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a literary nonprofit with a handful of ongoing projects,

including a monthly, submission-based reading series
featuring all forms of writing without introductions or
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sparkle + blink 92
© 2018 Quiet Lightning

Thomas Gardea
Jenny Qi’s piece “How Men Deal” first appeared in Atticus Review.
book design by j. brandon loberg
set in Absara

Promotional rights only.

This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form

without permission from individual authors.

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Your support is crucial and appreciated.
su bmit @ qui e tl i g h tn i n g . o r g
curated by
Sandra Wassilie + Charles Kruger
featured artist
Thomas Gardea |

ALEX PETERSON Masks and Disguises 1

EMMA WEBSTER Thanks for the Memories 3
NATASHA DENNERSTEIN Petrified, fearless 5
BRIANNA NELSON Never the Chameleons... 15
JOSEPH SUTTON My Across the Street Neighbor... 17
LISA MARTINOVIC Go Rogue with Me 23
JAMES COTTER Rallying Cry 29
EDDIE WRIGHT Three Red Buttons 31

MICHAEL PALMER Waiting for the Train 43

PEGGY SCHIMMELMAN Here, There is a There 45
ABE BECKER Ode to Rob’s Closet 51
CARSON BEKER Night the Devil 55
LENORE WEISS Breaking Out of Jail 57
CASSANDRA DALLETT In this Game of Thrones 63
JENNY QI How Men Deal 65
ANDRENA ZEWINSKI Into the Drink 67
DAVID JACOBSON Into the Nebula... 69
FATIMA NASIYR Indomitable 74
LUCY HILMER Remnants, January 2017 81
ANNA ALLEN Small Death 83
EMILY DEZURICK-BADRAN The Werewolf in Love 87
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 QL board is currently:

Evan Karp executive director

Chris Cole managing director
Josey Rose Duncan public relations
Lisa Church outreach
Meghan Thornton treasurer
Kelsey Schimmelman secretary
Laura Cerón Melo art director
Christine No production

If you live in the Bay Area and are interested in

helping—on any level—please send us a line:

e v an @ qui et light nin g . o rg

- SET 1 -

The first time, maybe you eat a cookie you aren’t

supposed to or knock a vase over and watch it shatter.
No one sees you do it. It’s just you and the deed.
Your mother finds out, asks what happened, and you
stay quiet. So, nobody did it, she says. Mr. Nobody.
From then on, he is your constant companion. Who
played connect the dots on the bathroom wallpaper?
Who face-painted your brother with nail polish? Mr.
Nobody acquires a bad reputation. It isn’t really lying;
it’s just a game to play. Mr. Nobody extends his hand
and pulls you along.

For Halloween, you are a wizard, a vampire, a

cowboy. One year, you are Sherlock Holmes. You
wear a deerstalker cap, hold a magnifying glass, take
your grandfather’s pipe. There is nothing better than
being someone and something else. You walk from
house to house and never break character. Elementary,
you mutter, the game’s afoot. The neighbors hand
out full-size candy bars for the best costumes and
performances. Can the ballerina spin? Does the lion
roar? You watch the other kids make believe and
they do it so well. The bigger the disguise, the better
the result. Quietly, you make your deductions.

In high school, it isn’t cool to like anything but doing
something is unavoidable. Play a sport and you’re a jock,
take theater and you’re a weirdo, do well in class and
you’re a brain. Every decision is a choose-your-own-
adventure book, but you can’t cheat and peek ahead
to see how it turns out. So, you try to float between
worlds, shape-shifting depending on who you’re
talking to. Yes, you like that band. Yes, you’ve seen that
movie. Yes, you skateboard. Yes, yes, yes. If you say yes
to everything, you believe you can be anyone. You’re a
chameleon that adapts to survive. No one dislikes you.
No one can say you aren’t a little like them.

As an adult, your relationships depend on certain

silences and white lies, delicate maneuvers with
strangers, coworkers, family, even your significant
other. Occasionally, when you’re caught off guard
or angry, you might say something true—piercingly
true—and for a moment the mask slips. But that’s rare.
Your closest friends will say you’re honest to a fault
and you’ll nod to show them you agree. By now, you’re
such an excellent liar that only you know it.


It’s interesting what memories come back to you if

you invite them in, if you let them stay for some coffee.

I’m quick in life, I take my coffee to go.

But memories can’t be held in to-go cups, they don’t

care about time. They’ll come and they’ll sit and they’ll
stay through your not-so-subtle hints that it’s time
for them to leave and they’ll ask for refills and slurp
loudly as they recall that time, that night, remember
that night? When you asked him to stay? No, they’ll
correct you, begged him to stay, yes I’m sure that you
begged, you do remember begging, don’t you? Well if
you didn’t before you surely do now and hey while
you’re up another refill please?

You don’t really need to invite them in, memories will

come anyways. They’ll find a bobby-pin and open your
locked door and come in unannounced. They’ll get
under the covers with you while you’re trying to sleep,
sit down next to you on the couch, pull up a stool by
you in the kitchen and they won’t apologize for
the interruption, no they won’t even acknowledge
it. You thought you were rid of me? they’ll ask and

they’ll laugh, you thought I’d go away! Well I won’t,
not now and not ever, and hey what about that one
Monday in March when he said he didn’t need you,
when he said he didn’t want you?

No he didn’t cry, he didn’t even look sad, don’t you

remember how he didn’t even look sad? Well if you
didn’t before you surely do now and by the way, how
about some tea while I’m here please?

You can put in some cameras, you can change all the
locks, you can hire a security team. But they’ll come,
oh they will come, they’ll find their subtle ways
back to you. They’ll dress up as the guy serving your
coffee, they’ll disguise themselves in the laugh of your
neighbor, they’ll turn themselves into the glasses on
the faces of strangers. And then they’ll vacation, for
just a month or so, and you’ll sigh, feel relief, and exhale
them free. Then you’ll put on a record and celebrate
them gone, but there you’ll find them hiding, in that
beat, those first notes, the 1,2,3,4. They’ll peek their
voices out from the chorus and say remember this part,
remember this song, remember how he used to dance
with you? Well if you didn’t before you surely do now,
and would you mind getting me a glass of wine?


I loved the amber necklace that my nana used to wear.

A mighty forest tree leaked yellow sap;
a tiny spider crawled out of the ooze.

The sticky yellow gum formed little puddles

encapsulating anything that fell there.
The globules were tumbled on the Baltic ocean floor,

plucked from the seafoam and polished by men,

turned and made oval, strung on a thread,
the miniature arachnid bead-frozen inside.

Infinitesimal particles of nana seeped in,

through the amber surface, over the years:
skin flakes, hair-strands, working sweat and bitter tears.

My nana fled from the chaos that was Europe -

her burgundy, cardboard valise clutched tight -
with her necklace on her, here to the bottom of the

Atlantic, Pacific: steerage bunks on merchant ships,

valise and amber, seafoam, spider, memory ooze.
I loved the amber necklace that my nana used to

Rose slipped and fell on the ice in the church parking

lot as she was leaving the 8:00 a.m. mass. She smacked
her butt hard on the pavement and felt a pop in her
right ankle.

Her daughter, Laura, the closest to her, cried out, “Mom,”

and was by her mother’s side. Laura was too small to
help her mother up, but she offered a comforting hand
on the shoulder.

Rose sat up and reached for her ankle, but she wasn’t
flexible enough, so she lay back on her elbows.

Rose’s son, Matthew, remained oblivious, crouched

nearby, examining cracks in the blacktop.

Her husband, already at the car, turned and walked

back to Rose. “What happened?” He waved Laura
away and said, “Give your mother some room.”

Laura listened to her father.

“My ankle,” said Rose. “Help me up, please.”

Her husband stuck out a hand.

“No, I need help.”

Her husband sighed, moved behind her, slipped his

hands under her armpits, and yanked her up.

“Careful, careful,” said Rose. She felt her husband’s

weight pushing against her, so she freed herself, not
wanting to fall again, but the moment she planted her
right foot, the pain surged up from her ankle, through
her calf and thigh, and she fell again anyway.

Laura said, “Oh, Mom,” and Rose’s husband, “Honey,

let me help you.”

