepare, we read samples, truth and fiction; we have
happy endings and sad ones too. After I collect their
stories, I ask for volunteers to give the class an oral
summary of what they wrote. I give them rationale:
I hope to illustrate some differences between the
written and spoken word. Isaac raises his hand. I
was young, only eighteen, but I knew Nee for a long
time. Maybe I loved her when I was younger, but by
eighteen, no doubt. She was my neighbor and she
loved me, but love is crazy, to marry for love, thats
crazy. Of course, Nee married someone else, well, life,
you dont always get what you want, but I stay crazy
and now I love my wife--I married the second love of
my life. There, we have our happy ending.
Simple past. Wei Gou says, I lived in Shanghai. I
worked in a factory, steel factory. I wore a uniform.
We made steel. Wei Gou was born in 1936. Before
his first birthday, Japan invaded China. Next: World
War II, civil war, Mao. Wei Gou lived through
famine and the Cultural Revolution. He is a large
man who moves fast without rushing. He does
calisthenics every morning. He walks to class and is
always early. Wei Gou lives with his daughter and
Be nja mi n F i nat e ri

31

son-in-law, his grandson and granddaughter. He


cooks for the family. He smiles when he says hello
and again when he says good-bye. He writes in neat
cursive with a steady hand and is always willing to
help classmates who might not learn as quickly as he
does. What can I possibly teach him?

Jobs. Betty works at the airport. Ricardo is a
cashier. Helen owns a laundromat. Sandy assists
a fashion designer. Tin doesnt have a job, but on
weekends she volunteers at her temple. Emilina is
a housekeeper. Ruslana was a chemist in the Soviet
Union. Josephine tells us she is a housewife. Sezare
parks cars. Juana works in childcare. David is retired;
he was an engineer. Denia is a handywoman. Fatima
is a mother. Hui works in construction. Sylvia is an
accountant. Ruby is a full-time student. Yan Ping is
a home health aide. Elsa makes crepes. When I am
speaking, Elsa pays strict attention and takes clear
notes. She is good at catching and fixing her mistakes.
She often laughs in class, but is never lackadaisical.
She says, When I came here I made crepes for
eight years. The restaurant closed, I make crepes at
a different restaurant now for five years. Someday,
I will make crepes at my restaurant. Students ask
me, Do you like your job? Of course. Why? I
like words. I enjoy being in front of people. I love
my students. When I see you, I see history, I see my
familys story. You are essential to this country.
The time goes, the class comes to an end, I say, Good job.
32

Good work today.


Students are up and out of their chairs, gathering
books and bags.
Annie sometimes volunteers to erase the board.
The students catch my eye as they leave.
Yu Lian, Kristy, Akbar, Demet.
Have a good day.
Thank you.
Good-bye.
See you.
Have a nice day.
See you tomorrow.

Be nja mi n F i nat e ri

33

DDD

DDDDDDDDD

THE RELUC TANT ARTIST


My father was an artist, a prolific and skilled
painter, sculptor, jewelry maker, and craftsman who
continued to produce work into his eighties. He
sought no recognition or acknowledgment for his
efforts and he never made a living at it. The closest
he came to trying was during the 1950s when
he attempted to sell his jewelry on what is now
Berkeleys Telegraph Avenue.
We could have used the money, my mother said,
with a grudging laugh that has stuck with her for
over fifty years, but your father was never much of a
salesman.
No surprise there. I imagine him sitting with his back
to a wall, legs crossed at the ankle, nose in a textbook,
a forelock of black hair covering his eyes, while
students and bohemian riff raff paused to admire his
jewelrysilver and wood necklaces, pendants and
earrings scattered on a rumpled bed sheet. A blond
beatnik chick in a black turtleneck sweater, sipping
espresso from a nearby caf, might have plucked
an earring from the sheet and dangled it beside
her ear, while her bearded companion, in heated
35

intellectual debate with a newfound acquaintance,


gesticulated and sputtered to make his point.
Oblivious, my father turned the page in his book.
I think he just wanted out of the house, my mother
added.
Which seems reasonable. The last of their four
children was born in 1958, into a cramped twobedroom row house in San Franciscos Sunset
District, three girls in one bedroom, our brother in
the other, Mom and Dad on a rollout couch in the
living room.
I once sat beside my father on that couch. It spanned
the length of the big bay window that looked out
onto 45th Avenue. I would have been around six, for
my knees didnt quite reach the edge of the cushion.
My stocking feet jutted stiffly before me. From the
zoo, only two blocks away, the manic whoops of
spider monkeys on Monkey Island, and the lions
echoing roar at feeding time, found their way into
our living room.
And whos this? Dad asked, turning another page in
the coffee table book on his lap.
Van Gogh, I said.
What makes you say that?

36

I traced a whorl in the black and blue night sky with


a fingertip and watched my fathers face.
He didnt look at me but I detected the hint of a smile.
I imagined Id got the right answer without him
saying so. Dad turned the page to a painting of two
dark-skinned women with bare breasts.
And this one?
I bounced my legs against the cushion.
Gauguin, he said, when I didnt answer. Another
crazed Frenchman.
But not so crazy, I said. The women had a serene,
seductive beauty. Not that I thought in those terms
at six or seven, but perhaps I intuited the paradisiacal
calm of the place from their sloe eyes and languid
arms. There were no frantic, trapped circles, no angry
daubs of paint.
Indeed, he said. Not nearly so crazy. Not so nice
either, by all accounts. Van Gogh had an excuse. Poor
wretch.
I liked Van Gogh all the more for being crazy, unable
to help himself, and for making something strangely
beautiful so long ago that my father revered with a
quiet certitude that was almost a religion.

