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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
author banter—of which sparkle + blink is a verbatim
transcript. Since December 2009 we’ve presented 1,100
readings by 800 authors in 110 shows and 90 books,
selected by 50 people through a blind selection process
and performed in 70 venues, appearing everywhere
from dive bars and art galleries to state parks and
national landmarks.

The shows are also filmed and loaded online—in text

and video—and rebroadcast on public access television.

There are only two rules to submit:

1. you have to commit to the date to submit
2. you only get up to 8 minutes


info + updates + video of every reading

sparkle + blink 94
© 2018 Quiet Lightning

cover art © Diego Gomez

“Dear Mom and Dad…” by Carly Nairn
first appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.
“Water Brothers” by Steven Gray first appeared in Red Fez.
“Love and Other Fire Hazards” by Shelley Valdez
is forthcoming on

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.
su bmit@ qui e tli g h tn i n g . o r g
curated by
Lapo Guzzini + Romalyn Schmaltz
featured artist
Diego Gomez | @designnurd

SHELLEY VALDEZ Love and Other Fire Hazards 1

CAROL DORF Abrupt Changes of State 9
MARCI VOGEL The Mapmaker Is Revealed
to Be a Woman 11
FELIZ MORENO Woman Refracted 13
PETER BULLEN Fascinating 17
GARK MAVIGAN The Fidget Spinner King 23
ERIC KURHI Kung Fu and the
Suicide Garage 29
CARLY NAIRN Dear Mom and Dad: I’ve Decided
to Live Every Day Like it’s
Burning Man 41
STEVEN GRAY Water Brothers 47
MIA KIRSI STAGEBERG Gustav Klimt Painting 49
KATIE TANDY Amnesia and Other Gifts 51
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 -

this morning i woke up wanting

to tell you that i am a burning house

a lightning
stovetop disaster a sound
with no alarms

maybe at first i was a city

and maybe the Almighty wanted me damned

maybe i am a hazard and a place

where nothing grows but still

i’ve found a willow who would weep for me

who lets our limbs turn to trees
imagines us blooming

when the sunlight makes shapes

at our elbows and the sheets
grow too warm for our skin
you ask me if i want
to get Fancy Coffee and the answer
is Always Yes
near the swing set

near the railroad
near the memorials lining the freeway

we ring invisible doorbells at the playground

you are the strange and sudden mailman

i am the girl who invites you to stay

and while we stroll past slides and awnings

and build homes from plastic roofs

i want to tell you of the space

my pulse will make for you how yes

that is the living room and yes

it’s filled with flames

but if you wanted to dance

i’d still let you
wreck the furniture

and as we press our palms

to our centers and imagine
the songs that could sleep there

i wonder how to tell you how

the last person who fit my head
against their heartbeat

burned my bones
and burst my vessels
with the same hands

but you assemble

the stars in my bedroom you

offer your wrists

for glitter and ink you

drink the sparks

that line your coffee cup and taste
only sacredness

how uncanny and how grateful

i am to be the fire
you walk through anyway to know a

love a feeding inferno

love a tender severity

love the storm

and the shelter
all at once

Sh e lle y Va lde z 3


Before we die I’ll kiss every inch of you

what you said
and you searched it all as a man finds
(well maybe not behind my right knee)
but what about my deer’s-eye heart?

Now you’re dead

and my dreams of you,
can they sing about colors of water?
like a kung fu movie I wrap your hair
your dank floating hair in my fists and throw
you into space and slam you back
at my body
let you feel
every inch

even the unkissed places

this is what happens

when you’re dead
and it’s time that one of us started to sing of
the colors of water
and let them spread

I am a foreigner, I know nothing

of Hostess Twinkies, Black
Friday sales or green bean casseroles. The Fourth

of July is a mystery to me, yet the automatic

machine-gun of fireworks is universally
familiar to me, in other contexts. I am Americanized

yet still a foreigner especially in arguments,

like: you stupid foreign bitch.
I retain a layer of foreign-ness

like a Mercedes Benz: a little bit

Los Angeles but also kinda Düsseldorf.
I should learn the Fifth Amendment,

my Miranda Rights—should I need them

—and all about the Mayflower. I should also learn
about Gay Panic Defense, snicker doodles

and the Right to Bear Arms. Holiday sweaters.

I should also learn to sit my foreign ass
down and shut my foreign mouth up,

especially with police officers. I should
pledge allegiance and neutralize
my accent and purchase a stars’n’stripes

T-shirt, wear it with a push-up bra,

show lots of cleavage, hold a Pabst Blue
Ribbon in one hand, a Mossberg

shotgun in the other, because

Americans like guns, tits and beer
and we all want to be liked, right?

Even though I’m hella acclimated

I’m still a bit of a foreigner.
I accidentally talk of Boxing Day

and fortnights and wait to be corrected.

I’m transitioning to being American, as American
as cherry pie, as Chevrolet, as Frito Lays.

I’m gonna blow this popsicle stand;

catch ya later; peace out:
I’m gonna make like a banana and split.

“Out of one hundred people...
living in constant fear of someone or something 79.”
Wislawa Szymborska

In my childhood there were fathers to fear and nuclear

war. Radiation. This was before children were given
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, so no wonder
we felt hopeless in spite of the cans my grandparents
kept in the basement. The footage of the Shoah that
appeared in school didn’t help. Did they want to scare
us into keeping our papers at the ready?