“Gentle, please.”

He managed better the second time, got her arm

around his shoulder, his arm around her waist, and
they hobbled together toward the car.

Rose felt Laura creeping behind them. She noticed

people in the parking lot staring, but no one offered
to help.

Her husband’s body pressed on her. She said, “Who’s

carrying who?”

He grunted something. Rose didn’t care; she surged

forward from him.

He said, “No wait,” but Rose slapped his arms away and
limped to the car, ginger on the right foot; her ankle

Laura whooped, and yelled, “Go, Mom.”

Rose’s husband went ahead and opened the passenger-

side door, then tried to help her, but Rose shook him
off, and used the car for support, gripping the roof as
she lowered herself into the seat.

Her husband had a hand on the door. “Wait, wait,” said

Rose, and motioned to her right foot, which still hung
out of the car. She put her hands under her knee, lifted
her leg, and pulled the door closed.

Laura was already buckling herself in the backseat and

Rose heard her husband call to Matthew. She watched
her son stand and run to the car.

Her husband held the door open, said “Get in,” and
slammed the door, almost smacking Matthew on the

Before they were out of the parking lot, Rose’s husband

said, “Matt, didn’t you notice your mother fell?”


“Why didn’t you help?”

Be nja mi n F i nat e ri 9
“You wanted my help?”

“You make me call you when we need to get to the

emergency room? What were you doing?”

“I came when you called.”

Rose said, “Don’t talk back to your father,” and to her

husband, “It’s okay. We’ll get there when we get there.”

He drove like a crazy person anyway and his red face

and the bulging vein in his neck told Rose she’d hear
about Matt’s behavior later. And sure, she’d agree,
somewhat; the boy did live in his own world, but her
husband would no doubt go on for hours, cast blame
on her to the point where she’d feel guilty for slipping
on the ice.

In the car, Laura asked her mother several questions

about the pain and swelling until her father said,

By the time they checked in to the ER, Rose’s ankle had

turned purple, and swollen to nature’s greatest cankle.

While they waited, Laura asked more questions, but

when her father’s glare became too much, she moved
to strangers, sharing the story of her mother falling to
a fourteen-year-old boy named Charlie who’d burned
his hand trying to make eggs.

Matthew sat next to his mother, but remained
oblivious. Rose tried; she asked him, “What are you
thinking about?”

He mumbled something she couldn’t quite understand.

She asked, “Did you say fire and falling?”

“Huh? No. Never mind.”

Lack of point tenderness on Rose’s ankle caused the

doctor to guess she had a sprain, and X-rays ruled out a
break. Rose also had some nasty bruises on her hip and
butt, but nothing broken. The doctor put her ankle
in a splint, told her she’d be on crutches for at least
two weeks, gave her a prescription for Percocet and
instructions for icing and elevation.

On the way home, Rose’s husband said, “Lucky you’re

not a horse or else we’d have to shoot you.”

The next day, Father Costello showed up at the house

to check on Rose. He told her that he had salted the
parking lot and he promised to keep up with it in the
future; then he offered to pay Rose’s hospital bills,
but she told him they had insurance. Father Costello
insisted on at least reimbursing any co-pays, but Rose
assured him it wasn’t necessary.

After Father Costello left, Rose’s husband said, “He

was worried we’re going to sue.”

Be nja mi n F i nat e ri 11
“No, Father was being nice.”

Her husband chortled and said, “He was worried we’re

going to sue.”

While Rose healed, her husband offered to cook, but

she didn’t take him up on it. She knew it was an empty
offer, and even those poor starving UNICEF kids she
saw on TV late at night wouldn’t eat his cooking.

Her husband offered to do the laundry, but she didn’t

take him up on it. She knew it was an empty offer, and
he’d probably turn the whites pink anyhow.

Her husband offered to clean, but she didn’t take him

up on it. She knew it was an empty offer, and if she
was being totally honest, she was as much of a slob.

Her husband didn’t offer to help with the kids; he

never offered to help with the kids.

Laura picked up some of the slack; she always came

through. Matthew remained oblivious, telling stories
to his imaginary friends, inventing card games to play
with them, watching days of TV, eyeballs inches from
the screen. Rose worried someday her son might be
living under a bridge.

Rose did what she had to and got to getting better. Her
faith and her prayers gave her strength. In two weeks,
she was done with the crutches. She spent another

two weeks in a walking boot, but in a month she was
on her own two feet again, and the ankle never gave
her any problems except on cold days, but even then it
was just a dull ache.

Be nja mi n F i nat e ri 13

this began like a dream, in darkness, but we could feel

the walls then. when they were familiar, we would
trace our way home. we weren’t looking for a way
out, just the front door. just a thing on hinges—too
bad! now that even the trumpets are bolted up, we
look down each other’s throats like we’ve never seen
a goddamn lollipop, all giggles from the small joy of
a blue tongue surrounded by red lips. we chew the
cardboard sticks, ravenous, until they disintegrate. you
lick my cheek, but it remains the same. we’re never the
chameleons we think

we jump from the swing at its highest, like a creak of

the floorboard means you coming into bed, like bed
is a place we want to be. that swelling is a drowning,
is a limited vocabulary. another way to neglect the
excavation since i know, i know, this isn’t about
finding words but using them—even if they are a red
herring, even if they are an unpolished truth, even if
they are a small lie

smaller and smaller, until we’re collecting even

what we can’t see, opposing evidence, a dream, in

darkness, where i could not tell you the meaning of
a border, only that we’re quarreling over obsolete
boundaries, about which, no, no one gets a say. so, i
find my hope, when i find it at all, in the very thing
that eats it: destruction—my expectations a deflating
waffle, isn’t it funny?

i am not afraid. i’m not seeking. look at the tree line,

how it’s night so close to earth but morning way up
high. i’m a child in the wee hours, wide awake and
trying not to breathe, too much, to match the rise and
fall of my chest to yours. as if being out of sync might
mean we couldn’t share the moment, as if it meant we
were in different times, as if it meant different places
and different places meant not being together and not
being together meant dying

the leaves on my last living house plant are curling

like your lower lashes, reminding me the loneliness, in
darkness, of a dream that can’t begin without a front
door, a thing on hinges, an unsynced breath


My across the street neighbor’s name is Doug Kite. He

moved into his house a year ago with his wife. What
has Doug done in one year? He’s dug up his front
lawn with his own two hands and replaced it with
gray stones the size of small potatoes. His thinking
was probably, “I don’t have to water or mow the lawn
anymore. I’m free. Whoopee.”

After getting rid of his lawn, he then, again with his

own two hands, painted the outside of his house. It’s
impossible not to notice it across the street when
I open the living room drapes in the morning. It’s a
bright yellow with no contrasting trim color anywhere
in sight. His house looks like a giant yellow cab to me.
I have to cover my eyes it’s so damn bright. What I
haven’t been able to figure out is why he left one side
of his chimney the previous house color.

But what really bugs me are Doug’s two cars. One is an

old, long, large, four-door Lincoln Continental. On the
back license plate frame is printed: “Once A Marine
Always A Marine.” Oh no, I thought when I first
noticed those words, an ex-Marine. He’s probably a

redneck who believes in might makes right instead of reason
and compromise. His second car is an old Ford pickup.

Why do these two cars bug me, frustrate me, and make
my blood go through the roof? Because his tank of a
Continental has been parked in front of our house for
the past month. The only time he moves it is for the
street cleaner truck that comes once a week. As soon as
the truck rumbles by every Monday afternoon at 1:20,
Doug is already in his car ready to park it in front of
our house again. I surely don’t own the parking space
in front of our house, but the guy isn’t using his head
when he parks there. Doesn’t he realize that parking
is at a premium in San Francisco? If he wanted, he
could easily park in front of his house, in his driveway,
or how about this, in his garage. But no, he parks it in
front of our house, as if it were his own designated
parking space.

Do you want to know what infuriates me even

more? He parks his Ford pickup perpendicular to his
driveway. That would be fine with me if his driveway
was as wide as his pickup. What I’m saying is his truck
takes up part of a parking place in front of his truck
and part of a parking place in back of it. Plus, the
guy does the same thing with his pickup as he does
with his Continental: he moves it only for the street
cleaner when it comes by every Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. If
I parked in our driveway like my wife does with her
car, I couldn’t care less what Doug does with his two
cars. But I have to scramble for a parking spot on our

street or around the corner every day. I’m about ready
to blow my top.