Dorot h y Ri ce

37

My fathers lifelong relationship with art was


a constant in our lives, from the books on our
shelves, the museums we visited, and the topics of
conversation at our dinner table. Proof of his quiet
labor graced our surroundingspaintings on the
walls, Mothers fancy, going-out earrings, her pearl
and silver ring, the marble-topped coffee table that
set in front of the couch when it wasnt a bed, a lamp
constructed from a turquoise ceramic pot. His facility
for creation was rarely spoken of. It just was.
In the mornings, the ocean fog rolled in so thick
that I often couldnt see to the corner on my walk
up Vicente to grammar school. I would pretend I
was blind and that my foot, tapping the sidewalk out
ahead of me in search of the curb, was my cane. After
school our street was a riot of kids of all ages, playing
kickball, roller-skating, sometimes wandering across
Sloat Boulevard to the zoobefore there was an
admission chargewhere we sieved the sand beneath
the slides and swings for lost coins and merged our
booty for penny candy at the five and dime.
In comparison to most of our neighbors, our house
was quiet and serious. At the time, the lower Sunset
was predominantly Irish Catholic. Our immediate
neighbors had nine children in a two-bedroom home
like ours, the basement a barracks for the boys.
My playmates homes smelled of urine, disinfectant,
fish on Fridays and yeasty beer. Their fathers were
38

ruddy-faced firemen, cops and garbage collectors.


Their mothers kept house and stretched the grocery
money thin to feed many mouths, padding meals with
poufy loaves of Wonder bread and the other white
foodsnoodles, rice, potatoes.
Mom made our sandwiches on brown bread. For
supper she served vegetables that didnt come from
cans, a leafy green and one of another color. We
werent Catholic and didnt attend Mass. Dad was
a public school teacher, art and English, with a
Master of Fine Arts degree in painting. Mother had
graduated from UC Berkeley, where they met, with a
degree in anthropology. But perhaps a more obvious
dividing line between us and our neighbors was
our fathers ethnic ambiguity. Half Chinese, half
Hungarian Jew, hed immigrated to the United States
from the Philippines as a teenager, with his mother
and sister. His complexion was sallow, his hair thick
and black, his eyes dark brown.
My mother says your whole family will burn in hell,
said Eileen, one of the nine from next door. I was
eight. So was she. Age and proximity made us on
again off again playmates, if not friends. We sat on
my front steps, our spoils from the zoo in two neat
rows between us, matching sets of pennies, nickels
and dimes. We both eyed the one outlier, a shiny
quarter dollar, a coin my father called two bits. She
said it should be hers, because she had to share. I said
Id found it so the quarter should be mine.
Dorot h y Ri ce

39

My dad says your dad is a spick, said Tommy, one of


seven from across the street. With his brother, hed
wandered over to see what we were so intent on,
both of them in short pants that showed their knobby
knees and bony-white shins.
Yeah, a beaner, his twin added.
My mom says youre nothing, Eileen said, shaking her
shiny, auburn pigtails. Thats why youre going to H,
E, double L. She cupped her mouth with her hands
and hissed close to my ear, with enough force that I
felt her spittle.
Eileen shoved her share of the coins in her pocket,
including the quarter, squared her shoulders, and
stomped next door to her own yard. Tommy and
Timmy followed in her wake.
My sister Roxanne, older than me by four years,
found me pouting on the step, chubby cheeks
burning, fists clenched in anger.
Lets tell Dad, she said, yanking me to standing.
We found our father in the basement, building a large,
rectangular frame, nursing a bottle of beer.
What grave injustice is it now, fair Desdemona? he
said.

40

Dont call me that, I said, pushing out my lower lip.


He shook his head, chuckling, and I got the idea that
he and Roxanne knew something I didnt. She told
him what had happened with the neighbor kids.
Anybody asks you what you are, tell them were
members of the intellectual aristocracy, he said.
What does that even mean? I said.
It means our parents went to college and we dont
have any money, right Dad? Roxanne said.
Precisely. Were overeducated paupers. There are
worse things to be. He shuddered. Wouldnt it be
awful if theyre right. Well be thrown into the fiery
furnace, to weep and gnash our teeth for all eternity.
He shrugged and reached for his beer. Ah well, no
use worrying about it now.

Dorot h y Ri ce

41

EEEEEEEEEEE

A R TISTS I N R ESI D E N C E
Emerging from Broadway
that strip of strip joints
the man in the olive green trench,
its double breast unbuttoned
over pajama pants.
The strident walk, white hair.
He is on the way to cheap
Chinese food or coffee.
Caffe Trieste, grousing at a sidewalk table.
Hes a North Beach regular,
my husband tells me.
Ive been seeing him around here for years.
Kin to the naked man he knows
from the North Beach pool,
making his way
through the locker room in the buff
talking politics, movies
to anyone wholl listen.
Hes paid his five dollarssix, now
not to swim, but just to shower. And for palaver.
And kin to my Marcia,
43

Brautigans beautiful Marcia,


whos come to the bookstore
to buy his forty dollar biography.
See? Thats her, there in the picture.
That blonde
wall-eyed now, and walking with a cane.

44

- SET 2 -

DDD

DDDDDDDDD

G A R LI C
Part One (Prelude: To A City)
My recipe is this,
epic
And Americana, one thing leads
to another
Thats how past becomes
present
Its the skin of it
The taste of trial and error of it
Feel and simmer it
Bring it back
Got fascinating rhythm and blues
and it all came together but
not how we planned it
The plot twist
and shout
Shout RIOT!
What are they doin?
Doin in heaven today?
Drove cross the river like modern Gods,
which is the bridge
47

The bridge of
just my imagination running
away with me
This cannot be
Be happening
There is an epic part of town
Last person in line under the Woodward marquee
The last person dancing in the streets
They came cross the river divided
They came by car by foot
The huge dreamers
And in truth
And in hangin on
Just imagine it,
you wrote
And stop
And cut
And action
Live action news
of rhythm and blues riots
They drive cross bridges
They drive cross to ground
They drive Woodward
And action!
One two three go!
Riot in America on tv
What are they doin in 67?
What happens in heaven stays
in heaven.
Wet cats stray on the streets
down alleys
48

run
Theyre singing in the streets
Summers here, time is right
Now. One more time
Cut
Take two
The divide caught on tape
The bridge at 11
America, were done for the day
Signing out and good night
live from Detroit
Detroit, your body
like a river of sound and the sound is
a woman so fine so smooth
Summers here
Lipstick pocket in my imagination
Just my running
away
Come with me to places we dont
understand
Summer curves and the time is right
In cars. In backseats
Imagination
taking away with me

Part Two (Verses: For The City)


So I sat in a coffeeshop in Oakland today
Because of what didnt happen, something else
Davi d We lpe r

