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Q uiet L


Q uiet L ightning
as performed on
Oct 9 10
As part of Litquake’s Lit Crawl

© 2010 by Evan Karp + Rajshree Chauhan


front + back photography by timothy faust

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edited and designed by evan karp

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Q uiet Lightning

a monthly submission-based reading series

with 2 stipulations

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you only get 3-8 min


« contents »
meghan thornton

the seduction 7

ana elsner

incubation 15

shideh etaat

under the fig tree


steven gray

visit from an ex-girlfriend on acid 27

hansel and gretel 30

roger porter

church folks

sam sax

bed.bugz 39
fran san frisco 43
julia halprin jackson

the politics of inheritance 45

tatyana brown

impact 53
depth perception 56

keely hyslop

mind & body forgive each other 59


maisha johnson

island home

sharon coleman

zone 71

scott lambridis

abort 75

jennifer barone

love noise 81
Meghan Thornton

» I’d love to meet my mom.

» Yeah?

» Yeah, I’d love to ask her what the hell she was
thinking when she slept with my dad.

» Oh, that’s nice.

» Seriously, look at him.

» What if he hears you?

» He won’t hear me. He’s passed out.

» Yeah, but he could hear you subconsciously.

» No, that’s not even a thing. You don’t hear


» You don’t?

» Shit, I don’t know. Maybe. Anyway, I don’t give

a crap. If he’s gonna pass out on the couch like
that, I’m gonna talk shit about him.

Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

» What if he’s sick?

» He’s not sick. He’s drunk. Do you not see the

empty bottle of Jack in his hand?

» There might not have been much left—

» It was a brand new bottle.

» Oh.

» Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh

yeah, my mom. Seriously, what was she

» Well, she had you.

» Yeah.

» Well?

» That’s supposed to instill me with pride? That

she bothered having me just to leave me with
this loser?

» Well, she could have not had you.

» True.

» But she had you.

» She was probably Catholic or something.

Meghan Thornton

» But you’re Jewish.

» My dad’s Jewish. I’m impartial.

» Yeah, but Jews and Catholics, they can’t marry


» Well, they didn’t marry did they? Just had sex

in the back of a Volvo.

» Your dad told you that?

» Yeah, it was a very romantic story.

» Sounds like it.

» Yeah, he’s a real romantic. What was my mom


» She was probably in love.

» Doubtful.

» Why?

» Look at him!

» Well, he wasn’t always like this, you know.

» As long as I’ve known him.

» Yeah, well, when your mom did him he was

Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

the star quarterback.

» “Did him.” Lovely.

» Sorry, when they made love.

» You’re a dick.

» C’mon, I was trying to be tactful.

» Sure.

» Well, so he was somethin’, and she was

probably somethin’, and they got together.
Perfectly natural.

» I guess.

» It’s just what happens.

» Are you trying to get in my pants?

» Dammit, Carrie, your dad’s right there!

» He’s asleep. I asked you a question.

» Whatever.

» You are, admit it.

» Well, maybe just a little.

» See, this is exactly how my mom got into

« 10 »
Meghan Thornton


» What, talking about sex with her dad sitting

two feet away from her?

» No, this…thing. The seduction. Talking about

feelings and crap, and then bang. Sex. That’s
how you guys operate.

» What? No, no way.

» Yeah, whatever.

» Look, you’re the one who brought up your

mom. I wasn’t trying to do anything except you
brought up sex.

» You brought up sex.

» Okay, fine. But there was no seduction or

whatever the hell you just said.

» No?

» No.

» Really?

» Really. I was just being a friend.

» You know, we’re gonna wake up my dad if we

keep talking here.

« 11 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

» I’ve been saying that for the last—

» Maybe we should go upstairs.

» Hey, okay. Yeah, okay.