So what does a person say or do to an ex-Marine who’s

either oblivious to what’s going on or who wants to be
the bully of the block? Does one call the police? Does
one call the Department of Parking? Should I knock
on his door and explain the most obvious thing in the
world to him? Or maybe I should write a note and
leave it on the windshield of one of his cars. Whatever
action I take, I can see this big, brawny, 40-something
ex-Marine, who still sports a military crew cut, kicking
down our front door and pointing his rifle at my heart.
Or maybe he’ll zero in on me through his riflescope
to pick me off while I’m working in my front yard or
getting into my car. It’s conceivable he could do this,
because after I introduced myself to welcome him to
the neighborhood last year, he asked, “Would you like
to go deer hunting with me some weekend?”

He was working under the hood of his pickup listening

to Rush Limbaugh on radio. “Thanks for the offer,
Doug, but I’m not a hunter.”

“You don’t know what you’re missing,” he said. “It’s a

great sensation to kill a deer.”

Do you see what I’m saying? The guy knows and loves
rifles. So how should I deal with this “Once A Marine
Always A Marine”?

Jose p h Su t t on 19
I had finally had it up to here with Doug hogging the
parking spaces on the street. I had to take a stand, not
only for myself but for the whole block. A few days
ago I decided to ring his doorbell. I wasn’t just a little
nervous, I was extremely nervous as I stood at his front
door. I heard a little stirring behind the bright yellow
door but no one opened it. Well, I thought, if he or his
wife won’t open the door, I’ll write a note and put it on one
of his windshields. I went back to my house, sat at my
desk, and composed a note with as much reason and as
little emotion as I could possibly muster so as not to
rile this former Marine.

Dear Doug,

I tried parking my car in front of your pickup and

in back of it last week and it wouldn’t fit either
way. If your pickup were parked in your driveway
instead of perpendicular to it, two parking places
would open up on our street, because, as you know,
it’s very hard to find a parking place on our block.

Also, if it means anything to you, I would like to

park my car in front of my house every once in a
while, but I can’t because your car is always there.

Al Reno
2828 Sanchez

I left the note on the windshield of his pickup.

When I saw the note was still there the next day, I
grabbed it and dropped it in his mailbox. Another day
passed and there still wasn’t a response. If Doug had
read my note and wanted to argue his case, I was more
than ready to give my side of the story. But what if he
wanted to go further than that? What if he came at
me with a rifle or gun? What if he wanted to duke it
out? I’m no spring chicken anymore. I’m 65 and had
hip replacement surgery four months ago. Or maybe
he would ignore my note and let me stew in my hatred
of his stupidity. As you can see, I was both stumped
and filled with fear. Who wouldn’t be afraid of an
ex-Marine who hunts deer, listens to Rush Limbaugh,
digs out his front lawn and replaces it with stones
(maybe he did the same in his backyard), who paints
his house a bright yellow and leaves one side of his
chimney the old house color, or who thinks he has two
designated parking places on our street (actually three,
since his truck takes up two spaces)?

I’ve come to the conclusion that Doug is going to react

to my note in a violent manner.


I once saw a movie on TV—Sunset Boulevard—with

Gloria Swanson and William Holden, where Holden,
who plays a screenwriter in the film, narrates this 1950s
classic from beyond his grave. Well, I’m not writing
this piece from beyond my grave, I’m writing this at
my desk. I’m not going to lead you on by imitating the

Jose p h Su t t on 21
format of Sunset Boulevard. What I’m saying is I’m still

When I came home today, I found an empty parking

space in front of my house. Doug’s Continental was
parked in front of another house. And his pickup was
parked in his driveway, not perpendicular to it, which
opened up two parking spaces on the block.

There was no breaking down of our front door, no

argument, no rifle, no fists and I didn’t have to call
the cops or the Department of Parking. I had written
a decent and reasonable note and Doug took heed of
it. It was just plain old common sense that came out
on top today.

I’m thinking of writing another note to let him know

he forgot to paint one side of his chimney. On second
thought, I better leave well enough alone or else I’ll
surely be writing a sequel to this from beyond my


Well, sir, ever since I learned of its existence I’ve wanted

to join the Deep State. I’m sure you’ll find everything
in order on my application. Experience in the field?
Check! In fact, I’m currently working undercover as
a member of a swim team. My mission is to hide in
the deep end and spy on other swimmers from below.
I bet you didn’t know that the older you get, the more
flaccid your flesh becomes, even if you’re super strong
and fit. True fact! I lie on my back at the bottom of the
pool, gazing in horror at curtains of loose skin flapping
around tight quadriceps like the jowls of a toothless
old man as he chews. That’s but one example of the
caliber of intel you can expect from Agent Martinovic.

Special qualifications? I’m proud to report that I

have Mars conjunct Sagittarius, which means I’m a
hard-driving hard ass who gets shit done. I wouldn’t
be surprised if Dick Cheney has this very same
conjunction— and look how far it got him! No sir,
I’m not joking. I think the Deep State would want an
insider who has her finger on the pulse of alternative
subcultures. No offense, sir, but because of your
irrational prejudice, you couldn’t possibly know
that after being hemmed in by Saturn for all of

2017, the ringed planet has finally moved off Donald
Trump’s chart. And you know what that means.
Saturn—hello—principle of constraint. Meaning no
disrespect, sir, but, wake up and smell the rising sign!
And the actionable intelligence…

I’m going to overlook your ignorance because right

now my country needs me—and my linguistic skills
par excellence. That’s French for “I’m brilliant.” You’ll
never find a better field agent to send on sensitive
international missions. And as for getting to the
bottom of this whole Russia debacle, I’ll cut to the
chase: Stahve u tvoy guzitsu, govno glavu! You may not
know what that means, but I can confirm there are
certain White House operatives who do.

But don’t worry, sir, I’ve got one set of skills that needs
no translation. You see, in some circles I’m known
as a bit of a femme fatale, a Mata Hari if you will.
My powers over men are legendary and, of course,
classified. But I do have clearance to tell you that I lure
hostile agents into my boudoir and make them give
me full body massages until their hands cramp. Good
thing the Deep State gets to define torture, eh, sir?

Of course, my lair hasn’t seen a lover in some time.

Perhaps word of my technique got out. Rest assured,
sir, under my watch leaks of this magnitude will be a
thing of the past.

What role do I envision for myself? Oh, I’ve done

my research. When you were a little boy in suburban
Maryland wasn’t there a grumpy old man trying to
keep you from playing on his perfect lawn? Well sir,
I’d like to be the Deep State’s grumpy old man. I’ll
keep the terrorists off our nation’s lawn, by God.

And by terrorists I mean alt-right, neo-nazi, Breitbart-

spewing haters. I mean climate change deniers, fake
news peddlers, frackers, and corporate malefactors.
I mean the one-percenters sucking the rest of us dry,
and yes, I mean the president himself.

Are you with me sir?

I realize this comes as a bit of a shock, but… there’s

something stronger and deeper than the Deep State.
The Resistance is calling.

Go rogue with me, sir.

Or would you rather be giving me a massage?

Li sa Ma rt i novi c 25


I am going soon to my friend’s Installation. She is a

wonderful artist. I support the arts. I like to think I
support my friends but the truth is I myself have
often craved installation, so when I see my friend’s
Installation and get a sense of the care that went into
every detail I am bound to feel jealous which I will
keep to myself. I shan’t say to my friend: “I love your
Installation, I can see how much of yourself and your
creative energy you have put into it, but I am sad
because I have always wanted to be installed, especially
with that degree of care.”

It’s true, I have often wished to be someone’s treasured

art piece but still get to move around, read, have sex,
and go out for coffee. Because of the sex and the coffee
runs I’d need to be a pretty pro-active Installation. I
won’t bring up this idea with my friend because it is
her Opening and she will be attending to her guests
and so forth, plus I’m imagining her Installation will
be a lot stiller than the one I’m thinking of, which
would be me.