49

happened and a replacement happened and I


sat and the owner comes cross with a bag of
groceries
I smelled it. Tasted it. Peeled the skin back but never
saw it
and picked apart cloves in my hands. Running away
with me
Chopping, but never saw it. Superstitious and a
daydream you can feel it all over now
All over eyes closed in a coffeeshop in Oakland. I
feel beats in mybrain and smell it but
how do I say garlic without saying garlic?
Why did I assume that man was the owner?
~
Stevie Wonder? Please, have a seat. All over all over.
Feel it
Believe in things you dont understand please. I see
the beat in my brain its a history for Detroit
I take him by the hand in the coffeeshop in Oakland
feel vibrant fingers running cross keys in my
hearts highground. My hands become keys too
running away with me. Something you dont understand believes in me my pain and ordinary me
I take his hand. Now I feel Ive lead him to my home
Hear laughter through the window in my kitchen.
Im outside looking in. Into my own city
Keys open doors too
Mr. Morris, sit down and welcome
50

~
I smelled garlic that day in Oakland and running
away referred mybrain by nature naturally to associated senses of living in Detroit. Livingbreathing Detroit. Then to other things and situations
looking back living back those days. Thought of
a corner market.
Stood in line to pay for garlic
We all pay for something now or later or sometime
or other. Cash or credit. Paper or plastic. And so
on. And
so on
Soon well cross that bridge
Well get there Stevie says, history has tears but
it has joy too
Imagine it
The song in your car in rush hour slays you
running away with the lover you lost. You gotta
shout about it cry about it to somebody whos
knowin about it
Babylove,
where did our love go?
Your broken heart stops traffic and imagine that,
running away
My imagination with me in my kitchen in my city in
mybrain by nature naturally as love goes. Shout
about it. Dance about it
Shake it and boogie on. Are you coming back soon?
My hands become ribbons
Davi d We lpe r

51

when I think of you


Running away. Running away
Here comes the chorus moving through me. Ordinary
me. My kitchen. My city. Here comes
the thing I dont understand but just go with it.
Believe in it
Believe
~
I was at a coffeeshop in my imagination in Detroit
running kids to catch the river. I was there
I wrote two pages and they both seemed to have
images in them. Images of songs
Of cars. Songs in cars dodging potholes. Imagine the
struggle
I wrote my list. I memorized the recipe two pages
long with short imagery that day sitting in
Oakland but being in Detroit. Imagining Stevie
seeing me
Because something didnt happen, something else
happened
I come home
Its a recipe. Its a symphony. An epic
These are measurements. Brainbynaturenaturally
~
I made this before
I know ingredients and recipe by heart
I made it up
52

How do you say cup without saying cup?


How do you say Detroit without saying Detroit?
You say handful
You say pinch of this pinch of that and there you go
You say there you have it
I made tears of joy
~
History is a curve I feel in my hands I see it naturally
running away and looking back
backandforth. Stevies hands are calloused. Sneakin
out the backdoor he asks
why did those days have to go? Out of sight my
imagination superstition running along
Looking back
Youre not allowed to look back, boy
Get a grip, boy
Cant smoke here, boy
Get a radio, boy
Radio boy
Radioboy is how you say Detroit is how you say
mybrain
~
I lived on the deadend street snuggled up with guns,
boy
I open the window in my kitchen. Let out the steam
and aroma of my recipe. One thing leads to
another and my ingredients rushing out into the
Davi d We lpe r

53

streets. An ambulance catches up


with heart attacks
Miracles are happening, Radioboy
Radioboy looking back
Cant do that, cant do that
Makin a tune in turn out shout out and lookin back.
Its magic
Its everlasting
Its a poet in galaxies
The river was there. Radioboy was there Stevie
sings as he leaves
makes it seem too long ago,
flashback to an island in the river
and the stagnant boats, the downfall
Toss coins in the fountain
and believe in superstition
Dont stop looking back and living forward. The city
in September
History comes with tears
History comes with measurements
Neighbors still moanin makin love
Movin on. High school bands practicing along
Woodward. Radiobandboys I recall
out my window
And the mugging goes on like before in the rain on
the corner. Just my imagination jammin
til the break of dawn
~

54

I made my recipe in my kitchen in my city in mybrainbynature naturally


I realized a pot can be covered, but a city cannot. My
city boils on the beats roll on
looking back
You can do that, Radioboy. I feel like I just got home,
faster than before. Speed limits are measurements too
A cup of time. A poem on the radio. A queen gives me
goosebumps
Goosebumps are measurements on my skin
I peeled garlic looking back a curve in my hand I feel
it in flight. History comes with joy too.
Stevie sings, Joy is measureless, Radioboy
Imagine that. The city singing about me in me of me
taking off like love does
Up and away and overjoyed in my kitchen in my city
Imagination running away like a river dancing and
alive still
~
Still they come cross bridges in songs
They come together in bars
Bars are measurements in music I realize and
remember an old family recipe
where teaspoons are still measurements
Where a puddle is a measurement in Detroit
A cloud a measurement
A city a measurement
A city a recipe
Davi d We lpe r

55

A radio a boy
A boy hangin out the window
The window of tongues tasting it all in rhythm
Recall the garbage and graffiti on Woodward, the
abandoned vehicles on bridges. Ambassador of
joy
in measurements of decline but
still together
still they come cross
with half a mind to measure your soul, your rhythm
living in the city in your kitchen
where and when youre alone
Where and when the daily struggle is done. And you
find yourself
And you ask yourself
how do I say Detroit without saying Detroit?
just by feeling it deep within your heart
just by moving.

56

EEEEEEEEEEE

THE AVENUES
So much depends upon
the 31 Balboa line,
running hesitatingly inbound
from Ocean Beach
to the Ferry Building.
Behind me,
a middle-aged man is eating
imitation French pastry
from First Cake.
Wax-paper bags
of Russian strudel and piroshki
grease the seat next to him
Moscow & Tblisi Bakery Store,
the place with huge meringues
like pink coiled fists.
His fingers make the sound
of soft butter.
An old woman catches me
immersed in my iPhone,
asks to call her husband
to meet her at the bus stop.
57

She wields two hand carts


and a shopping bag full of groceries.
Tiny and in her eighties, maybe,
she straddles one cart
and grips the other
her bag and body spread across
the seats reserved for the elderly,
and people with disabilities.
I dial the numbers
as she points them out to me;
we do not share a language.
She speaks to him rapidly,
then hands the phone back
with a nod of thanks.
My stop comes before hers,
so I miss the meeting
the hand held up
to the kneeling front steps of the bus,
the exchange of fresh vegetables
spilling from the canvas bag.