My friends are out demonstrating against another

executive order. I’m proud of them but am in my
house grading papers. What use are writers? Math
teachers have something to say but the problem with
statistics is that most of the time, approximately 87%
of the time, knowing statistics increases uncertainty.

Actually I made up that number, but given the time,

could come up with one that most would agree on.
The Doomsday clock was just a metaphor, hands
creeping closer to midnight. Then in the 90s we
stopped worrying so much about nuclear war,
despite all the wars with their lists of the dead, and

dirty bombs that kept on leaking radiation long after
the explosions.

Cut to a commercial, please. I saw a movie today, set in

the years of my adolescence. My favorite part was seeing
Our Bodies, Ourselves in the hands of a teenage boy. He
wants to be a good man, to give pleasure, to listen to
girls. We, by which I mean teenage girls, studied that
book the way you would if you were stuck in a small
town with only a bible for company. The last president,
who I believe wanted to be a good man, could have
seen the Hawaiian version of that adolescence. Does
this president want to be good? Recognition of the
other hasn’t happened in his tweets. He didn’t brag
about giving pleasure, just his body parts.

In an emergency don’t forget to turn off the gas. There

are a lot of books to pass out to the children before
the end-times. They may need a minimal grounding
in mathematics for which I recommend The Number
Devil, though that story cleaves to number theory,
while statistics is the mathematics of our data-
burdened lives.

One in two? One in three? So many arguments

interrupt the quantitative, demand a qualitative
explanation. The list of fears grows even though the
children deserve the hope left in the bottom of the

We were navigating the sad, pulling branches off trees
with chainsaws
& bulldozing trunks. Startled birds
did not know where to go in the chaos.
Would you be able to survive in the wilderness,
have the capacity
to banish what haunts? She had a way of
moving across a page. To describe
her as a puzzle maker wouldn’t do it justice.
Everyone thought
she was a great constructor, her diagrams wide open,
but she was
discontented. I’ve been so general, she
complained. I long for
detail & am ashamed of my ambition. And if she had you
on her knee, it was fascinating the way she seemed to
draw whole constellations out of voice & air.
She conjured up a cake once,
poppy seed lemon, its circular shape
spiraling the sun. Somewhere in a northern port city,
devoured mangoes inside the hull of a ship, & those
of us
still on earth pointed from our huts
to her floating wicker basket & thought
surely she would fall out of the sky.


She hated her skin. She had been only ten when the
bumps on her forehead started to form like a pink
mountain range of shame over her brow. Some girls
change early, the doctor said, patted mother’s knee.
Mother sighed wistfully. Paid the doctor.

She arrived at school with diamonds drilled into her

brow bone, her forehead sparkling. The girls in her
class told her they were pretty, so pretty, were they
real? Could they touch them? She let them because she
was beautiful now and they were real, and she knew
all the other girls were jealous because they had not
yet changed.

Then she hated her hair. She was fifteen, and all the
other girls in school had feather implants already
swaying from their scalp like winged goddesses.
Feathers are boring, she told her mom, all the girls
have done that already. She was more special than the
rest, more tasteful, more unique.

Tinsel. In only the colors she liked the most – teal,

lavender, tangerine. It hung from her head like the
fringe on the old-timey dresses the women wore

in the old-timey movies as they clapped their knees
together and danced, looking over their shoulders
coyly. The tinsel fringe was chrome stained and tinted.
It was sewed into her scalp so professionally that the
other girls couldn’t even find the seams. Did it hurt?
They asked. How much did it cost? They touched their
own feathers longingly.

She did not like her thin, lackluster lips, so she had
them infused with dye. The color label on the tube
attached to the artist’s needle read ‘Blister.’

She did not like her teeth. They were plain. She was
only twenty and they were already beginning to yellow.
She had them replaced with obsidian rock, filed down
to perfect sharpness.

Then she did not like her feet. So unnecessary, she

told the doctor. So ugly. He nodded understandingly,
pulled a brochure from his chest pocket. Many folks
are getting them replaced nowadays, he said. Solidified
gelatin, trimmed to the appropriate size for your body
type. They come in a variety of dyes and veneers. You
can even have them upholstered, if you wish.

When she showed her girlfriends, they gasped in

wonder. We’ve heard of these gelatin fits! They said.
They are all the rage in Japan, just starting to hit the
market here. How do you like them? She liked them
just fine, considering the cost of upkeep, she said with
laughter that sounded like glitter.

She did not like her fingers, the way the knuckles
bulged like the knobs of the museum trees. She had
them replaced with antique chopsticks, fashioned out
of stainless steel and molded to bend like real, human
joints. She liked the way they rung when she clicked
her fingers together.

Then she did not like her clothes. They laced and
frilled oddly. Too much frump. Plain-jane. Her stylist
suggested mirrors. Mirrors like medieval armor, but
with the grace of a chandelier. Your followers will love
it, he told her, it’s so branché.

So she arrived at the ceremony in mirrors, dangling

from her shoulders, breasts, eyelashes. They tinkled
when she shuffled in her solid gelatin feet, her diamond
crusted cheek bones raising in smile, obsidian teeth
flashing for the paparazzi. The camera bulbs winking
at her again and again and again. Blinking, as she
refracted everywhere.