I’m kind of fidgety.

And it’s possible that she would see my idea as rooted
in selfishness and be extra-bothered that I am already
dreaming up an alternative Installation instead of fully
appreciating the one she has gone to all the trouble to
install. Then she might get angry and want me more
interred than installed.

As I said, I like my friend a lot and am a supporter

of the arts. I wouldn’t be much good to the arts six
feet under, unless of course I left some notes on my
concept of ‘Pro-Active Installation’ and they wound
up inspiring future artists.

I think I will leave some notes.



It’s the last month of the fiscal year,

and I am tense and angry.
If my ancestors,
streaked in paint and blood,
could hear me utter such a pathetic thing,
they might well wonder what all the killing
and epic poetry was for.
Have our tribal treacheries so devolved,
into tribes of lawyers, tribes of accountants,
in tailored armor,
that this is all we have?
But it’s the last month of the fiscal year,
and I am drinking espresso
from a cardboard horn of plenty.
What do you stand for?
To increase our billings.
Across the silent concrete field,
the army of accountants clash their folders
like shields.
What do they stand for?
To decrease our billings.
But it’s the last fucking month of the fiscal year,
and I am ready for war.
It’s almost enough, sitting here pallid in my slacks,

to understand the appeal of terrorists, survivalists,
fascists, anti-fascists -
any rock to break the placid surface
of this glassy lake.
There are rumors of a new tribe,
Techies, leaving boring wintry climes,
And moving west, sacking churches,
tearing down public art.
Still, if you want a disruptive technology—
an axe is a disruptive technology.
But it’s the last month of the fiscal year—
so bring them on.
In the three hours I sleep,
I dream of real loss,
losses not measured in decimal points,
not losses on the books,
but the loss of books,
loss of limb, loss of life—
things that stir not coffee but blood,
things people should properly write poems about.
I awake in a cold sweat,
I tighten my tie by automatic memory.
It’s the last month of the fiscal year,
my vassals are waiting,
my lords are weighing my deeds.
These moments shall be cherished and long
until next week,
the beginning of the new fiscal year.




I was told to push buttons, so I pushed buttons. There

were three buttons. Red ones. I sat in a room and
I pushed three red buttons. Not at the same time. I
pushed each one individually at seemingly random
intervals. Each red button looked like the kind of red
button that a foolish cartoon cat or dog is told not to
push because if they push the button something awful
and disastrous could happen.

“Do not push,” a sign near or on the button usually says.

But that character always pushes the button. He

pushes the button because he’s foolish.

I pushed the buttons because I did what I was told. For

work. For money. I did what I was told.

Each morning, before work, when I woke up, I’d

find vitamins on the nightstand with a small glass of
orange juice. Three vitamins. Three buttons, three
vitamins. At 5:15 I’d wake up and take them. There
was always a note that said, “Swallow these,” next to

them. So I did. I’d swallow the vitamins and suck down
the juice and feel the life and feel the health and feel
okay. Feeling okay was good and important.

An alarm woke me up and I would immediately hit

the snooze. The snooze allotted me nine minutes of
extra sleep and then it sounded again. It was tuned to a
news radio station. The reporter’s name was Randolph
Howard. Randolph’s voice was deep. It was a good
radio voice. He talked about death and disaster and
misery and hate and fear and guns and death and misery
and pain and hate and death. I almost never listened to
what he said though. He was only my alarm. He might
as well had been a buzz or ring or chirp or honking
horn or a comical slide whistle or something like that.
But I suppose it was better that he was informational
and educational. It’s goods to be informed.

After I woke up I’d run three miles on a treadmill. It

took me roughly twenty-five minutes to run three
miles. That’s not a bad pace. It’s not too slow and it’s
not too fast. Running is good because running made
me feel like a human. I’d feel the blood and breath and
muscles and legs and I’d feel like a thing with a thing
beating in his chest that’s pushing things into his veins
and things into his brain. Those things are the things
that I needed to feel the life inside of me.

Coffee was next. Black. Strong. I was down to two

cups a day. It used to be six. But I got it to two. Two
for me. Two to make me feel good. Six was too much.

My hands were shaking and I was irritable. I would
snap at my co-workers and snap at myself and snap at
my life. But I got down to two coffees and I felt much

Work was numbing. Pointless. I didn’t even know

what I did. I pushed buttons. Three buttons. Three red
buttons and something happened. I was told I worked
in “tech.” I believe that meant the Internet. I was told
it was important because people use the Internet on
the toilet. So I mattered. I made a difference. I made
the toilet more fun for people. I didn’t know how, but
I did. I pushed buttons and something happened far
away from me. For all I knew the buttons killed babies.
For all I knew the buttons fed babies. For all I knew
the buttons were just buttons.

I got a break every day. Fifteen minutes. They gave

me coffee. Coffee number two. Black. Weak. I also
got a donut. I loved donuts. Those fifteen minutes
were always the best part of my day because of the
donuts. Sometimes I dipped the donuts. Sometimes I
didn’t. Every fall season, right before Thanksgiving, I’d
get a pumpkin flavored donut. “A special treat for a
special employee,” is what they would say when they
handed me the donut. Pumpkin donuts were meant
to make employees like me feel like they mattered. It
didn’t work. I did not matter. In no way did I make a
difference. But the donuts were good. And when they
were pumpkin donuts, they were very good.

Eddi e Wri gh t 33

Things changed when I met my friend Johnny. Johnny

had just started at my job and he talked a lot. It’s nice
to know a friend who talks a lot because I don’t talk
a lot. I mostly sit and stare and push my buttons and
think about coffee and pumpkin donuts. I wish I drank
more coffee. But too much coffee makes me irritable.

Soon after Johnny started, he was pushing his buttons

near my buttons and asked me a question. “What
would you do if you had a ton of money?” he asked.

I paused and turned to Johnny and responded, “I

would leave this job.”

Johnny smiled and winked his eye and leaned in close

and lowered his voice, “What if I told you I had a way
for both of us to get a ton of money, what would you

“I would ask you how,” I said.

“What if I told you that it involved doing things

that are,” he turned and peered over his shoulder
suspiciously even though his back was facing a wall,
“not quite legal?”

“I would ask you what kind of things?” I said.

“What if I said that I had a friend who works at a bank
and knew a way to get a guy into that bank and out of
that bank without anybody knowing?”

“I would ask how,” I said.

“What if I said, I’d tell you if you promised me that you

would help me do this thing and promised me that you
wouldn’t screw it up and wouldn’t rat me out?”

“I’d say, I promise.”


Johnny’s friend’s was also named Johnny. I found this

confusing because Johnny’s friend Johnny acted quite
a bit like Johnny. He talked a lot and seemed relaxed
and he wasn’t afraid of things and didn’t seem irritable.
I wonder how much coffee Johnny drank.

Johnny’s friend Johnny had a machine. I asked where

he got this machine, but he wouldn’t tell me. He just
said, “science.” That was all he said. “Science.” Science
was where he got the machine.

The machine was like the kind that mad scientists

use in movies to turn into gross creatures. But this
machine didn’t turn people into gross creatures. It
did something different. It did something that I don’t
entirely understand but I’ll do my best to explain by
telling you what happened when I climbed inside of it.

Eddi e Wri gh t 35
Johnny (Johnny’s friend Johnny, not my friend Johnny)
handed me an earpiece and told me to put it in my ear
so he and Johnny could speak with me. It’s the kind
of earpiece that I imagine newsmen like Randolph
Howard wear when they’re on location in dangerous
areas during wartimes or in bad weather or standing
near car crashes and flashing police lights. Johnny
(friend Johnny) opened the door and I climbed into
the machine and he closed the door. I saw nothing. It
was dark. It was black. Pitch black. I heard some noises
from outside the machine. It sounded like a whirring
and a bleep and a bloop and other sounds that I can’t
fully describe. I then heard Johnny (though I couldn’t
tell which Johnny it was) say, “When you get in, you’ll
know what to do.”

And then I heard a thunk and I saw a flash and that

was it.