58

MM

MMMMMMMMMMMMMM

I S N T IT R I G H T ?
1.
The hair is troubling the girl. The hair is frizzy, long,
with streaks of blonde and the girl does not like the
black stands or the gray ones and it is because of a
memory with her lola that the girl is always troubled
by the hair, the pale nails, the wrong colored lips. The
girl is short. The girl is not beautiful. The girl tries to
be beautiful. The girl likes painting black wings on
her eyes because it makes the shape seem almond. The
girl has a Spanish nose. A kind of winning prize for
the girls lola. The girls lola once said: anak, dont you
understand, a girl with your face ought to marry the
first man who gives you attention. A girl with your
face, di ba?
2.
The girl has a sister who does not have a Spanish nose,
but she is beautiful. Twin moons, twin mirrors. But
the day her sisters beauty emerges, when her belly
swells, when she is but sixteen and is placed in a
white dress to confess in front of the wholechurch,
her beautyher lola sayshas been tainted. Isnt it
59

right, lola says. The girls sister agrees. Years later, the
girls sister spirals, exchanges love for attention, and
when she is twenty, her belly swells again, but this
time the familia approves.
Dont you see, the lola says, your sister finally
is marrying at the right age, to a decent mana
white man, ay naku!to give me great-apo, greatgrandchildren. I am not here for much longer, the
girls grandma points at her head, there, there, theres
something here. The doctors say its a tumor in the
brain. The girls sister scoffs: shell be fine, hasnt
she always been? The sister laughs when the girl
mentions the war. But our grandfather, the girl says.
He was a war hero. A guerrilla fighter. And the tumor,
its from traumafrom lola being the wife of a war
hero, dont you know what a Comfort Woman is? Do
you know that lola was captured during the war? The
girls sister is always scoffing: dont you see, Dolores,
you think youre better than me. Having children
isnt anti-feminist, Dolores. I didnt have time to ask
questions we shouldnt ask or spend my days studying
wars already fought like you. Tell me, when are you
getting married? Dont you want the attention? With
the way you dress? With the kind of face you have?
3.
The girl hates any man who gives her attention. The
attention always begins: Wow, youre so cute I can
put you in my pocket. The girl will want to say
60

Fuck youto the man for saying her body would


fit in a pocket of a man no bigger than her father or
brother or uncle but she will be pleasant and say: why,
thanks. You can leave me alone now. The girl doesnt
fit in any kind of pocket or community, or maybe she
has always felt entrapped like a pocket that perhaps,
she thinks, the white men are right: a pocket, let
her be a pocket, a pocket of fucks, and what would
that look like? Not beautiful, she knows. Whore-ish.
At home, the girl is the only one left unmarried. A
dalaga. An in-between. A discarded piece. A marker
of shame. Di ba, her lola will tell her, di ba, dont you
want to get married? Her sister will continue, repeat:
a girl with your face.
4.
The girl will be unpleasant to her lola. The girl will
say: Fuck you to her lola. The girl will love only her
lola. The girl will one day lose her lola. But the girl
will keep a portrait of her gray- haired, surgically
perfect lola with snake-like eyebrows tatted on the
white skin and at night the girl will hold it in her
palms and say: Im alone and fat because I dont have
tatted eyebrows, and she will laugh. During the day,
the lola will look back at her with eyes burning and
say: maybe you need to fuck, di ba?
5.
But the man who gives the girl attention truly loves
Me li ssa R. Si pi n

61

the girl who holds a complexion like the girl owns.


The man will say: Oh, but youre so beautiful. The
man will say: Youre not like other women. The
man will say: You are pleasant. You are kind. You are
submissive, giving, and most of all you are beautiful.
Look at the skin, the porcelain or cinnamon shaded
skin the almond eyes the big ass the breasts the
breasts the fingers the high pitch voice that gives
me a high like the black hair the black hair isnt it all
beautiful isnt the girl with the eyebrows so threaded
isnt she beautiful? The man will not understand.
A doll, arent you a china doll, the man will say, in
compliment. Doesnt she understand? A doll, a doll
like the one from his boyhood days living on the
banks of the L.A. River with the hot, dry air and the
rushing lights the houses crowded together the miles
of freeways and the loneliness of an abandoned cat
in heat and the loneliness of a house abandoned and
foreclosed, rotting in the city, alone with a doll, a doll,
a doll that is beautiful: dont you understand the doll
is beautiful? That you are beautiful?
6.
Years later, the girl cannot come with the man. With
any man. The girl will disagree: I am not beautiful,
you do not know what beautiful is, dont you know, a
doll is a doll and I am not a doll nor can I fit into any
pocket and my family thinks I am a whore and I hate
the skin on my body, and dont you know, white man,
you are all the same: fuck-you, she will finally say to
62

a man who grabs her ass at a club in downtown Los


Angeles, fuck-you and your dolls, and she will walk
down a crowded, busy street, hitch a cab home, and
rekindle a friendship with a U.S. sailor who makes her
laugh like her father.
But is he different? He is brown. Filipino. Two brown
bodies intersecting in the haze of the dry, sticky L.A.
heat.
Does he not call her beautiful like a doll?
The girl will then marry a man who resembles
her father. Like her grandfather. A liar. A gambler.
Hustler. The girl fucks a man who hurts her like her
father. The girl becomes like her absent mother. Her
desperate sister. Her dead lola. Absent. Leaving. Gone.
The girl does not believe she is beautiful. The girl is
not beautiful. The girl is a discarded thing. A cheated
on thing. A broken thing. The girl is light-skinned
and the other woman was dark-skinned and the girl
wants to kill the lover of her husband and the girl
rages against the dark-skinned woman she is not kind
this girl the girl who is not beautiful the girl whose
hair troubles her the girl who thinks too much of skin
color of hair frizz of white men of dark men of men
like her father and she weeps to learn that she has
become exactly like her mother.