« 12 »
Meghan Thornton

« 13 »
Ana Elsner

And isn’t it made seductively easy for us to
overlook these clusters of embedded larvae,
voracious maggots, laid in the moist corners
and dark crevasses of our ignorance? How
madly our heads were set spinning by the
pollsters and the carnival whores, bewitching us
with shameless spectacle and boisterous
campaign, while entrapping us with the viral
confetti of tinsel clad and laminated lies.
Remember, this invasive blight of systemic
depredation took hold with little or no
resistance, and began gestating in the body
politic well before the lobbying and the song
and dance, when we were festooned with the
dankness of our sweat, with the yellow ribbons
of our fear, with the ravishing and chronic
blindness to an un-masked reality, which had
been coming on, which was going on, which is
on-going. Face it, these implanted pupae of
calamity, hosted by the soft tissue of our minds,
they await awakening, excubation in unison, sly
maturation into a clandestine army, that is self
deployed to game out the thin membrane of our
fortitude, to deconstruct intelligent compassion,
to eulogize our innocence, and inject a powerful
anti-coagulant so our seeping wounds can never

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Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

Stony Sweetheart,
grazer on meadows
of skin,
WHO chimed you into Sunday,
the one day when there is
no bloodshed?
Flirtatious Dominatrix,
subject of our
now unsleeping,
now raised up
from the darkest soil
of heaven.
Say you wish you were a
but slice through our sinews
with the gold tipped blade
of your song,
your deliriously hypnotic siren song,
that cripples our feeble
at gasping for life.
No bloodshed.
And you are inscrutably a
wanton Seductress,
approaching from far

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Ana Elsner

yet never far enough away
to save us from the
predictable outcome
of our dangerous contrivances,
and let us go
Yours is immortally a love that is,
needs be,
all consuming,
all exhaustive,
deliciously fatal to our bereft
Yet all our new days
we will be,
we dream of your touch,
All now flirtation.

« 17 »
Shideh Etaat

u NDER t HE f IG t REE
Feyzolah Delshad was an athletic man with a
thick, black mustache that looked like a brush
stroke above his eager eighteen year old
mouth. And as his last name suggested he had
a happy heart. The King, Reza Shah was starting
to build the Trans-Iranian Railway and had even
visited Isfahan, where the Jews had first settled
because the land reminded them of Israel. Reza
Shah was personally sympathetic towards the
Jews, even praying in their synagogues, putting
on a yamakah with an Aleph sewn onto it,
boosting the confidence and status of Iranian
Jews everywhere. It was easy to change the
laws of the land, but the mind and hearts of the
people, less so. It was only a minority of Iranians
who would ultimately treat Jews better than
before the Pahlavi Dynasty when a Jewish man
or woman wasn’t allowed to enter a Muslim
man’s shop, but had to stand outside and point
to the fruit he or she wanted to purchase. Their
contaminated fingers could never tap a melon
to see if it was ripe for eating, put it next to
their ears to hear its hollowness, or put an
orange to their nose and inhale. It was only a
small amount of people who would stop
believing that Jews were considered najes or
untouchable and weren’t allowed outside while

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Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

the rain fell, afraid that water would carry their

impurities off of their skin, which is surely where
all impurities are always stored, and would
destroy the city like an apocalyptic flood. Even
after the King’s visit to the synagogue, very
rarely were Jews invited to tea by Muslims.
But on a sweltering day in Isfahan when
people hosed each other down and the pigeons
rested in the shade and it was too hot even for
tea, Feyzolah Delshad took Mahvash, his first
true love (for there would be another, more
important one), to a garden near the city where
the fig trees grew. Mahvash was a Muslim girl
who had a thing for Jewish boys, something
about someone being so untouchable made her
want to touch him more. Her head was shaped
like a pear and the henna that she used in her
hair left a red glowing tint behind and made her
hands look rusty. She rested her head against
the trunk, and Feyzolah rested his head on her
belly, and when she looked down at him she
imagined her belly large and expanding.
“Biyâ berim dasht,” Let’s go to the field,
she sang quietly to him.
“Kodum dasht?” Which field, he asked,
singing back.
“Hamun dashti ke khargush-na dâre, ây
bale- the same that has rabbits, oh yes. Bacche
sayyâb be pâyash tâb dâre, ây bale- and my
dog has a rope on its foot, oh yes,” Mahvash