Glowing wires surrounded me and cables and numbers

and letters and sounds were whooshing by me at
incredible speeds. Time seemed to move both fast and
slow simultaneously. I felt free from the pull of, well,
anything, and it’s hard to explain, but I felt like I was
free from any kind of gravitational influence, though
I’m not sure if I was. It’s all very vague, and I’m sorry,
but it’s the best I can do to explain what it was like.
Once I got in, I barely had time to look around before
I heard Johnny (not sure which Johnny) say, “Do you
see them?”

And I did. Straight ahead. On a console just like the
kind I use at work: three red buttons.

I smiled and replied, “I see them.”

“Then you know what to do,” he said.

I quickly/slowly approached the buttons and slowly/

quickly pressed each one. I heard a sound like a giant
engine shutting down and another, though slightly
different, thunk.

I then heard one of the Johnnys frantically exclaim,

“GOT IT!” and heard the other one say, “Then let’s get
out of here!”

Soon I heard one of them say to me, “Thanks, pal! I

owe you one!” Which was then followed by the sound
of a microphone hitting the ground and feedback and
then static.

And then nothing.

I’m pretty sure I knew which Johnny said that last part.

It took me a few minutes to realize what had happened

and what was going to happen. I was sad at first, but
remembered why I was here and what my job was.

And so I turned my attention to the three buttons.

Those three red buttons.

Eddi e Wri gh t 37
I sit in a room and I push buttons. I am no longer
irritable. I am happy. I am okay. Feeling okay is good
and important. I am perfect and smiling. I am not a
machine. I am not a cartoon cat or dog. I matter. I make
a difference. I am a good employee. I deserve donuts.



One evening, barely midnight maybe,

Wifey asked with eyes a-lit,
“I wonder, wouldya-couldya, Baby
eat my pussy for a bit?”
So, chivalrous did I agree and
smile warmly with my eyes,
while coaxing moans out with my free hand
pressed my face between her thighs.
She blossomed open like a lotus,
squirming madly where she lay,
as nibbling I was scant to notice
night had blossomed into day…
“Don’t stop!” she called, her breathing buckling.
“Yes,” I answered, bowing meek.
Though sore my jaw, I kept on suckling
never stopping all that week.
“I’m almost there!” she kept insisting,
bringing me about to tears,
as down I’d been, my tongue a-twisting
better part of twenty years.
Now never doubt a man’s persistence,
dying there upon that bed,
I promised her I’d go the distance,
I’d become the munching dead.

They buried us with service fleeting,
causing but a meager fuss,
while underground, her was I eating,
little worms were eating us.

When eons passed, our bones were lusty—

skull to pelvis just the same—
then flew a puff of something dusty…
FINALLY, she fucking came!

- SET 2 -

after Franz Wright

I’m standing here

waiting for the train;
the last one I’ll take.

Wherever I go
I hear it at night—
that solo horn
slowly fading away
like the wailing
of a lone coyote.

I bought my ticket for it

so long ago
I can’t remember exactly
where or when.

I totally forgot I had it

until now, finding it
in my pocket
tattered around the edges.

I’m alone.
My friends are

The last time I saw my parents

they were tiny piles of ash
inside a plastic bag
that’s locked away
in an endless wall.

I’m not looking at my watch.

The train will get here when it gets here.

I find comfort looking

at the horizon:
clouds, birds, trees,
the mountains in the distance.

I hear
piano music
coming from
an open window

I’m not coming back.


“…there is no there there.”

–gertrude stein

but the there that there is

is beyond my pocketbook
and here comes the fox
with his dollar sign eyes
to jack up my rent yet again
so there you go
and here I am
packing twenty-five years
into those boxes there and
wondering if I’ll land
here or there
up, down or over there
or maybe way out there
beyond the last train stop
where, I hear
there’s an affordable there
and others who fled here
for there, where
the prettification army
occupying my here
hasn’t flushed out

the poor undesirables yet
but I’ll be homesick there
for here
because in my time, Ms. Stein
there was a there there.
I was here and I swear:
it was there.



That first rain was a long sigh in the midst of such a

chaotic October in Santa Rosa. The firefighters told us
that the sprinkling wouldn’t be enough to extinguish
the flames; we’d need a steady downpour for several
days at least, they said. But for us, the sound of the rain
that night as it pulled the ash flurries from where they
hung thick in the air—it was enough to bring hope
after two weeks of fires.

We gathered at the pub that night and I doubled

my two drink maximum of pints. Our sleeves and
hats reeked like hastily extinguished campfires. Our
friends’ faces relaxed into whiskey sours and IPA as we
all wrapped our arms around each other and cried and
forced out laughter and relayed good news and bad:
whose childhood home was spared, whose was now
nothing more than a heap of ash and embers. We all
spoke with a subtle tenderness.

As we walked to my house you lit cigarette after

cigarette; I hated that you still smoked, especially now.
The air quality was as bad as Beijing and we could all
die any second, I thought, so I was willing to let it
go. I hadn’t slept well in weeks and a loneliness had

pressed into me as I lied awake those nights, listening
to sirens and gusts of wind and emergency text alerts.
And those electrical transformers exploding like
fireworks all over town. I needed to forget that the
city I love was burning down around us. You pulled my
hand into yours while passing cars splashed puddles
onto the sidewalk.

We listened to The Smiths in my bedroom and went

over the lists of landmarks and hiking trails that
were swallowed by the fires: The historic Round
Barn. Paradise Ridge Winery. Journey’s End Trailer
Park. Sugarloaf Ridge. My favorite trails at Annadel.
Thousands of houses where people we know and don’t
know used to live. Then we revisited the lists of other
things we had lost in this town since first meeting
here twenty years ago: jobs and apartments, lovers
and friends, my old hatchback Honda Accord with the
PBR sticker on the roof, and that skateboard you used
to ride to my house after your night shifts at the cafe.
So much gone now, our conversation was a eulogy.

I worried about my beer breath as you moved close to

me but you took my face into your hands and kissed
me anyway. Twenty years since our first kiss and
short-lived romance (we smelled like different beer
and different smoke in the 90’s) and then we’d only
see each other sporadically, and usually at funerals, for
the next two decades. And you’d send those late night
social media messages every five years or so, of longing
and regret and the tugging of heartstrings that neither

of us were brave enough to really follow. And then
there you were again with the fires.

We tossed around in my bed that night, the rain tapping

at my window, both of us more than tipsy, warm with
the sense that the world could end or be reborn anew
at any moment. I always told myself the timing was
never right for us but that we loved each other anyway.
I always told myself that we were star-crossed lovers,
foul-weather friends. But maybe it was something else
entirely. Maybe I’d understand it all after the homes
are rebuilt and the oaks and manzanita grow back.
Maybe I’d never understand it and that’s alright too.

You woke early, to head home 50 miles away, the

next morning. We both attempted to shift back into
some semblance of normalcy after we watched this
city smolder; streets lined with twisted burnt out
cars and those lonely chimneys, standing among the
ruin like grave markers. Miles and miles of this town
transformed into Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But
the rain had stopped with the sunrise and the air was
almost fresh early that morning. We left our N95
respirator masks on my table and headed out the door.
Patches of blue sky replaced the thick blanket of smoke
that had hung over the entire Bay Area for weeks. As
we stood at the Golden Gate Transit Center, I breathed
deeply for the first time in weeks. You smoked another
cigarette. And then I watched you leave again as a long
line of firetrucks followed your bus to the freeway.

Dani Bu rli son 49


O D E T O R O B ’S C L O S E T

It’s not that the job market for White

Ethnic Studies majors was hit particularly
hard when I graduated. It just felt like it.

Rotting in the privilege I learned about.

Lost in the tiny matrix of my dad’s couch.
The chicken-shit son come home to roost

all over his earned retirement when

Rob called offering you: Rob’s closet!
You were my prison cell sized horizon!

Your guilt-free cheap rent, room enough

for what little self-respect I had left. I had
already slept a few months in an actual hole-

in-the-wall of another friend’s hallway—awkward.

That led to my dad’s couch, a.k.a. nowhere.
You had a sliding door that closed almost.

You were a poet’s dream-nest, closet.

Not a metaphor. ALL the metaphors!
For example: If Rob’s room was his

castle then I was his Moat Monster!
My job: fart Rob out of nightmares!
Instead of failing to become my dad’s

dreams I just messed up Rob’s rest.