Me li ssa R. Si pi n

63

7.
It is night. It is day. It is a dark street in a faraway
city thats as hot and dry as the polluted skies of Los
Angeles. The girl sees her husbands ghost-like ship in
the distance. The girl kisses her husband good-bye for
yet another thousandth time. He waves from on top
of the hanger bay. He does a cartwheel. The boogie.
The hustle. He makes her laugh. He disappears into
the darkness, the mouth of the carrier, among the
faceless bodies of U.S. sailors covered in blue, the
rows of war jets, the silent machine guns, the silence.
She walks away. To another hotel and sleeps in
another bed and looks out the windowalone again,
always alone. She calls for her lola. Di ba, she says to
the night sky, to the heavens her lola believed in, di
ba, di ba, to you, I call, di ba, did you know, di ba, is
this right, di ba, Im finally married, do you hear me,
di ba, just like you wanted: a military guy who always
leaves me, the girl mouths, just like lolo who always
left you43 years, didnt you say this, lola, you were
married for 43 years and where did he die? Alone, in
the Philippines, alone, am I not alone, are you not
alone? The girl laughs. In her best singsong voice, a
voice that resembles her lolas, she hums: isnt it right,
di ba, isnt it, a girl with your face, who doesnt want
to be married, right? Di ba? Isnt it right?

64

EEE

EEEEEEEEEE

THE OLD WAR


In my grandparents attic there is a ghost named Levi.
He is an old general from an old war, and built the
house a long time ago. We know he is there because he
once woke my Aunt Sarah with a hand on her throat.
She screamed and screamed and woke everyone in the
house. She wasnt harmed, but nono, I wouldnt say
he is harmless.
When I was a child I was afraid of ghosts and wouldnt
go up to the attic alone, but now I am more afraid of
monsters who are alive. Levi was an old general in an
old war, and I think he must have done something
worse than frighten a girl in her bed one night. When
my grandparents were alive, they built an atomic bomb.
Since theyve been dead they havent done much at
all. They haunt me a little, but only in old letters and
pictures and books that I read, and sometimes I wish
theyd put a hand on my throat so I could know that
they were there, and that I am right to be so afraid.
I am writing a book about my grandparents who built
an atomic bomb. Books and letters and pictures
only know so much, but Levi was there long before
them or me, so I go to ask him questions. I go to
65

the attic I was once afraid of and sit cross-legged on


the bed, over the checkered quilt that has always been
there, which covered my Aunt Sarah as she screamed
and screamed at the hand on her throat.
Levi, I say, do you remember my grandparents? Do
you remember my aunt and my uncle and my father
who all lived here once, and me when I was a little girl
afraid to come to this attic where my brother and my
cousins liked to play?
He does not answer, but only rustles in a box of
picturesor maybe it is the wind.
Levi, I say, are my grandparents ghosts here with
you? And if so, in what ways are they haunting? And if
so, is history itself haunting and does living in it make
one ghostly?
There is a chill in the air, a draft from the outside,
where it is winter, just after Christmas.
And if you have done something worse in your life than
to frighten a girl in bed one night, maybe something as
bad as building an atomic bomb, do you have to haunt
the places you did those things, or do the things you
did come to the place you lived and haunt you there?
There are footsteps by the window, a flickering of the
lights.

66

Is it true that my grandmother fell in love with the


twentieth century and gave birth to an atomic bomb?
Rain falls outside, and birds are spooked from the
eaves, clattering wings.
Do ghosts remember their children?
All my children, he says, are also ghosts.
Is the 20th century haunting its children?
Centuries dont have children, he says, adjusting the
scabbard at his waist. They are children themselves
their whole lives through.
He puts his hand over his brow and stares into the
distance as if scanning the ridge for the movements of
enemy soldiers.
Sometimes, he adds, straightening his epaulettes,
they have monsters instead.
The window rattles and he jumps to attention, drawing
his saber and advancing into the air above the yard. He
spars with someone unseen, delivers a fatal blow. He
wipes his blade and returns to the attic.
Everyone I have ever loved was born in the 20th
century, I say.

Emi ly Ki e rnan

67

He shakes his head, grows kindly under his voluminous


mustache.
That isnt good, he says. Perhaps you should have
children of your own. This century is still young
enough.
But shouldnt I be afraid, I say, of monsters?
He doesnt say anything to this, but he comes to sit
beside me on the bed. He smoothes the wrinkles from
his coat and his heels click-click upon the floor. He
removes his hat. His hand is very cold when he puts it
on my throat.

68

SSSSSSSSSS

ALEXS PARROT
I am beginning to worry that my parrot is ill, but he
dodges interrogation. Ill say, How are you feeling
today? and hell say, How are you feeling today?
Ill say, Do you want a Ritz Bit? and hell quote
Nietzsche. He once belonged to my brother Alex,
who is dead. A lot of people I know are dead.
This happened when I was sixteen. That night I sat
up in Alexs room with the parrot, watching the lava
lamp. At around three in the morning I tucked the
cage under my arm and crept downstairs, intending
to take my mothers car and leave, but halfway down
the stairs the parrot started shrieking and woke
everyone up. My mother didnt ask what I was doing.
She stood at the top of the stairs in a floral-print
nightgown and said, Tim, youre so tired. Tim, go
back to bed. She was an ugly crier. Her face would
swell like a blowfish and she never bothered to
wipe away the snot from her upper lip. Under the
circumstances I endured it and slunk back upstairs.
My parrot has gray feathers and black eyes and
looks so proud when he puffs out his chest, the
little bastard. That year we ran away from home
69

a total of seven times; the furthest we ever got was


San Luis Obispo, when we took the train instead of
my mothers car. It was he who doomed me, of course.
My mother told the police that her son had run away
in the company of a parrot who never shut up. We
escaped, finally, when I was eighteen, and no one
could stop us anymore.
#
When I was a child, my mother liked to vacuum
the living room. The rest of the house, like so much
else, was a chore, but in the living room her lips
twisted into what we knew was a smile, what others
mistook for a grimace. The television on. People
dying someplace strange and hot. Politicians in hats.
She couldnt hear it over the roar of the vacuum, but
stared.
Almost no one in San Francisco was born here and
I think we all have stories like this, something that
sent us running. My father in pinstriped pajamas; I
remember that. Hes dead. He had a flushed, bloated
face, like a drunk, but he never drank. I have his
hands, enormous, thick-knuckled hands with great
blue veins that snake down the wrists. My friend
Emma says, No one notices. I promise, no one ever
notices.
She sits now at my kitchen table, on which the birdcage sits, and says, Claire, I think your parrot is dead.
70

Hes just sick, I say. Hes fine.