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Shideh Etaat

“Bacche sayyâb-râ mazan, khargush-e
dashtom râ mazan. Khâb-e khargush be khâb-e
yâr mimunad, bale- Don't kill my dog nor my
rabbits, for the dream of the rabbit reminds me
of the dream of my lover, oh yes,” Feyzolah
sang to her, urging the hunter in the song not to
kill the animals on his field because they
reminded him of his lover. Mahvash twisted one
of his curls in between her fingers and he looked
up at her face, upside down from where he lay,
and he thought- this is a woman to love.
“I want to kiss you down there,” Feyzolah
told her, because Ramin his friend had told him
that girls fall in love with you when you do that.
And she let him because she was feeling
slippery inside and she worried that everything
inside of her would soon fall out if something did
not make its way inside of her. She would’ve
spoken, but there were no words invented yet
for this. Feyzolah moved down below, parted
the thick hairs, tangled like a web, darker, if you
can believe it, than the hair on her head. And he
kissed her like he meant it, because really he
did. He slipped inside and then outside of her,
and it reminded Mahvash of the rhythm of the
song they had been singing together minutes
Let's go to the mountain. Which

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Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

He continued even though it was windy
and the figs knocked wildly on their bodies.
They didn’t mind. He looked up asking with his
eyes, his mouth wet with her and Mahvash
nodded, inviting other parts of him inside of her.
The same that has deer, oh yes. And my
dog has a rope on its foot, oh yes.
The branches were soon bare and
Mahvash moaned as she began to feel empty,
blank, free inside her own body, and she dug
her sweaty hands into his curls and allowed him
even deeper inside of her.
Don't kill my dog, nor my rabbit, nor my
deer, for the grace of my deer reminds me of
the grace of my lover, oh yes.
And before she could even think of her
friend Nasrin who had hung herself in her room
months before, afraid what her father might do
if he found out she had slept with Babak and
was no longer a virgin, Mahvash’s body began
to pulse as if possessed.
“Allahu Akhbar, Allahu Akhbar. Ash-hadu
al-la Ilaha ill Allah,” she cried out to Feyzolah to
God to the tree and the sky and the birds that
flew in flocks above, it was afternoon after all.
Time for prayer. Feyzolah rested on top of her,
their wet bodies slipping against each other. He
put his head into the curve of her neck.
“Don’t move,” she said, “we may be able

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Shideh Etaat

to stay like this forever.”

“You taste like everything beautiful in this
country- Saffron, tea, jasmine, the sweat and
love of a hardworking man,” he said, and he
believed for a moment that something this good
could in fact last forever. And as their naked
bodies throbbed with delight, and Mahvash
laughed uncontrollably because something had
been switched on inside of her, made her feel
child-like and light headed, like Allah was in fact
nearby, they heard the sound of rattling coins.
It was Rabbi Kohan with his hands deep in
his pockets. He’d known Feyzolah since he was
a child and had performed his circumcision, had
trained him for his Bar Mitzvah which had been
a secret affair held in the privacy of the
Delshad’s home, for all Jewish rituals and
traditions had become something to hide, to be
kept out of the public eye. He walked around
always with two hands in his pockets playing
with loose change. His wife, who wore a black
wig even though her natural hair was as red as
a bowl of cherries, had sent him to pick some
figs for a batch of jam she was making for him
and their six daughters (Rabbi Kohan still
prayed for a son). Rabbi Kohan’s favorite food
as a child had been fig jam spread on bread
warm enough to quickly turn butter into liquid.
Remembering his mother’s mustard yellow