And I really think we got each other—
Rob and I had this two-way telepathy

where I could sort of see him, imagining

me—who I really was—jacking off to
when I was in you. Closet: where I told

shame to fuck itself while I fucked myself

discreetly as a Moat Monster! Closet
where my starving-artist swagger

rocked the least-bad moonwalk ever

across that little patch left bare…
I called that your midriff, remember?

Sexy Closet, I called you Babbling Nook,

rough drafts of a future in verse I bounced
off the Make-Love-To-The-Earth eco-sex-

poster I stuck you with…sorry if that hurt.

I hope my Cats-In-Hats calendar didn’t feel
tacky, piercing your already peeling skin—Sorry:

That was a pin pun. That wasn’t the worst one.

I mean…Is it cool I’m pretending we have some
sort of human connection? I’ve wanted to ask

every person I ever met that question but never you,
closet where I sobbed until your linoleum peeled
sympathetically, your floorboards waterlogged

with who I should be someday dissolving as

Rob sighed as if to say I’MTRYINGTOSLEEPABE!?
Such peace in my Oakland cocoon until

the BART train screeched the grind through

Rob’s window. And with the chalkboard-scratch
of your door I opened to a new day knowing,

like you: I can’t carry a bedframe but I’m more

than just hanging clothes. I don’t make money
I take what I’m scared of and I make poems

that turn self-hate to more love every day since I moved out -
I’m in a room now with a window and doorknob
but I stay humble. I think about you: raised

ceiling, your gargantuan, jarring lightbulb

illuminating where nothing was worth seeing
before you showed me that home has to mean

hope, has to mean growth—wherever I find it:

a friend’s closet, my notepad, the road, alone -
Wherever I already am hiding is the only place

I have to go and try and live half

as much as I did
in Rob’s closet.

Abe Be cke r 53


Night the Devil’s in my closet and me I watch the

hinges bulge and the door crack and the light at
the threshold widening and the space between us

Nights the Devil’s in my closet and through the thin

portal, horn + scale shining, glittering with sweat and
blood like I want to be with you.

Nights, I wake up filmy and new with sweat,

shivering, and the only place warm behind the door.

Nights I hear the empty hangers clinking and it

sounds like togethers, togethers, forevers.

Nights I go too far and push my eye to the crevice

and see nothing or maybe the pupil of a shuttered eye.

Nights I throw my body against the door and it will

not close.

Nights, I know the door won’t close, I throw my

body against it for the sound, for the breath to get
knocked out.

Nights the devil’s in my closet and I hear HE/SHE/
THEM/IT I hear zim shift in place larger than a
thousand closets, single claw blocking out the world.

Nights the devil’s in my closet and the only cool place

in the known universe is the metal door handle, and I
flop on the bed like a fish on deck dry drowning

Nights nothing happens but red pools from under

the door straight path to my bed and if I let it, down
through my floorboards with that sound, like water
through sands, soaking them until it pools back
again down through the ceiling, and I in the middle
of endless red falls, spinning in my bed like a barrel
waiting for the rocks to crack me but they don’t.

Night I give up and open the door.

Night, I open the door and here we are.

Emerald hills forever, you’ve been here before you

know, blue horizon roping around us and around
us, and all the roads unspooling from our veins, far
as the eye can see, while broke beaked birds make
letters in the air around us waiting for the answer.


The damn phone was ringing again. She hated those


The landline was only good for calls from health

enrollment plans, or calls for someone named Philip
Martin. “Is he there? Are you a relative? Do you know
how we can reach him?” She told them to strike her
phone number from their list. They didn’t.

Callers wanted to talk to this Martin idiot who must’ve

been delinquent on his bills or owed child support all
over town. She wanted to put an end to it, unplug the
phone jack and let it dangle, one of those ancient-
looking phones with a dial. It worked fine.

She’d pay for the landline, only stop that damn ringing
because things were difficult enough; bad enough that
her son was in jail and was sure to do time. Her only
son, the boy she’d given birth to in her own home, the
boy who had placed his ear against a stereo speaker and
fallen asleep listening to music. But there was always
a question in the corner of his eyes. He carried
distance around his waist like a life preserver.

After his father had died, Charles had shattered into
pieces. His father had meant everything to him. His
favorite past time had been in discussing Gurdjieff’s
theories, giving professorial lectures to whoever would
listen. Their circle of friends dwindled as his collection
of esoteric books increased. On the weekends, he
trolled local bookstores for defunct publishers.

An old friend of Charles had come knocking on her

door over the weekend to tell her that her son was in
jail. “He wanted me to call you,” he said, a man with a
beard who apologized for disturbing her on a Saturday
morning. “All my friends call me when they get into
trouble.” She thanked him. Each time the phone rang,
she thought it was her son, but it was only a call for
Philip Martin.

She viewed her son’s charges and mug shots online.

There were shadows beneath his eyes. The phone rang
once again. “A deep voice with a slight echo spoke to
her. “Who is this?”

“Me. Philip.”

“Who the hell are you? You know I’d appreciate if

you’d pay your damn bills.” She unplugged the phone
jack, but the voice kept talking. She banged the
receiver, and tried to shake lose something that was
still working within the phone, something that was
causing this aberration.

“I’m a friend. A good friend.”

“People have been calling me for weeks now looking

for you. You sound like a dead beat. How’d you get my

“Do me a favor. Just press star.”

“Look, mister. This is a bad joke. I don’t even know how

you’re talking to me.”

“Press it twice.” His voice was quieter now. “You’ve got

to hurry or we’ll lose the connection.”

She didn’t know what else to do, upset after weeks

of worry, her sisters living too far away to offer more
than well-meaning support. She was tired of pacing
from the kitchen to the living room and looking at the
clock as if time meant anything more than annoying
ticks. “Okay.” She pressed star and threw down the
receiver that sent its double-A batteries rolling along
the compressed wood flooring as she fell to the couch,
letting loose a flood of sobs that she’d been holding
back all week.

“That’s okay. We’ll do this together.”

Janeen looked up from the couch and wiped her face

with the sleeve of her sweatshirt. Standing in front of
her entertainment center with its TV screen guarding
her CDs and shelves of Lakshmi and Asherah statuettes

Le nore We i ss 59
that she’d picked up over the years at flea markets, was
her husband, George, a lot thinner, but it was George
all right, a bald man with piercing green eyes and a
prominent nose that bespoke his Russian heritage.

“I don’t understand.”

“Janeen, I’m so glad to see you.” She wasn’t so sure if

she was glad to see him. “Aren’t you going to give me a
hug or something?”

“How can this be you?”

“You always were the skeptic,” he said, sitting down

next to her on the green sofa. She moved over to
make room for him. “I know this is a lot to take in,
but remember how I used to talk about quantum
consciousness?” How could she forget?

“When we die,” he said, “the energy of our consciousness

gets recycled back into a different body.”

“How come you’re in the same one? Your last one didn’t
hold up too well.”

“So you’d recognize me,” he said. “I did this for you. For
both of you.”

George got down to business. He said that the phone

was a device he was using on a temporary basis as a
way to teleport himself from where his quantum

information resided, a place of microtubules. “Like
your backup device,” he said. “Sort of.” Anyway, he
was there to help break their son out of prison. And as
soon as he said that, both he and Janeen were standing
in front of the Columbia County Jail, a squat building
of yellow concrete with two pine trees growing at
either end of a parking lot. He explained that all they
had to do was to call the jail’s central number.

“And then what?”

“That will open the doors. Don’t worry. Not all the
doors. Just his. We’re on the same frequency. Gee, it
will be great to see him again.”

She wrestled the receiver from his hands and threw it

with her best windup pitch into the stream where it
evaporated with a loud hiss.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” he said.

“You don’t belong here anymore. You never did.” She

walked away into the Columbia Jail to visit her son.

The next month, she received a very large bill from the
telephone company.