F e li z More no 15


I had no business being there. I was not used to an

artistic crowd.

But Frank had insisted. While seated at a long table

with the other guests I had this wild thought that
maybe I was there to be sacrificed, and if the guests
were to do it without hurting me too much, I might
just go along with it. The thing about being sacrificed
is that it’s not a lot of work, and requires no social
skills to speak of. You offer yourself up, they take it
from there. Frank asked me if I knew his wife’s name.
Not only did I not know it, I didn’t know which of the
women she was.

“I don’t,” I said.

“It’s a good thing I know it,” Frank said, laughing.

“Her name is Cynthia,” he said eventually.

“A delightful name,” I said.

“Just because she’s sitting next to you doesn’t mean

you can get fresh,” Frank said.

“You can if you like,” the woman sitting next to me
said, and the guests smiled like they knew something
I didn’t. “He’s a writer,” Frank said to his wife, as if
she should be aware of that now that she’d said it was
alright for me to get fresh. Was I really a writer? I
worked at Starbucks so I was more barista than writer.
Perhaps I was the first ever barista to be invited to
Frank’s house, and because of the arty, fascinating
crowd he had assembled, he was looking to cover for
me. That was generous therefore I started to love him.
Just as I was loving Frank, Cynthia moved her chair
close to mine. I worried that Frank and the guests
may have noticed. Being artists perhaps this was not
the sort of thing they gave their attention to, lost as
they might be in thoughts about shapes and forms,
colors and materials. I was acutely aware of Cynthia’s
shape and form because I could feel her legs and thighs
bumping up against mine. From my waist down to my
feet, my body tingled with a strange, unfamiliar heat.

It was deeply pleasurable and a little frightening. I

burrowed into my own head to distract myself from
the furnace down below, and thought more about
Frank’s description of me as a writer. It was true, I did
own a box of index cards on which I had written a
few sentences, sometimes a whole paragraph. I’d been
looking to cobble a piece of writing together, perhaps
a prose poem I could read by candlelight to a certain
someone when I found her. In my head I was going
back and forth as to whether I should go with scented
or un-scented candles. That’s when Cynthia tapped me

on the shoulder.

“Help me collect the dishes,” she said. I sprang to my

feet. Carefully I gathered up some plates. It was as if
an episode of Downton Abbey had taken over. In the
take-over, I’d become a servant and so had Cynthia,
only she was the head servant, the boss of us all.

“Follow me,” she said. I followed her down a long

hall that led away from the dining room toward the
kitchen. The kitchen was tiny, a surprise given the
otherwise stately dimensions of the house. However,
the small size of the kitchen brought us together in
a whole different way. There was no bumping of legs
like at the dinner table, no body contact at all, but
inside I was vibrating. She placed her pile of dishes
in the sink, then glanced back at me as if to say, now
you do the same. I put my pile in the sink slowly and
with great concentration, fearing any damage that
might come to them through inadvertence. She pulled
a chair out from the kitchen table and placed it beside
the dishwasher. I took the liberty of getting a chair of
my own and sat across from her. She reached into the
dishwasher and handed me a desert bowl, then a coffee
cup, then a plate. I thought of the lengths people go
to in search of happiness. I thought of the lengths I
had gone to. And there it was, happiness in the form of
bowls, cups, and plates passed from her hand to mine.
I placed each item on the table as if they were artifacts
of immeasurable worth. Cynthia looked at me for a
long time. That had never happened. The look I was

P e t e r Bu lle n 19
used to from women was the look of an afterthought, a
small further investigation leading to no firm decision.
With the dishes done, she leaned back in her chair.

“What’s your kissing style?” she said.

I panicked. I didn’t know there were kissing styles.

“Oh don’t worry,” she said, “it’s alright if you don’t have
an answer.” “I knew a man once,” she said, “with such
an exquisite mouth, a mouth you’d want to paint, if
painting is what you did. Anyway that man and I kissed.
We were in each other’s mouths. You understand?”

“Yes,” I said.

“It was as though locks were placed by a demon in that

mouth of his. Everywhere my tongue travelled there
was a wall, in a man’s mouth of all places. It’s not
where you expect to find such an obstruction. I don’t
think he knew. People don’t know those things and
other people don’t tell them. You don’t kiss like that,
do you?”

“I hope not,” I said.

She stood up, came over, cupped my face in her hands.

“Do we leave the dishes on the table?” I asked.

“Ah yes,” she said, “the proper place for the dishes,

that is quite the mystery. Perhaps you and I, untamed
and crazy as we might be, should just let it remain

“Perhaps,” I replied.

Then we were in each other’s mouths. It went on

for a long time and was intensely pleasurable, but
something about it didn’t seem right.

When it was over I had to ask her: “Will I be sacrificed?”

“Probably,” she said, “you don’t mind, do you?”

“Not really,” I said.

After all, it had been a wonderful evening.

P e t e r Bu lle n 21

There are two types of people at Starbucks on a

Monday night: want-to-be-theres and need-to-be-

Want-tos include middle-aged men who ogle shapely

customers, sip, ogle, sip, ogle, repeat; bootleggers using
the free Wi-Fi to torrent Game of Thrones; and teeny
boppers slurping frappuccinos and playing Pokémon

Need-tos include midterm-cramming college students;

cops grabbing some joe before hitting the streets; and
homeless folks who need a roof and an outlet to charge
their cell phone.