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Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

apron and the way her hands swirled in the air

when mashing the fruit, as it lifted the smell of
summer into the air, remembering what it felt
like to be so safe as she patted his buttery chin
down with a napkin, he’d hurried towards the
garden only to stumble upon this horrific scene.
A Muslim and a Jew woven together, naked
in delight. And not just any Jew, but Feyzolah
who he’d come to consider as his own son. It
made him throw up in his mouth a little. His
body shook and he wondered what spell she’d
casted on him. He pointed his dirtied, copper
finger, moist from sitting in his pocket for too
long, in their direction.
“Feyzolah Delshad,” he cried out, “release
that goy at once.” Feyzolah jerked his head up
to see who it was that was yelling at him while
Mahvash continued her laughter.
“Boroh gomshoh,” get lost he said, “I’m in
love.” Feyzolah, son of Isaac Delshad, didn’t
light the Shabbat candles every Friday, enjoyed
yogurt with his kabob every now and then, but
he had read the Torah forwards and backwards,
had kissed the mezzuzah every time he stepped
inside his house or a store or in the case of his
good friend Ramin’s house the mezzuzah that
lay on the cement next to the single sheet that
was his bed because they had no walls sturdy
enough to nail anything onto. Feyzolah who if
nothing else had been a fine Jew began

« 24 »
Shideh Etaat

throwing figs at Rabbi Kohan. Mahvash joined in

too. They were soft, the figs, with dark brown
skin and tiny seeds that bounced inside, but
they felt like stones against his body. Rabbi
Kohan picked the figs up one by one and
thought of his grandmother who he’d never
met, who’d been killed by fervent Muslims in
Mahshad. How they had held a knife to her neck
asking her to spit on the Torah, to denounce her
faith, to become a Muslim. With a ferociousness
she’d gathered spit in the back of her throat and
with dry eyes she turned her face slightly and
had spit on the man’s sweaty face.
“Take my God from me you khar, and you
take my life,” she had proclaimed.
Rabbi Kohan put only one fig in his noisy
pocket, forgetting all together his wife’s jam,
and how it was possible for summer, for an
entire life to be contained in just one jar, and he
headed home, bewildered and betrayed.

« 25 »
Steven Gray

v ISIT f ROM a N e X-g

A woman wearing heirlooms from another
showed up at my door on acid, with a necklace
and the diamonds on her fingers the equivalent
of what I make in a year. I couldn’t believe
she took the bus in that condition, but she liked
At the moment around the bend and it was
bending her diffused attention to the ordinary,
now infused with greater importance than an

The momentum of the lysergic left her standing

in the room and swaying slightly in the shifting
parallels of sunlight filtered through a bamboo
curtain on an open window. She was saying
things, whatever struck her, like a serious little
girl of 42,
resembling an eccentric
gypsy, made up by her escort – an effeminate
fellow – looking like a parody of herself.

A parody her character was shining through,

no matter what was in her hair, there may have
been a bird in there, along with tinsel. She was

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Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

wearing a skirt of gold lame and

phosphorescent stockings. Later on the roof she
was exclaiming, “I have million-dollar legs!” –
they glittered in the sunlight and she named the
jewels she could see in them.

A woman I used to live with, who was taking

chances, leaving me to care about it or to worry,
who was highly impressionable and even said
with truth and beauty dancing on the head of

acid queen, that she could see how things

become uncomfortable as premonitions of a
nightmare flicker on the horizon, so she
carefully steered the conversation away from
what was tenuous

and back into the matter at hand: a gum-drop

she believed more precious than the opal on her
finger. After a while the escort offered me a
although I was transparent enough, she was
picking up the slightest fluctuation in my
as if a visible aura she was sensing with the
radar of a child, you couldn’t tell what she would
find amazing or uninteresting.