Le nore We i ss 61

small minded men

have big sticks and shields
riot gun’s rubber bullets
aimed at your head.
In your cell
pigeons visit the window sill.
The sun sets and rises
in a reflection across the street.
In your dreams
a hawk comes
stares into your eye.
You stare back
accept his challenge.
In a savored bit of phone time
I tell you
a hawk visiting your dreams
is a sign that your mind is sharp,
that you’ve outsmarted your opponent
and so, it will be
through the maze
of correctional facilities
in front of you.
You tell me about the night before
a guard with a grudge

forcing your cellie
to pack his belongings
how the two of you
shed tears at parting.
Late in the night
you realized
that the man with the badge
and a grudge
didn’t even have the power
to do what he threatened.
You both fell into sleep
stood your ground,
where your guide found you
and I know now
they cannot break you.

Though I also know

they will try
leaving you in holding cells,
in flooded cells,
in darkness,
and fluorescent light.
But you will come home whole
maybe even less broken
than the man you were before.



Personal ambition: Have my own style of music.

See my mother again.—Jimi Hendrix, in a survey
for the UK publication New Musical Express

A psychedelic voodoo priest sacrificing still-humming

heartstrings on a pyre demanding god fire like that
burns too bright too fast never lasts except in
memory Can you see your mother? So young
she was and you splintered like your guitar
chasing fire burning your throat like a scream
shot memory The memorial—your father gave
a shot of whiskey said this is how men deal men
burn down ashes to ashes are all ash and hurt
Your father like my father said I guess you just
a child can’t let go of what’s past I don’t owe you
Listen heart crackle fire sparks on train tracks
rushing Mama’s body cold barely four months
and he thinks to marry This is how men deal
You learned too well pour another round
turn ashes to smoke forget this cold inheritance


My father once scooted around

in a Cadillac sedan, all fins and chrome,
salmon colored, long, lean, sleek––
until in a drunken blackout he rammed it
into the neighbor’s factory fresh Buick
“just to feel the crunch,” he said,
too many Seagrams 7s and Iron City chasers
after another lay off from the mill.
The next day, like so many days after,
he poured booze down the drain,
swearing out loud with me as witness:
“That’s it. I’m done. I’ll never drink again.”

I always wondered how he made

payments on that car, until I watched
the fish-tail caddie as the lead
on the local TV evening news,
saw it snagged by a tow truck
grappling hook and reeled in
from the murky Monongahala
up onto the bank, its front bumper
tarnished, license plate missing,
underbelly tangled in a fallen tree.

He told me the car had been stolen,
but I figured he just put it in drive
at the river’s edge, disengaged
its handbrake, and watched it plunge
into the water to park forever
with a jumble of junked refrigerators,
shopping carts, steel beams, bicycles,
pines, and that rumored B25 bomber.

In those days, men like my father

played penny ante poker late into night,
sitting around kitchen tables in undershirts
and smoking Lucky Strikes. Times
he went out, to buy into a local game
in the corner saloon’s back room,
he’d spit shine his Florsheim spades,
slip his pistol inside its thumb-worn holster,
pull on his gaberdine suit jacket, dust off
the felt fedora, and running his fingers
across its slick brim, he’d walk out the door.

Some summer evenings, sober

and bored with solitaire, he liked to sit
rocking on the front porch swing,
reeling in the neighbors from the street,
and I would be there, too, leaning against
the hall wall behind the screen door––
listening to him spin his stories
to other people’s kids.


Someday it may happen

that I’ll find me some work
with above average pay
and some half-decent perks

with full health insurance

and a 401k
and a yearly vacation
of three weeks and a day.

Then I’ll buy a big house

and I’ll buy a new car
and I’ll get a lawnmower
for the grass in my yard.

Women will see me

as husband material
with my job and my house
and no diseases venereal.

I may fall in love

I may even get married
and if my sperm count is good

we may start a family.

And as for you Baby Blue

you’ll take a backseat
to my kids and my wife
and the days and the weeks.

And so, Baby Blue, my friend

I’ll put you in a box
between books and old socks
and I’ll hide you away in a closet.

When I come to my senses

you’ll already be lost
‘cause my house is so large
and my memory’s shot.

But someday I’ll be dead

and my kids will divide
the will that I wrote
when I was alive

They’ll clean out the house

and throw out all the shit
that I’d kept alongside me
since I was a kid.

But perhaps they will open

and look, and then throw
the boxes they toss
into the dumpster below

And maybe, just maybe
Baby Blue
They’ll open a box
and uncover you—

and tucked inside

your chamber they’ll see
a lighter
and a Ziploc baggie of weed—

a message in a bottle
that has traveled the sea
from the shores of my youth
and washed up on their beach.

They’ll recline on the porch

as the sun goes to sleep
taking turns smoking you
and floating with me.

Davi d Ja cobson 71
My mother reminds me I’m a whenever I cut my hands
musician I picture my father offering me a
as though that makes it truth cigarette
bright as a song or a story your children won’t always want
what you want for your children their inheritance, a wound that
pulls in two different directions opens with the simplest blade.
Blood has some magic beyond the obvious necromancy,
that little sliver of red blood is a vein, but also a seam
connecting two halves in the body a thin ribbon of light
My mother, the singer, says that my father and I
we’re very much alike we battled fraternal sicknesses
we can both keep a tune and crack jokes about death
hum along to the past or the fluorescent hospital lights
maybe I do know a song or two my family, we know
a sad, shared verse, but not how to finish each other’s stories
completely. A musician? it would be pure alchemy to say
it’s the truth, if only because I’ve never heard the ending.
my parents have said it for years. I’ve been told it for so long that
it feels realer than fact or at some point I just became
the music itself another tongue for the lie
Now I’m starting to believe it all of us gathered into
my throat, the bell of a trumpet a syringe or a riverbed
there’s a single word for this It’s difficult for me to say
but it’s read in two different ways: tempo or trauma.
Artery or vessel Then again, maybe one thing can be
two things at once what kills me
can make me stronger and my father, both
a song and a son— wouldn’t that be an ending?



You’ve held on through

with all the strength you knew—
You never failed to bump those lines
by Tupac, feeling your existence commemorated
when he said
“dying inside, but outside you’re looking fierce.”
Dear Mama
gave me glimpses into you
the only time I could hear the pain in your silence
the silence in your pain
like a muffled ticking enveloped in cotton
waiting for arms to hold your lament.
This invisiblized, mystical world of the Black woman—
you taught me womanism early.
How being Black and woman and Muslim
is the alchemy that could render you obsolete
and you gave your heart to protect me from this world’s pain.

Sightlessly navigating, you taught me to feast on faith

through the indescribable, despicable torment
of being lusted after and then rejected.
How my temple may be identified a tomb,
unwelcomed remarks believing me a home,
of how the world will look to me for nurturing
Fortified by ancestors’
Sun Beams,
blessing you with full
vision of your
you showed me how a
crown glistens in a smile
how love can knead
families with palms kissed
strengthen the spines of
your children
of your loved ones
of this world with your 150
How the world can never
force me to be silent
and how like a
phenomenal woman I will

But you become run down

as well
you cry as well--did they
know that?
no one dares to question
what you hide in the dark
or where you go missing in
to then zip their pants, wipe their lips, cast their eyes away as
you ask for love in return.

And this resilience,

your resilience,
glistens like oiled-up, cast iron skillet armor
you have your Granny to thank for that.
The way she walked and held her teeth
as the white man/the black man/the white woman/the white
man/the classism/the sexism/the patriarchy/the white man
Stepped on neck
hanged from neck
to bend/to break/to cast down/to submit—
To stroke their ego as if they’ve finally conquered Nature’s
but Granny’s dreams birthed me.

for colored girls in Waller County who pretended it was

Too loud so they muffled our stories
with shotgun eyes
with lynch rope hands
with beating hands
stilling beating hearts—
They tried to bury our stories
bury our history along with their misdeeds
piles upon piles
seeping into Earth’s womb.

the night
or when you disappear all

They tried to bury us,

Black womxn,
to pretend that we never
Too black skinned, Aunt
Jemima Sara Baartman
too savage that we just
killed ourselves.
This is For Colored Girls
who have considered

Sometimes we hold on to
too much pain.
Sometimes we just try to
But those Oak tree brown
eyes transport the truth,
just seems no one else has
had the courage to gaze
into your eyes for too long.
Medusa, your black girl
all that you’ve been
through petrifies them

“How are you still here?”