I, a want-to—but perhaps a closet need-to—am reading

a book about octopuses at the Starbucks in Daly City,
just south of San Francisco. I enjoy studying creatures
who share my reclusive habits. I enjoy reading at
night, at coffee shops, even at a 24-hour Starbucks that
attracts characters you typically only find on the page.
I’m not more than five pages deep when a fellow
want-to, piqued by my octoperusal, asks if I’m
working on a research report.

“Nah,” I say, gripping my Americano. I feel bad for the
guy, who appears mid-to-late twenties but radiates
the gloom of an old widower. Concave acne craters
pepper his face. His head, topped with disheveled,
short brown hair, dangles like a drooping flower as he
aimlessly flicks a green and orange fidget spinner.

Realizing my curt response felt standoffish, I rebound

and ask what brings him to the squiggly green mermaid
at such an hour.

“Shoot. Nothin’ really,” he says dejectedly. “Jus’ got

kicked out of Walgreen’s so figured I’d chill here for
a bit.”

I’m not sure how to respond. Should I ask why he got

the boot? Probably not. I weigh my options:

a) Propose CVS as a worthy alternative

b) Note that you can’t spell Walgreen’s

without “Al Green”

c) Play it safe and say “Pfft. Damn, that’s wack.”

“Pfft. Damn, that’s wack.”

After agreeing to the wackness, the weary traveler says

the Walgreen’s manager kicked him out for stealing,
but he wasn’t—not this time—though he admits to
pocketing a candy bar on occasion. He then pulls

out a Forever 21 backpack with the tag still attached
and we start talking about octopuses again: how they
have three hearts, how their tentacles contain two-
thirds of their brains, how they live briskly but briefly
underwater in a mysterious deep sea cavern, obscured
from the world.

The Forever 21 bag has babies. He unzips the main

pouch and unleashes a fleet of what must be 21 fidget
spinners. They slide across the croissant-littered
counter and he gracefully flicks each one, studying the
makeup of its being, listening to his symphony of spin.
Finally, they are all mid-revolution, a constellation of
fidgets exploding over and over again.

Some are plastic. Some are metal. Some are metal-

looking plastic. An unlikely trio of Terminator, Ninja
Turtles, and Oakland Raiders fidgets are dancing
together to corporate coffee shop jazz. Our convo
begins spinning uncontrollably.

“Yeah, I got outa San Mateo County a couple weeks

back. Was locked up on some BS and missed my
daughter’s third birthday.” I nod my head sideways
in agreement. He dips his face into both hands and
comes back up for air before showing me cell phone
snaps of the little fidget, his features suddenly aglow,
his voice sprightly. I realize she’s the only fixed point
in his chaotic solar system.

His daughter is the reason he kicked the habit: years

Ga rk Mavi gan 25
of meth and heroin use, sometimes with his mom
who birthed him while she was incarcerated. Imagine
serving a nine-month sentence inside a warm womb
only to enter the confines of a cold steel cage.

The fidgeteer unearths more fidgets from his bag and

nibbles on his fingernails that are running out of
nibbling real estate. I hopelessly try to keep the fidgets
in motion like a sailor plugging holes on a sinking ship,
waiting to hear the next movement of his biographical
concerto, my moccasins tap-tap-tap-ing against the
mucky floor.

And then, like much of our conversation, he drops

another hammer out of nowhere: his older brother
was recently murdered in a drug deal gone awry. He
delivers this deadpan, his eyes still fixated on the
plastic-y metal machines, and any vocabulary I possess
slowly tiptoes outside the room. Before I can cook up
a consolatory jambalaya of “sorry…loss…condolences,”
I remember that sometimes it’s best to speak volumes
with silence.

So I hush. He flicks life into another fidget; it rests

on his finger and he continues recounting once the
propellers spin to a stop. It turns out his brother left
a six-year-old son behind and he adopted his nephew
after the shooting, fully aware of the foster home
sweepstakes that often lands on bankrupt. He opens
up a few dog-eared chapters from his own foster care
experience and I realize that lifting candy bars from

Walgreen’s is a best-case scenario when you’re raised
by foster parents who glean parenting tips from

The Starbucks employees are now playing their

own jams over the speakers but he’s still moving
to his own beat. Only a few fidgets are in rotation
as he tangentially spews more loose anecdotes: jail
stories, the rocket arm he had in high school, years of
drumming lessons that fell by the wayside. There’s a
healing power in his sporadic recollection and it seems
I’m the only audience he’s had in a cool minute.

We finally ask for each other’s names as I scoot my

chair in and prepare to leave. Like toddlers in a playpen,
adults, too, can play with toys together as nameless
creatures. “Danny, but my friends call me Danny Boy.”
He lets out a “ha” at the tail-end as if he hasn’t heard
his own name in a while.

Danny Boy wants to show me one last trick before I

depart from The Bucks. Snagging a complimentary ice
water from the barista, he slyly pulls an instant coffee
flavor squirter from his shirt pocket and splashes some
into the cup. He then swirls the drink into an instant
coffee tornado and is ecstatic when I approve of his
concoction—one last twist from the master of spin.