So I brought her things, careful in considering

what associations might be generated

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Steven Gray

in her mind, the negative not invited to this

afternoon communion. I was feeling the strain
of watching someone I care about who’s walking
on a high wire for the first time, with a parasol
of her awareness acting like a parachute,
a paranormal woman not to be refuted.

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Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

Once upon a time there was an old woman who
would kill teenagers and eat them. She lived in
Marin and her home was covered with
marijuana plants. When the high school
students would come up to her house in the
woods to get some pot she would invite them in,
get them stoned, and when they were so high
they couldn’t see straight, push them into the
oven. Considering they were full of THC it was
like making pot brownies, except it was smoked
high school students.

One day a boy and girl were walking by after

school and saw the pot plants all over the
house. They walked up and were pulling off
leaves when the old lady invited them in for a
smoke. The girl was suspicious, she was an
honors student who wanted to be a nurse and
this didn’t seem quite right. Her boyfriend was a
low-life, but she put up with it because psycho-
sexually she needed to feel like she was
slumming in bed or she couldn’t come. But
that’s another story. While her boyfriend was
getting high with the old woman, she just
pretended to inhale. She wandered around the
place and glancing out the back window she
saw some bones in the hot tub and a baseball
cap with the name of her high school on it. She

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Steven Gray

knew something was amiss. Math was her

specialty, so she put 2 + 2 together and came
up with: homicidal stoner cannibal witch. She
pretended she was stoned, slowing down her
reaction time and not finishing sentences. When
the old woman showed Hansel the oven where
she dried her marijuana, Gretel realized she
meant to remove him from the realm of the
living, in other words to perform a
Hanselectomy. Gretel had spent too much time
on the behavioral modification of her stoner
boyfriend to lose him now, so she was only
protecting her investment when she pushed the
old woman into the oven, slammed the door,
and cooked her goose.

The boyfriend was shocked out of his mind.

“That’s elder abuse”, he said, and in fact the girl
was arrested, but since she was a minor she
only did a year in the Juvenile Detention Center.
The boyfriend smoked all of the old woman’s
pot and became permanently spaced out, so he
moved to Bolinas.

« 31 »
Roger Porter


I am on the battlefield for my Lord—
The deacons would always begin Sunday
morning worship with this song. They would sing
it as they waited for people to come in and fill
the pews. We would already be there of course;
me, Lamar, Lamont, and Mrs. Brown. I would
walk to their apartment early in the morning
and have breakfast with them because I knew
that they always had food and I knew Mrs.
Brown would take me to church afterwards. We
always sat in the middle pew of the center
section of church. Lamont, and Lamar would sit
on either side of Mrs. Brown and I would sit by
Yes I’m on the battlefield for my lord—
That last note is supposed to carry slowly
but the deacons always messed it up. Some of
them sang it too low, others sang it high, and
they all sang it too fast. All of them depended
on the steadiness of Mrs. Brown’s voice to keep
the rhythm. When they sang it too fast she sang
the hymn loud and slow while clapping out the
beat for them. Then as they all caught on she
continued to clap but quieted her voice down so
by the last lines only we could hear her

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Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

And I promise that I
Will serve him ‘til I die,
Cause I’m on the battlefield for my lord.
The last part of the song always moved
Mrs. Brown. She closed her eyes while she
hummed, sucking hard on her peppermint
candy. I watched her sway her body gently, her
lavender hat with the pink rose moving side to
side to the rhythm and I listened as her deep
voice grew husky after Lamont got killed. The
last note of the song started sounding painful.
She would hum it as she folded her arms across
her chest like she was hugging herself. Lamar
would always look down at the ground; he never
sang a word. He had a Sunday service routine
that he would follow; during 8:00a.m. worship
he was silent and good. Then during 11:15a.m.
worship he would twist and turn in his seat, he
would bend up a Martin Luther King church fan
or keep trying to talk to me even though Mrs.
Brown told him to be quiet. If it was communion
Lamar would spill the blood of Christ on the
church carpet. The girls that went to school with
us would look at Lamar and giggle, the boys
would smile and whisper “dang Lamar hecka
bad,” the old ladies in church hats would look at
all of us and then stare at Mrs. Brown. The
deacons, even the reverend, would squint his