They ask
Fat i ma Nasi y r 77
How are you still here?
After your mammary glands gave what they could
producing sustenance
to sustain a life.
Sometimes you birth pain
that hates you
for how much you look
like them
for how the world taught them
to hate who they are.

Still so beautiful,
spreading a love that
provides reason for why
the moon shines.
Our essence runs deep and
resilient like Redwoods,
like the rose that grew
forth from the concrete,
always remember that you
too bloom.

Fat i ma Nasi y r 79
N T S, J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 7

Her Laura Ashley wedding dress—dry-cleaned,

folded, boxed for safe keeping, remains
in the bedroom closet on the top shelf
above the pole where her clothes once hung.

Christmas ornaments and strings of tiny white

lights, unplugged most of the year, rest inside
other boxes of different sizes on the top shelf too
above a line of empty hangers.

On a side shelf in the same closet,

her cats—Ratso and Gigi—remain as ashes
in small wooden containers, never opened,
never interred as intended in the garden below.

On another side shelf above her cats, lie Christmas linens

—red and green table cloths, matching napkins, a
runner, his Norwegian mother’s needle point placemats
—all used once a year for thirty-seven years.

An eternal love music box, faded blue, sits

on his tall oak dresser. When wound up, it plays
Send In The Clowns, while inside, Pierrot wobbles atop

a rolling beach ball, a smaller ball, balanced on one finger.

Mister Smudge, his cat, very much alive

with his master so often gone, curls into a ball in a tall
chest bed drawer below the mattress where a white cotton
comforter no longer opens each night to welcome her in.



She walks like Tina Turner

And she talks like a philosopher
And I wanted her
All of her
The moment I watched her mouth design my name
My name had never sounded so Christmas Eve
Than right then
In August

In that same black t-shirt

And habitual cigarette,
She looked so arctic
It was the hottest
Her entire body is nonchalant

But she gets mad like a God

And weeps like Christ

When she kisses me,

It’s like running from the bulls
In Pamplona
In the middle of a dive bar
In San Francisco

She’s like a bruise
You can’t stop poking at
I can’t stop touching her
Even though she’s all hot stoves
And cyclones

We fight like World War One

Screaming like car alarms
Throwing punches like boxers
We always do
There’s never a break like
How there’s no break
From laundry
Or bills to pay
I wouldn’t change it for
A week of nothing but Fridays
She amazes me

And me?
I fuck with the lights on
I’m terrified of things you can’t
I do everything so carefully

I tucked my moth-ridden heart

Into yards of bubble wrap
Mustering up the bravado
To ask her
To let me make her coffee
Every morning
I’d do it perfectly

When she left me,
It was like lightening
Destroying a perfect sky
Like no clean water in a flood
Like falling on gravel,
Skinning your palms
Like choking on
Your own tongue

She says,
When it hits you,
After you’ve pulled the
Needle from your vein

It feels like clear traffic

On the freeway
A hug from your mother
Towels from the dryer
Marshmallows over a fire

You just die

A small death
And then it’s over

I miss watching her smile

As lazily as a cat stretching
In the sunlight

I miss strolling my fingers

Up the bumps of her spine

Anna Alle n 85
She plays me like a piano
She throws me as far
As the eye can see
She loves as hard as a forty hour work week
She just doesn’t love me
And it’s like that
It’s like that.


So my shitdick 20-year-old manager named fucking

Chad fires me from the haunted house—after I’ve done
six Octobers there, become the werewolf everyone
loves to hate—because I can’t take it anymore with
people bringing their five-year-old babies into the
haunted house, and the babies crying and probably
having nightmares for the rest of their fucking lives,
so yeah, I take off my mask and yell at a mom. She
goes, Don’t tell me what to do with my kid, and I’m
like, Don’t do shit that makes me have to tell you what
to do. Then we really get into it, and maybe I call her
some names, I dunno, but half an hour later Chad fires
me. And I’m like, Seriously, Chad, you’re acting like
I’m the monster here?

He calls me unprofessional and some other stuff. I

tell him to go fuck himself, grab my bag and walk out
the Cannibal Cove side exit, still wearing my rubber
werewolf suit and mask because I’ve coated the insides
of the thing with weeks—hell, years—of my sweat,
and fuck it, it’s mine, this is me. When I get out onto
the street, I keep it on, I growl and bark and chase
people down the street waving my furry arms. Girls
scream, people laugh and call Is that for real? Now

I’m in my monster groove.

In my 48 years I’ve lost a million shitty jobs and until

today I’ve never stolen so much as a paperclip from
them, not so much as a paper clip. Obviously that was
a mistake. I always liked the wolf suit but knowing it
belongs to me makes me love it double. But I guess
I shouldn’t be surprised it took me this long to learn
how to steal. My mom always said God made me a
deliberate kind of soul. I eat at about quarter-speed. A
dinner plate takes me an hour to finish. I read twenty
pages a day, but I remember every word. It took me
thirty-five years to come out as gay, maybe my slowest
thing ever. Since then I’ve only had three girlfriends.
Of all of them, the librarian is the best by a mile. She’s
a little bit older than I am and twice as pretty, but not
in a flashy way. She doesn’t stand out in a photo, her
smile shows her crooked teeth, and she gets a double
chin when she lays in bed reading. But I like to look
at her, so much she gets embarrassed. She sees me
staring and covers her face with the sheet but I’m only
admiring her. It makes me feel like a perv, a bad person,
some gross wolfish man, and knowing how it feels to
be looked at by men like that I don’t want to look at
her that way, but she’s just so damn pretty I take her in
again and again with my eyes.

If I knew how to put the question I’d ask the librarian

to marry me. But I can’t. Look at me, loping down
the street shaking my claws at people and snarling. I
have less than five hundred dollars in savings and I

just got fired from a haunted house. What can I give
the librarian, except to tell her that I’m absolutely and
totally enamored with her, and that I’ve never felt
like this about anyone but her, and knowing myself,
knowing how slow I am to act, if she goes away I
won’t feel this way again before I die. I know how that
sounds. Who only falls in love once, for the first time,
when they’re nearly fifty? Psychos, stalkers, losers and
creeps. No one falls in love like that, except people in
movies, and no one believes in movies anymore. But
how I feel about her is how I feel, so I throw back my
head and howl at the moon and run and run down the
streets of this stupid town.

On the corner of the librarian’s block an egg hits my

mask square on the ear, some dick throwing garbage
from a passing car. They scream words at me but I only
hear noise, the meaning’s pulled away by the grumble
of the engine. Raw yolk seeps through the mask, gets
in my eyes, my mouth. Egg makes everything stink
of egg. Egg stains wolf suits. And I could get fucking
salmonella poisoning. Now I really am pissed. I chase
the car down the street. I’m running hairy and howling
after teenagers, feinting at guys out watering their

The librarian, my librarian, opens the door of her

house and I guess she recognizes me because she says,
“Karen?” I fall on her lawn and roll around howling
and kicking my paws in the air. I want to be done and
take off my wolf mask but I can’t stop it, the rolling

Emi ly De zu ri ck- Ba dran 89

and howling, and I wail into the night, the smell of
my own breath filling the mask, so I’m choking on it,
woofing and panting, crying now with how much I
want to be done.

The librarian kneels and pulls the mask away from my

face. She rests it on the grass. She puts her fingers to
my cheeks and kneads the tears into my skin. The way
she looks at me, I wish I had another mask for her to
take off so I could watch her see me all over again.



for Judi

When I learned that my friend’s husband

was dying, I went to comfort her—but that was my need;
she couldn’t talk about it directly. So,

we talked about how the grass wouldn’t grow

in one spot of her yard, the real estate slump,
how the mail was coming later and later now
on our street. I looked at her. Just looked at her.
For someone who usually knows what to say,
I was barren.

I said, We could go from A to Z

and never find the right words.

Then, she began: A is for the absolute beauty of life.

I was awed by her ability to still feel that way. I said,
B is for not bearing things alone. She responded,
C is for cancer, this fucker. And there we went,
all the way to Z, where I chose zebra,
and then said that nothing, especially death,
is black and white.

- march 5, 2018 -

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