The fidget orchestra finally still, I tell Danny Boy

to be easy and walk out into the 1 a.m. black. I look
back through the glass. His head is adroop once more,

Ga rk Mavi gan 27
balancing fidgets on his fingers like planets, whipping
up a whirlwind, yearning to spin more tales to an idle
patron; so that he can remember, so that he can forget.




They said there had been a death in the house, a

“natural death” is what they said. The previous owner
had perished on the premises and by law they had to
disclose that—and that’s all the real estate guy would

So we really didn’t give it much thought, although the

old Craftsman did have something ... lingering … in the
form of taps from the walls at night. It wasn’t vermin or
old pipes—these were very distinct taps right behind
your head sometimes it even sounded like Morse Code.

We named it “Tapper” and wrote it off to old houses

having personalities—Tapper was just that, a dash of
“eerie” house spice.

Then came the revelation.

I was in the backyard doing some yardwork a few

weeks after the move-in when the head of the lady
next door appeared at the fence. She introduced
herself and, in the manner of a neighborhood gossip,
quickly brought the topic of discussion around to

“What happened to John, it’s so sad.”

“Yeah, he was pretty young, huh? Was it a sudden

disease or something? They just told me it was natural

I saw her eyes light up with eagerness. Oooh hoo hoo…

She was going to be the first to tell me something

“Well, I suppose you could call it natural causes. If

you call hanging yourself with a rope in the garage a
‘natural cause’!’”

“Holy shit! You mean to tell me I’m the owner of a

damn Suicide Garage?”

She gave me the rundown—it was the biggest

thing to ever happen on the quiet Alameda avenue.
John’s girlfriend had run into the street screaming
hysterically one morning, gesturing toward the garage
but incomprehensible—she didn’t speak English and
nobody could tell if John had beat her or what the
heck was going on. So everybody called 9-1-1.

Fire, police, ambulances filled the street and they

found John hanging in the garage. No note, neighbors
had no idea why. His family sold the house; we bought
it through an agent and never met them—so our
knowledge of John is very limited.

But the story made the tappings more sinister.
Malevolent, the calling of a spirit beyond the grave
who was so discontent in life that he didn’t find peace
even in death. That’s not the kind of thing you want
lurking around the house.

The tapping got worse and—listen, I’d been watching

“Ghost Adventures” for advisory purposes, that’s the
show where the jock guys go into haunted houses and
yell at ghosts to instigate a manifestation, you know:



Yeah, “Ghost Adventures.”

So one night when the tapping seemed particularly bad

and coming from above us in the attic, and inspired by
“Ghost Adventures,” I grabbed the vacuum cleaner and
went up there, shoving the suck-brush around on the
floor, jamming it into corners and hollering, “Who ya
gonna call? Ghostbusters” over and over until…


Four gunshots rang out from down the block, followed

by sirens, a lot of sirens. And that’s the only time
anyone has been murdered on my street in the nearly
9 years I’ve lived there. That was wayyyy too creepy a
coincidence—turns out it was a drug deal thing gone

Eri c Ku rh i 31
bad and an arrest was made but still, I fucked with the
ghost of the suicide guy and someone got shot. I mean,
what the fuck?

So now Tapper had some sorta unholy street cred and

was, at least in my book, a big-time spook. I dreaded
the taps, and couldn’t sleep after hearing them. And
that’s when I talked to the other neighbor about my
suicide garage.

“Yeah, that was a strange thing. John didn’t seem very

suicidal. He played music and jammed with friends,
his kids would come visit sometimes, I’d just talked to
him and he seemed fine. But you know ... the timing
was kind of ... funny.”

“Funny? How so?”

“Well, it happened just a couple of days after that actor

… from the “Kung Fu” TV show … was found dead in
that hotel room … in Thailand…”

“D-D-David Carradine? Holy fucking shit you’re telling

me I’ve got a goddamn Auto-Erotic Asphyxiation

So if the gunshots down the street made Tapper seem

legit, this bit of information kinda stripped him of his
haunt credibility.

Look, it’s one thing to have a disturbed soul hanging

about all wracked with depression and filled with
some kind of envious hate of the living. It’s another
thing entirely to have the spirit of an experimental
masturbator lurking about.

So Tapper became “Tapper the Whapper.” Then we got

a dog, the tappings slowed and for the most part have
ceased and sometimes we crack jokes about going into
the garage at the stroke of midnight on a full moon,
and if the weather’s warm and windless and traffic’s
light just maybe—listen close—you just might hear ol’
Tapper off in the corner, gently fapping away for all

Eri c Ku rh i 33
What am I supposed to say
when a man says,
“I like your technique,”
after I’ve wiped his ass?

Is that a compliment?
Should I rejoice?
I wonder about these things
when the disability day program
where I work as an instructor
has such a hard time
hiring and keeping men
willing and able
to wipe men’s asses,
that it press-gangs me
into helping at what we call “hygiene”
five days a week,
two hours a day.

What am I supposed to say

when an attendant and I
arrive at the same time
to help a client
waiting in a wheelchair
outside of a restroom
and I ask, “Who’d you rather help you?”
and the client points at me?
Why me?
Am I a better ass wiper than the other guy?
Do I give bottom service?
I wonder about these things
as the client laughs
while I wheel him into the restroom
and close the door.