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Roger Porter

eyes at us. When this happened Mrs. Brown

would take Lamar outside and whip him and
then she would make him dry his tears before
he came back inside. “Cut that crying out, I
don’t allow no punks to sit with me,” I could
hear her telling him. At evening worship he
wouldn’t move at all, he would just sit there
with his head in his hands looking straight
“I hate that fuckin church.”
He would tell me in the darkness of our
room once Mrs. Brown had gone to bed. I had
been living there for less than a year but it was
enough time to hear Lamar say he hated
everything. He hated 5th grade, he hated our
teacher, he hated school, he hated our
apartment, he hated the people who killed his
older brother the year before, he hated his
father for beating on his mother when he was
little, and he hated the church. About twice a
week the reverend would come to our
apartment to discuss church affairs with Mrs.
Brown, he never said much to us when he came
but as soon as he got in the door Mrs. Brown
would tell us to go outside and play. Lamar
hated that. When we got outside he would kick
the reverend’s Lexus as we walked past it and
when we started playing Lamar would always
pick a fight with somebody, and if he was losing

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Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

I had to jump in on his side or Mrs. Brown would

whip me for being a punk. When the streetlights
came on and we had to go back inside he hated
the look on his mother’s face, he hated the thick
stale air in the apartment, and the smell of
cologne that the reverend left everywhere. And
he hated the way the reverend’s wife looked
down her nose at us when we came in early for
church. I never said nothing when Lamar went
off about why he hated what he hated. I just laid
in my bed and listened to him talk. I didn’t want
to be able to feel his hate. I was happier than I
had ever been in my life.
I liked school because I was pretty good at
it and the teacher liked me. I think she felt sorry
for me because she knew my parents were
addicts but I didn’t care, I liked the extra
attention. And I loved church. I loved that we
went to church together like a family. I loved the
whole Sunday atmosphere because the
boulevard was completely different; it was like
the streets got cleaned up. It was always crazy
to me how when we left the house to go to
school dudes would already be posted up on the
block, hair uncombed, clothes dingy, faces ashy,
and lips dark from smoking weed. When Lamont
was alive he was one of them dudes on the
corner every morning and then in the afternoon
when we got back from school he would be in

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Roger Porter

the same spot doing the same thing. But on

Sundays it would be nothing but church folks
spilling out in front of the liquor stores, in front
of the beauty salons, and the barber shops.
Each congregation representing for they small
church but everybody would be smiling and
everybody was happy. I mean everybody, the
church sisters in white dresses, the young
church girls in their flower print dresses. Even
the men laughed and joked. They wore polished
shoes, leather jackets, and silk ties—not clip-ons
like me and Lamar—and they talked to each
other, shook hands, and they always smiled. On
Sundays all the thugs would either stay inside or
put on a suit and worship. Lamar said the whole
scene was hella fake but I felt like it was so
necessary. I felt it more than anything else.
Back then I just knew I was gone be a man of
the church when I grew up but I was young. I
had no idea how strong the Avenue was until I
was posted up on it every day, hustling just like
everybody else.

« 37 »
Sam Sax

b ED . b UGZ
if sleep is the cousin of death
then death must be
my schizophrenic cousin daniel
who reads talmud
claims our family are direct descendants of god

and sleep
drinks alone in bathrooms
claims his brain cells are not destroyed
they are merely expanded

this is how we get through the night:

kiss the backhand of a bottle of bourbon
drink aerosol spit shine through a loaded pen
eat a fistful of vicodine for breakfast
fist fuck a church door.s wood mouth

this is how we. this is how we.

this is how we get through the night

awoke on a pillow of my own vomit

recall how stripped concrete sheets
had made a bed for me in the mansion
of my madness. my mouth a bloody
grin after dining on a banquet of pavement.