It is a Sunday in June, and fog shrouds the city in
pale, weighty light. It is the time of year when things
vanish. The parrot hunches on his perch and pants.
I join Emma at the table and say, We tried to teach
him to deliver letters. Alex and me.
Fun, Emma says.
He jumped into an empty swimming pool. Headfirst.
Did I ever tell you that?
Uh-huh.
A swan-dive. Splat. What a way to go. He didnt leave
a note. The guy couldnt string together a sentence,
at least not on paper. I guess we had fun. We tried to
teach the parrot to deliver letters.
You just said that.
When I was a kid, I say, my family used to rent this
cabin up in Yosemite. Yosemite in the summerthe
light shoots between the redwoods in stripes. Cold
nights. My mother made sun tea every morning. She
was a regular sun tea wino. My father wore a panama
hat. I honestly liked them allon those trips, at least.
I kept telling myselfyou knowif I could just
throw harder, if I could catch the biggest fish

Sa ra Brody

71

Claire
Im talking. Anyway, this one summerI was
fourteen, I thinkI met this boy. His name was Greg
and he was a little older, a grade between me and Alex.
Blonde, skinny. Jesus Christ. I wonder what happened
to him. He was the kind of kid that you could tell was
queer, but not for any particular reason. There was
just something about him. So I started hanging out
with him, and we started fooling around, andwell,
I was terrified, but at the same time I felt so relieved.
I thought, Okay, Im gay, this is what were dealing
with. This is whats wrong. Emma. Dont give me that
look. I know its not easy to be gayIm not saying
thatbut I knew what it was, you know? One day
Greg and I went in my familys cabin while everyone
else was on a hike. My mom was a slow hiker. She
took pictures of everything, and brought binoculars
to look at the birds, and little guidebooks that had the
names of trees. She had to know what the trees were
called. We figured, all right, its going to take them a
million years, well be fine. But Alexgoddamn Alex
he came back early. He hurt his knee or something
and walked right in on us. I was an altar boy, Emma.
I was. So Alex looks at me and I look at him, and
he just turns on his heels and leaves, without even
closing the door. I ran the hell out of there. I figured
Id climb a tree and stay there until I starved to death.
Night came. The stars were bright and so big; when
you grow up in Los Angeles, you really notice them. It
got cold and I got scared, and all of a sudden I heard
72

this rustling below me and I thought, This is it. I have


to jump. I have to die now. It was Alex, of course. He
climbed onto the branch right next to me and said,
Do you want to hear a joke? I thought it must be a
trick. He said, What did the big chimney say to the
little chimney? The little chimney is too young to
smoke. I said, Damnit, Alex, thats the worst joke
Ive ever heard. He said, Come down. Everyones
looking for you. I knew him. I guess I knew him. He
used to laugh at Leave it to Beaver reruns. Who laughs
at Leave it to Beaver? He would say, Hey, Tim, Ill give
you ten bucks if you write my English paper. Hey,
Timmy. T-Bone. I knew him in the way you can know
a stranger, someone youll never know. Like maybe
you see some old lady at the farmers market, just
staring at the tomatoes. Picking them up and feeling
them. She has to get the right tomato, the plumpest
and juiciest. You look at her and for some reason she
seems so beautiful for doing that, and maybe your
eyes meet. Maybe her eyes are blue, or brown. And in
the evening she comes to mind again, and you think: I
wonder how it would be if we ever really met.
#
When I was fifteen, my father caught me trying to
strangle myself in my bedroom. He said, You want
to know what pain is? Ill show you what pain is. He
never once hit us and his voice, when he spoke these
words, was firm but unconvincing. Mostly he was
confused. I could tell from how he squinted at me, as
Sa ra Brody

73

though I was far away.


Emma has left and my parrot is dying. I take him
from the cage and hold him to my chest. The
dishwasher hums. He looks at it and whirrs back,
feebly.
To this day I have no idea why I wanted him. I dont
drag around my childhood on purpose. Long ago my
brother got a parrot. Often I ask myself: What did he
know about pain? In the empty pool his skull cracked
on impact; the coffin was closed. I wore a black suit
to his funeral and cried, not for him, but because I
caught my reflection in the windshield of the hearse.
No clap of thunder can overwhelm the echo of lost
years. A body cant trap you; its something else that
does. On nights like these I look out the window and
tell myself that somewhere, someplace, the world
must be easy and kind.

74

TTT

TTTTTTTTTTT

SO UL F O O D
Im hungry. Every fiber of what remains of my being
is hungry, and I can never stop that hunger. Even
when there were still humans, screaming and hot as I
tore their stringy red meat from their bones, I starved.
That moment of rolling relief as I swallowed their
flesh was followed by a yank of yearning for more.
This isnt all my fault. We all left too much behind to
rise up and eat. A bite or two of a thigh, a handful of
intestines, sometimes wed just slurp on some blood
and get bored with what we were eating and move on
to the new thing to eat. At least now, now I can focus
on one thing. I need to eat.
The skin on the back of my scalp finally tears and
folds back with a fwump. Gingerly I touch my skull
with my three remaining fingers on my left hand.
Can I eat my own brain? I probably could, but then I
would die. My arm drops and I continue my shuffle
through the meadow to find someone to eat.
I dont think there are any living humans anymore.
There arent many like me anymore either because
weve been eating each other. We are not as
75

wasteful as we used to be. I am still moving, still


going forward. I need food. I deserve food. No one
will eat me.
Theres a mall. People go there, whether they are like
me or not like me. Someone besides me has to be
there. I think I can reach it before it gets dark.
In the parking lot there are the charred remains of
cars collapsed in the beds of weeds that sprout from
the splits in the asphalt. A rusted-over van lays on its
side with its doors torn off. My leg hits the engine
and now Im on the asphalt. Something black and
gummy burns on my face.
I have to keep walking.
Walking means I have to get up.
Hunger drags me up on my feet and pulls me towards
the wall of wild bush that separates the parking lot
from the bleached stone walls of the mall. I press
forward, breaking branches that tear bits and pieces
of my skin off. I struggle through it until I reach
the first pillar of the mall entrance and lean on it. I
look up at the few faded blue pole banners flapping
lazily in the cool breeze. A memory stirs up about
the California missions, Padre Serra who nearly
lost his leg while on his quest to San Francisco, and
Im making a model mission out of Styrofoam and
decorating it with little plastic animals and tin bells.
76