What am I supposed to say

when I transfer a man
from the toilet to his wheelchair
and buckle his seatbelt
and he asks, “Were you an attendant
when you first started working here?”?
What I want to say is,
“Sometimes it feels like I’ve worked
twenty years before the ass,”
but he wouldn’t understand my joke
on Richard Henry Dana Jr.’s memoir,
Two Years Before the Mast.

Instead, I say,
“I was a classroom aide when I started,
but I did attendant work then.”

What I didn’t say was,

“I was later promoted
to manage the small business center,
but now I’m back
to helping men do their business.”

What am I supposed to say

when a workshop presenter
asks my colleagues and me,
“Tell us how long you’ve worked at this agency?”

and I hesitate before answering
only to hear my colleagues gasp,
and I can hear them think,
“My God, that man has wiped assholes
longer than I’ve been alive.”?

Perhaps I’ve stayed too long.

Perhaps I can’t leave.
I’ve always joked with myself
that I didn’t want to be
wiping assholes for a living
when I’m at the age
when someone should be
wiping my hole.

What am I supposed to say

when a guy on a changing table,
his diaper filled with crap,
says, “I’m sorry.
I know you don’t like to do this.”?

I wonder about this sometime.

When did I ever signal
that I hated changing men’s diapers
and wiping their holes?

Assholes don’t lie.

Those nerves around the sphincter
can tell if the gloved hand wiping them
is harsh or sloppy,
perfunctory or miss-the-hole distant.

The problem with this is that men,

especially those unable to wipe themselves,

André Le Mont Wi lson 37

may interpret an insensitive hand as
hatred of them,
hatred of their bodies,
hatred of their disabilities and inabilities.

You don’t want to touch me.

You blame me for shitting myself.
You hate me for my diapers,
for my incontinence Pull-Ups,
for my colostomy bag.

Add to these anxieties

societal taboos about assholes
and I end up with a guy crying on a changing table
because he feels he’d let me down
by not holding his shit until he got home.

I resolved never again

to allow my client feel shame
about his asshole and its functions.

I decided to love the asshole.

Love the smooth asses

and the hairy asses.
Love the tight asses
and the baggy asses.
Love the dangling balls
and the dingleberries.

Love “getting in the zone”

to such an extent
that I don’t smell shit
when I’m wiping a man.

Love the spontaneous erections
the client and I may have,
and learn how to finish wiping him
despite the distractions
so I could wipe the next hole.

Love the way a man’s face winces

or his lips sigh
when a wet wipe swipes his hole,
which expands and winks at me.

Sometimes I wonder
if there is more to assholes
than shit and wipes.
My partner hasn’t touched my hole
nor I his in I don’t know how long,
and yet here I am
wiping other men’s holes
five days a week,
two hours a day.

I’ve wiped some holes so many times

that my latex-gloved
and wet wipes-swaddled fingers
can tell assholes apart.
It’s like reading Braille.
This man’s a slit.
This one’s a starburst.
“You have a small hemorrhoid here on your right.
You may want to have your doctor look at it.”

What am I supposed to say?

I say, “My pleasure.”

André Le Mont Wi lson 39


Hi! It was nice to briefly talk to you on the phone

when you were at Chelsea’s wedding in Vermont, and
I hope things are going well with redecorating the
summerhouse at the Cape. But that’s not why I’m
writing. I know you’ve been hearing some strange
things. Some slanders about my lifestyle and wardrobe
choices. This letter is to let you know that there’s
nothing to worry about. Despite what you may have
heard from Cousin Patrick, or that busybody Aunt
Thelma, I have not joined a cult, or the Green Party.
No, nothing so drastic. I’ve just decided to live every
day like it’s Burning Man.

The Burn has taught me that joy in life is all about

forgoing expectations and the capitalistic trappings of
wealth and instead radicalizing self-expression while
finding the beauty in pairing a leather bikini top with
the glitter wings from my elementary school Tinker
Bell Halloween costume and a space helmet.

Please don’t think I am just dismissing the education

I received from a decent public university. My
current partner Sven and I are applying my

knowledge in ritualistic arts and critical postfeminist
theory to the nonuse of money in my everyday life,
which of course, also includes ignoring my student
loan payment obligations (sorry, co-signers) and that
monthly soul-crushing tyranny called “rent.” We are
on a path of self-discovery, you see, and nothing as
pedestrian as currency should stifle our journey.

If money finds its way into my life, I am quick to purge

myself of it, usually on a bulk purchase of neon pink
faux fur (for my ongoing art installation “touch me
here, not here”) and crafting the occasional kneepads
needed for our roller disco. Plus, enough MDMA, G,
and other drugs named only in uppercase letters, but
are not acronyms, that I don’t expect you to know, to
keep the fire dancing rolling until the wee hours.

At 31-years-old, Mom and Dad, I am making this

decision as an adult, and I ask that you respect my
choice, and ask that you please do not kick me off the
phone plan. I believe you will be pleased to know that
what I now lack in fecundity I more than make up for
in an intentional living practice.

Since making this momentous decision my conscious

lifestyle instructor acknowledged the other day as we
were dosing out our daily turmeric intake, my aural
energy, especially in regard to letting go of the daily
duties required of most functioning adults in society,
has become almost shamanic. At my weekly cuddle
puddle I have a new sense of selfness, and my friend

Robotron, whom I met on the playa last year, said they
noticed a wellspring of attentive presentness as we did
our crystal therapy.