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Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

watch how men

dressed in burial suits
walk slow in morning
toward a punch clock
feeding days to their paychecks

children back home with mouths

hungry as fresh graves

from broken condom

to broken promise

that morning
daylight straight razored my gay nightlife
and i wished i hadn.t told bedtime to go fuck
that walk home i thanked my lucky now hidden
that i had no one to come back to

this is how we get through the night

after i left my last lover broken in an adjacent
when we learned that our words would
not help us remember how to speak to each
other again
he asked me /how i can sleep at night/
naked as countless sheep i told him:
nightly baptisms in a bottles of bourbon

« 40 »
Sam Sax

writing until my knuckle bleeds into the table

an alarm clock shaped like a fistful of pills
and cursing god as often as i remember he does
not exist

always fearful of waking a sleeping giant

i have learned to fall in love like i fall asleep
as fucked up as possible

this is how we. this is how we

this is how we…
if daniel was right
and my family are actually direct descendants
of god
and if children learn to smile from their fathers
than god must have a grin like a cemetery
with tombstone teeth
pointing forward always forward
to that second cousin of sleep

but i learned how to cheat the night from my

cups of hot black morning resting like an infant
in her palm
i wonder if i envied their closeness
if i learned to nurture my insomnia like a child
let it grow inside of me until
i birthed nightmares onto my bed sheets

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in my house we only found rest at the end

of a deadened nerve ending
after emptying these coffee can heads
and letting us fill again with stripped wool
and feathers

when my mother found me

a carcass lying on the carpet next to the bed
like a bleeding lamb
with everything possible stripped down to
she asked me if i ever felt like my cousin daniel
and i told her through gritted gravestone teeth

we are all just searching for ways to finally
rest in peace.

« 42 »
Sam Sax

When that big wave finally comes
to swallow the sunset
i.ll be waiting.

open armed
on the sunrise side
of the golden gate bridge.

hands outstretched to meet the ocean

knowing i could only survive
that two mile high wall of water
if i pretended it was you

« 43 »
Julia Halprin Jackson

The will lay before me; an unfinished draft.
Here, at her 87 years of age, Mamma had to
exercise her final act of control. Her

“I can only promise you girls so much,” she says

now, her gaze shifting from her hands up into
the ceiling. For once she does not look into our
faces, which I know is a sign of internal
uncertainty. “And the thing is, there’s still

Frodo, Mamma’s 9-year-old toy poodle,

represents one of her most tender and enduring
relationships with a member of the male
species. We used to joke this was because she
feeds him chicken scraps from the table every
2.3 minutes. She is doing so now.

“Mamma,” Esther says, “please, it’s not what

we want, it’s what you want.” My eldest sister
says this with the emotional strength of a 17-
year-old boy telling some hapless girl that “it’s
not me, it’s you.” Everyone knows what Esther
wants. Her eyes rarely leave Mamma’s right

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hand, where a diamond ring sits so prettily. It is

the only pretty thing that Mamma ever inherited
from someone else, the only thing she didn’t
earn herself, the only gift that she ever actually
wanted and got.

“What I want doesn’t mean chicken shit after

I’m dead and gone,” Mamma says. She smiles
when she says “shit.” She always has.

“Mammaleh, please,” Anna starts. She holds her

regal nose high. For years, when we were kids,
that nose brought us more trouble than
anything we said or did in school. For years she
walked with her face downward, like a foxhound
sniffing out a trail. But then she followed our
father’s advice (the only good advice he ever
gave) and kept that nose in her books, until she
got herself a scholarship to university, then law
school, then sued a former employer for some
anti-Semitic remarks he made into a
microphone once. Anna’s a smart, tough cookie.
A smart, tough cookie who also likes diamond

“Look, why we waste time like this?” Mamma

says. “Why can’t I just give you all money now,
and we can finish making supper and go to the
movies and then I can just die quietly in my

« 46 »
Julia Halprin Jackson

sleep?” She smiles while she says this, even

chuckles, but we know better. She’s absolutely
serious. Our mother is a card-carrying member
of the Hemlock Society, and ever since our
father died a slow and onerous death, she has
reminded us, time and again, of her right to
determine how and when she goes.