The memory fades away and hunger stabs me so


hard that I want to throw up. I stumble over broken
glass and through the threshold. Afternoon sunlight
floods in from the entrance and onto several clothed
skeletons tangled up at the foot of the escalators. I
make my way through the mess and survey the area.
Whatever flicker of hope I had for food is snuffed
out. Dust floats and swirls onto the picked-clean
bones that are strewn about with more broken glass
and warped metal grates. This place has been raided
ages ago butbut it cant hurt to give the place
another look, can it? I cant be the only one, whether
my kind or not, whos wandering around here looking
for something to eat.
Walking helps with the hunger pangs. Looking
for food helps with the hunger pangs. I look into a
frozen yogurt shop, the fruit fermented into brown
goop in its rusted metal containers, but there are still
several jars of sprinkles. I hold a jar up high and pour
the rainbow butterfly sprinkles into my mouth. A
lot of sprinkles bounce off what remains of my lips,
down my shirt and onto my bare, mottled feet. I taste
nothing. No reprieve from my hunger, but my hunger
isnt any worse. I drop the jar and move on.
The rest of the food court is just as disappointing as
the yogurt shop. I find bones scattered over sporks,
the greasy ghosts of fried food splattered on the walls.
When I start to hope that I will find something edible
Ta mmy J. Alle n

77

in the freezers, I discover that they are the cleanest


rooms in the whole mall.
Theres nothing here. There will never be anything
here anymore.
There are no more living people, there is only me.
I dont think there are others like me anymore either.
It has been a long, long time since I have last seen
anyone like me. Do I want to meet someone else like
me? It would be pointless. I would just eat them, and
then I would be alone again.
Suddenly I double over on the wall of a clothing
shop. There has to be someone I can eat, there has
to be! I wont die from this hunger. I wont die. This
hunger will just keep tearing at my mind, always
unsatisfied, always screaming to keep moving until I
find someone, and then after Ive eaten I must go and
find another and another and another
I crash into one of the clothes racks, the plastic
hangers snapping under my weight. A long moan
rumbles out of me as I lay collapsed. As I pick myself
up, a small, guttural croak echoes from the back room.
I can eat. I can finally eat.
I rush through the clothes racks and slam through
the fitting room door. The pink plastic stalls are all
78

open except for the large one farthest away. Another


pathetic croak. This is someone like me. They wont
ease the hunger pains as wonderfully as a live person
would, but that doesnt matter.
A woman sits in the corner, her torso and half of her
face bulging with mushrooms. Those mushrooms,
their brims flaring wide and glistening red, blue, and
green. Her bland gray eye looks up at me, a bud of a
new mushroom growing from under the top lid of
her bruised skin. She makes no attempt to move, but
croaks again.
If I stay here, then the mushrooms will grow in my
body and I wont be able to walk. If Im not able to
walk, then I wont be able to look for food. If Im
not able to look for food, then I can never stop this
hunger. I have to leave.
Its been so long, though, since Ive seen someone else
like me.
I have to keep moving.
I step towards her. I have to eat. I have to eat her.
Ill be infected if I eat her.
She opens her jaw and with her purple tongue, she
tears one of the mushrooms off her cheek and pulls it
in her mouth. Her torn skin on her opposite cheek is
Ta mmy J. Alle n

79

a window for my curiousness as her blackened gums


crush the fungus and she swallows it.
Hunger gores me, demanding why Im standing here
gawking at someone like me eating a mushroom.
I need fresh blood and meat and bone to ease this
pain. This other one, she must need to eat too. These
disgusting mushrooms dont help her, they only stop
her from searching for food and I need food.
She plucks the largest mushroom budding from her
kneecap with her uninfected hand. Her arm shakes as
she holds it out to me, fat maggots oozing from her
triceps. I cant remember the last time someone tried
to give me something.
I take the mushroom and kneel down next to her
fungus-infested side, her eye following me. I stuff the
mushroom in my mouth.
It tastes like what Ive missed for so many years:
Christmas cookies and horchata and orange
chicken and Dads menudo and Nerds and Pepsi
and restaurant macaroni and cheese and flourless
chocolate cake and peaches and oranges and so much,
one flavor after the other after the other after the
other. I sit next to her, and push up my flap of skin
to cover my skull again. This time she raises her hand
and offers a bright blue mushroom that grows from
the tip of her thumb.

80

I take it and eat it. The memories of foods I enjoyed


while I was living nourish me like nothing else.
I dont know if were the only two of our kind left
in the world. I dont know if well spend the rest of
eternity like this, but if we do, I guess it wont be so
terrible.
At least Im not hungry anymore.

Ta mmy J. Alle n

81

SSS

SSSSSSSSS

UP, APART, AWAY


We escaped as a unit from the ground. Our twilight
lift-off was shaky, but my sister held me tight. They
tried to force us downthe crustaceans clawing, the
retriever barking and thrashing in its collarbut we
remained just out of reach. In the backyard, an angry
gardener waved his rake, and fanged trout snapped
at our toes but were yanked back by the boulders to
which they were tethered. We pushed up through the
soupy air. My sister had brought her abacus, and as
we hovered she made quick calculations of distance
and speed. As she ticked beads I swung a hook in a
figure-eightchipped the crabs claw, pierced the dog.
We could always work as a team in emergencies.
Soon we were as high as our housetop, past the front
gate, the irate animals, the dining room window. The
last night our family ate together had been months
ago. Our mother, who had not yet stopped speaking,
whose back, hunched like a weak stem, kept her
from most activities, served spaghetti, and our father
grilled rabbit steaks. He had just taken his first drink
in ten years. The skin on his knuckles was still
unbroken. We sat stiffly at the table as the wall
clock kept time, and the four of us shared a cup of
83

cherries for dessert.