I am not just another fair weather free spirit. I wear a

fanny pack in which I hold compost 24/7, keeping it
on during showers and sex. It’s important I feel close
to the Earth and its ever changingness. My goats, Lady
Lou, Countess Eleanor, and Reginald Jr. Esq. have taken
residence in the guest room of my condo, as they are
in need of constant care and regular massages (which
I may have dabbled into my trust fund to pay for), but
don’t fret, the luxurious milk they will provide for my
organic, artisanal goat milk face mask company I plan
to start will more than make up for any setbacks.

However, because I want to live a humble life I will

be donating any money I earn from the facemasks to
The International Society of Geriatric Goats and those
who love them, a very worthy cause. But I am sorry, I
am going to have to cut this short, Mom and Dad, my
compost oven (I LOVE COMPOST) just erupted and a
new potpourri of decaying mass is disturbing Reginald.
I think it’s time to turn it.

Be Well,


I’ve given up the name Jennifer for something that

better represents my whole being.

Ca rly Na i rn 43


We walk up to the beach in Marseilles and fuck yes—

it’s a titties out situation, and I’ve never had that
We have a nude beach in San Francisco, but first of
all it’s cold there, and second of all I can never
shake the feeling that someone is jerking off in a
corner somewhere.
Here, there are children running around.
The men aren’t staring, and one of them is playing a
wooden flute.
So I drop blou—and it’s wonderful, obviously.
Oh my titties have not felt like so untitty-like before.
I didn’t realize it, but I’d always conceived of my
own body in sections, and now I just have a torso,
and it spills right into my arms—oh my body is
one shapely thing.
My tan lines feel like stains now.
Sun, please do me a solid and imprint my body with
this new way!
When I go home and this is illegal, I want at least in
my own mirror to have a full body!



I was walking on the water when

I heard a woman saying, “Could you water
the plants and wash the dishes?” and I said,
“I’m walking on the water, woman, and it
takes a certain amount of concentration,
I am trying to keep my balance, I am
walking with transparency.” The woman
said, “I see right through you,” and I said,
“So what, I’m three-fourths water,” and she said,
“It’s more than that.” I said, “If you’re retaining
water it is more, and we have been
recycled since a world of water first
“I want a waiter,” she replied.
I told her this is not about somebody
waiting, it is all about water from the
standpoint of a writer. It is hard
enough to stand your ground when you are throwing
your voice, but try it when you’re walking on
a river of no return, if not the Dead Sea,
and she said, “It’s going to your head,
your brainwaves are evaporating and it
forms into a cloud which follows you
around wherever you go.” I said, “You’re saying

I have water on the brain and that I
look at people through the liquid like
a reservoir affecting the observed?”
There was a tear appearing in her eye,
it didn’t stop her from removing her clothes
and diving into the mirage that I was
walking on. I saw her swimming underneath
my feet, it left me with a sinking
feeling on the verge of the philosophical:
I sink, therefore I am. The woman
slowly floated up and using telepathic
communication said, “I’m yours.”
I thought that was encouraging and so
we managed to coordinate the currents
running through our bodies until there was
a white water rapids of sheer feeling. It was
pouring through us like a fine rapport.


The first time I fell in love was with a mummy. I was eleven
years old. The prone, captured, wizened and distilled body
of a time-sanctified person held me in a swoon. Blackened
fingers, naked bones revealing knuckles meant for me.
Cheekbones that knew themselves proud. Eye sockets
ornamented by their caved-in gaze. Man or woman? The
length of the body my size. How I wished to hear that
voice. My face went tight with longing to go bone to bone.

Another time, while I was married, I loved a captive

baboon. Whenever I went to his cage, which was often,
the way a dutiful niece visits an old people’s home, I sat
with him, quietly measuring his autistic rocking in my
shoulders. His small eyes rocketed all directions as his
head remained thrown in obdurate stillness. I spoke to him,
then sang, assuring and repeating what I interpreted. The
sound of my songs carried our close fate; he would hear
the sorrow I showered on his shut heart; his senses would
open toward grace with mine. Days and days were the face-
to-face meetings I made, as he slowed my invitations; as
the cold unease he transferred showed the nature of our
union, that he sought nothing—only endured—that
my songs rained on burst nerves condemned awake.
Were we not lovers then but twins?



The goodbyes have overturned the horizon and lay

bare their seed on fertile ground; there is a pale face
receding, framed by a curtained windowpane. He’ll
rise, forgetting, but as he slides the curtains open and
hears the tinny metal slide of the rings suspending
them, he will be flooded with misery, a desire to lay
back down in bed.

The light filters through the trees—strange blocks of

shadows dance on the wall. Some leaves are bright,
mantis-green, backlit by the sun—others are fern-
green, muted and shadowed. They tremble on their
branches, the burgundy maple tree in the background
reminds him of rust or blood. He turns and fingers
the sheets where they used to lay, obsessed for many
weeks with one another’s bodies. Her period was
intense—thick and streaming out of her. She was
afraid of taking anything with hormones, so the copper
IUD had rendered one day of every month a kind of
horror scene, but in truth he thrilled at the intimacy
of it, even as he was repulsed by it. It was hot to
the touch, he could almost see steam rise from the
rivulets running down her legs. He thinks of a dead
rabbit sighing its life into the sky.
The stains of her blood trace their bodies and he can’t
bear to throw them out. He decides that the next time
he brings someone home he’ll say he’d cut his foot—or
his hand. If he decides in the moment it will sound
more true.