On the roof a film of gray water collected, the
evaporating smell stale as spit emptied from
trombones. Our house shrank. The trees that lined
our block were now tear-shaped with curled tips, like
the tops of yogurt cones. Silos were nailed into the
land, which was marked with swatches of mustard
and coral and violetdrowned crops, erratic patches
of poppies. Dull pulses of orange light marked fires
burning below. We floated above a rich sweep of
green, roads withered to snaking lines, and my sister
pulled a fishing rod from her sleeve, cast it down with
the expert crack of her wrist, and reeled up bunches
of lettuce and vines for supper.
We ate the raw catch, fibers caught in our teeth, and
continued to rise. Minutes later, the earths surface
appeared puckered and embossed, painted with farm
plots that looked like fish scales or rotted honeycomb.
The air around us whistled, like the sound of breath
traveling through cold brass. A scrambled network
of wayward roads and streams fed into other
parts of itself, an accidental system susceptible to
contamination.
Now we could see oceans licking at the land,
temperamental, flickering between bluesteal above
the reefs, nearly black in deep pockets, with fast
sparks of gold where the water caught sunbeams. We
could no longer locate or even estimate where our
84

house stood. I thought of the spot in the backyard


where we would dig up roots and make impressions
in the soil with our knees and fingertips as though we
were planting ourselves, before our mother called us
in for dinner, before storms erased our marks. Around
us, clouds rumbled and arranged themselves in rosy
clusters, blurring the spread until I could not name a
single thing I saw.
My sister held me tight with one hand and gathered
bundles of dense cloud and sky debris with the other.
She tried to fashion a raft but it fell apart. Hissing
stars plummeted earthward in uniform bands. On
occasion we failed to dodge them and they seared tiny
holes through our bodies.
It wasnt safe up there, but it was safer. We didnt
encounter gunshots, weaving trucks, mute mothers,
or fathers high and with rigid fists. But birds with
metal wings flapped by, slicing the air around us in
disregard. Meteors and blinking metal boxes tumbled
by uncertainly on their trajectories. Soon we were
too high to send fishing wire down to collect meals.
As we climbed through the dark, everything began
to constrictmy shoes were too tight and my lungs
shrank. I wanted to tear my sisters arm from my
waist. The air was thin and cold, and I began to
wheeze. My sister cupped her hand over my nose and
mouth, giving me a mask that warmed the air and
enabled me to breathe.
Su sanna Kwan

85

The skin around my eyes crusted, my ears grew


numb. My legs ached as though they had been pulled
earthward by magnets. I had never felt so tired. My
hand loosened and lost hold of the hook, and my
sister let out a weak wail as it spun and glinted out of
sight. We have to be more careful, she said.
I missed pancakes and falling into cornfields to hear
the crush of dry husks. I wanted to watch television
tucked beneath an afghan beside my silent, still
mother. I said, I cant wait until we go back, and my
sister said, Dont be stupid. She was irritable from
keeping watch and holding me close. She admitted
we were running out of options.
Her proposala simple graftled me to the decision
to separate from her. When we were younger she
dreamed of becoming a surgeon but had instead
taken to plants. She had some experience from her
internship at the nursery, said she had a clean knife
and could do some splicing, some suturing. With the
two of us attached, her hands would be free for other
tasks. We had the same blood anyway. The seam at
the junction of our skin would smooth over in time.
As she spoke, an uneasy ache streamed from my
sternum to my toes. I pushed her away, but her
grip on my arm was secure. I was startled by my
weightlessness and the stretches of void in every
direction. I was relieved she hadnt let me go just yet.
The buttons on my coat had burst in our struggle. My
86

clothes felt too small, and the sleeves pinched my


arms and split at the elbows. The silence of space was
utterly frightening.
You understand what this means? she said. I pictured
usconjoined, our skin sewn together, hurtling
through infinite galaxiesand I said I understood.
Im supposed to take care of you, she reminded. I
told her she had done an admirable job. The stitching
at my shoulder came undone. In the morning, then,
she said.
Before her spine stiffened so she could no longer
easily stand, our mother would carry us both in one
arm, kiss us with a salty mouth, the broken ends of
her hair prickling our faces as she conducted with
an invisible baton in her free hand and danced us to
sleep. My sister held me close that last night as we
drifted. Even her hair wrapped around my shoulders,
pulling me in. I clung to her and dreamt. I dont know
if she slept.
When I woke, I was alone. My surroundings looked
the sameit was dark, cold, vacant. A note trailed in
the still air as though a copper bell had been struck
minutes earlier. The sound circled me, twining
around my ribcage, tightening into sure knots. She
had tucked a few wilted leaves into my belt and made
rough cuts in my cuffs so I would not outgrow my
trousers so quickly. I could not tell which direction
of this empty sea she had chosen for her departure.
Su sanna Kwan

87

I thought I could smell her hair, hear her stern


voice, but all around was only deep, clean space. I
was struck with a bout of what felt something like
homesickness, only it was vaster and not directed at
any place in particular.

88

MMM

MMMMMMMMM

DAWN
Babys breath in the air
and tattooed marks
left from days of anxious teething.
We awoke early we
the crepuscular
and we felt the sun for the first time
against the curve of our cheeks
and the shield of our brow-bones.
It burned and we smiled
stupefied
because suddenly life
was worth losing.
It hurt to keep our eyes open
it hurt even more to blink
and miss a thing.
The world swallowed us whole
threw us down
its rolling hills and dewy fields.
We sprouted fangs
we sprouted claws.
We took shape.
We bruised and cried
we made each other bleed.
89

The awe
was everything wed hoped itd be.
We held the knives like children,
pressing them against
the cool of our forearms,
and traced the winding vines
of indents on our ankles
left from rusted iron links.
It is not that we seek to break
the fleeting, feathered things:
we only want to hold them
in the cradle of our jaws.
Ugly as you I flail
my heavy flightless limbs.
Beautiful as you
I trace and memorize the ripple
of your crooked spine.
What are we
curling against our knees
mesh of flesh and extinguished stars
torn to pieces
by the sight of falling leaves?
We are webs of spider silk
so vulnerable
to human touch.
We build each other
and dismantle one another
when terrorized by
the unmet promise of a home.

90

How long until twilight comes


and do creatures like us
have a place beneath the sun?
We run from shadows
and chase down light
until our muscles ache.
When we are tired and heavy,
the sun sets without us
and the night is a blanket
we cannot escape.
This is refuge:
the crook of collarbone,
the cage of limbs.
We hold each other with claws
because we know no other way.

Maya Si sne ros

91

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