How do you imagine the future? I often conceive

of it in vignettes like this. Although conceive is the
wrong word because in truth they come to me—the
visions are full-bodied, screaming or sashaying into my
consciousness—I don’t have the sensation of creating

But why are the imaginings so cruel? Why do I

imagine his dread at my recent departure when that
departure is not coming. Yet. That kind of sadness—
those sickening final goodbyes that coat your days in
thick grey ash—is currently coiled sleeping, docile as a
sun-drunk cat.

I remember reading that you often dream of horrible

things so you can psychologically prepare for the very
worst things if and when they happen. Like circuit
training for your nervous system. I recently wrote
about another one of my morbid fantasies which
involves my brother’s tweed coat and my mother’s
grave. My mother was disturbed; she told me she didn’t
like experiencing the “shadow of her own death.” I said
I understood. But I also knew I’d keep imagining it.

Sometimes the casket is open. Sometimes I sing Celine
Dion, choke-laughing at how saccharine and awful the
lyrics are, but goddamn they feel good to belt out on
the highway. Sometimes my father is crying, unshaven.
Rattled and terrified. Sometimes it’s spring and the
brightness of the daffodils silhouetted against the late
March frost is spectacular; I pick as many as I can hold;
I fill her whole casket with them.

It’s one of the hardest days I’ll ever have and I think
my mind is trying to help me pre cope with my own
inevitable unravelling. Perhaps if I imagine it 100
different ways, one of them will be close to the truth
and when the daffodils rear their rippled yellow heads,
I won’t scream into the snow; I will have been here

I’ve been thinking a lot about the dialogue between

imagining and forgetting. In truth, both feel
predicated on possibility. Imagining lances all kinds
of psychological blisters. Adults happily pretend they
can forge the future. Self-help books insist that the
Universe sees your pining and just might bend to your

So go ahead, conjure that piano, that porsche, that

perky-tilted blonde; try things on! Change the
furniture, the rage, the loss; try pesto instead of that
alfredo sauce. Imagine the world being kinder, more
just. Imagine a world that feels less like purgatory—

Kat i e Tandy 53
filled with indiscriminate killings, venomous spiders,
leaking sphincters, inexplicable rashes, impossible
cruelties to children and the environment—and more
like a fraught family reunion! We’re all gathered here
together for a few days...sort of by our own will! We should
all do our best to take care of one another while we’re here
and have a good time before heading our separate ways

But isn’t forgetting also a kind of imagining?

I’ve been reading a lot about amnesia recently. The

Mayo Clinic breaks it down into three types: The
first is retrograde amnesia (difficulty remembering
the past, things that were once so familiar), and the
second is anterograde, which is difficulty learning
new information. These two are caused, of course,
by a delectable variety of absolutely terrible things
from brain swelling and alcohol abuse to seizures and
tumors—you get the idea, the human body is nothing
if not fragile as a paper mache egg…but the kind of
amnesia I’m interested in is the more rare, dissociative,
or psychogenic amnesia, induced by trauma.

The brain protects itself from remembering something

awful. And in this void, in this, once-was-pain space,
we find another kind of imagining. A place where that
thing never happened. You can imagine a life that isn’t
marred by the inky edges of darkness; violence, death,
depression. The mind, knowing what it does to your
poor heart, to your central nervous system, to your

bowels which run with ice when you remember—tidily
blurs those edges until the memory is gauze.

It helps you imagine a better past. It is, of course,

often not much more than a fleeting parlor trick—
the memories course back and cripple you—but it’s a
lovely respite.

My fascinating if mildly morbid research started

because I couldn’t remember having sex with my ex
boyfriend. I realize this a trivial thing in many ways,
but it started to eat at me. It was a small, but potent
and disconcerting void. It was as though someone had
come in with kindergarten scissors and started sloppily
snipping those memories away. Like that very sad, very
wonderful movie Eternal SunShine of the Spotless Mind?

Did I bring the scissors? Did I wear stockings on my

head—my features mashed against the silk mesh—and
start lopping out our love making?

…and then I realized I was relieved. In part. It is both

the cruelest and most lovely of gifts. To forget his face
and hands and feet. It’s like losing time—the minutes
that made hours which made days and weeks—simply

I started looking at the few photographs I had of his

naked body. I’ve always wondered if post break-up
one is even allowed to do that...but I suppose if you

Kat i e Tandy 55
remember their body in your mind it’s tantamount
to the same thing, but I didn’t anymore. So was it a

I started to scroll—that eerily familiar sensation

of thumb-sliding, a gesture once awkward and
unimaginable now ubiquitous—and stare at his limbs,
trying to conjure what once felt like an extension of
my own body.

I suppose my mind is willfully forgetting so I can

move on. His whole body is a scar that’s blistered and
ran and is just a bumpy ridge I run my fingers over in
the dark; I can’t really feel or see it, there’s just a shape
where he once was.

And now? I’m busy imagining more goodbyes; I’m

imagining the void that my absence will bring to
another person’s life. We’ve only just begun and I
already need to forget.

- july 2, 2018 -

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