“Mamma, please don’t talk so, you’re upsetting

Malka,” Esther says. All eyes turn to me. I’m
not really that upset, but since I’m the
youngest, Mamma has always expected me to
be the most emotional. I fake it well, and it
usually serves me good.

“Malka’s fine,” Mamma says. “Besides, it’s part

of the First Amendment.”

“Suicide is not part of the Constitution,” Anna

insists. “And I should know.”

“You know shit,” Mamma says, smiling. “The

First Amendment protects the freedom of
expression. Death is just another form of
expression. A good lawyer knows how to
interpret such things, Anna.” Anna puts her
fingers to her temple, rests her head on her
chest. She shows defeat so easily around our
mother. We all do.

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“Look, Mamma, we’re not here to discuss how

you die,” Esther says slowly, her eyes still on
the ring, “but rather, what to do when that

“Have a party,” Mamma says. “Get that good

wine, not the cheap stuff. But one thing I don’t
want—I don’t want anybody sitting shiva.” We
all nod slowly. Finally something we can agree
on. “I spent too many Saturdays at houses of
mourning. When your father died I did it
because it was his wish, but the last thing I want
when I go is for a house full of people to sit
around and stare at my unsexy body while my
soul dances an invisible jig.”

I laugh. Anna disapproves, Esther leans back

into her chair and sighs heavily. We hear the
clock strike in the kitchen. Mamma has one of
those bird clocks that trills a different song
every hour, on the hour. It’s noon, which means
the kitchen sounds like a mechanical owl has
taken roost. We’ve been at this for two hours
already. Frodo whines, and so Mamma slips him
another piece of chicken from a plate on the

“You see? Frodo gets it,” Mamma says. “He

« 48 »
Julia Halprin Jackson

knows I’m over all this death and dying shit. He

knows I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell. Sure,
he’ll miss me when I’m gone, but that won’t
stop him from pissing on the neighbor’s fence or
dragging dead mice out from under the patio or
licking his ass.” As if on cue, Frodo props a leg
against her chair and starts a close inspection of
his more private organs. “See? He’s completely
unembarrassed. If there’s anything I wanted to
teach you girls all these years, it is to kill that
shame that your father instilled in us all.”

The room is quiet. I try to tune out the sounds

that Frodo makes. Mamma looks out the
window, where the Santa Monica sunlight shines
so superficially. It is 70 degrees in November.

“This is about the ring, isn’t it?” Mamma says.

We all startle. She looks down at her finger,
wiggles it. For the first time she looks us all in
the face, one by one. Esther gulps audibly. “Do
us all a favor and stop bullshitting yourselves.
It’s okay to want things.”

“Mamma, I wouldn’t dream of—” Anna starts.

“It’s up to you—” puts in Esther.

“You know the full story of this ring?” Mamma

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asks. We all nod. “Malka, tell it to me again. I

forget what is the full story of this ring.”

“It belonged to Pappa’s mother,” I say. “She left

it to you when she died.”

“Yes, it did, but you think life is as simple as

that?” Mamma says. “For us?” She smiles, slips
Frodo some more chicken.

“I remember Pappa said it was stolen once,”

Esther says.

“On the way to the hospital, when your Amah

was in labor,” Mamma says. “There she was,
this loud, crazy immigrant woman, caterwauling
in the back of an ambulance, and this nurse, she
holds her by the hand, the whole way to the
hospital. And then your Amah gives birth to your
Pappa, and it isn’t until she is on the way home
the next day that she sees the ring is missing.
And she searches her purse and she calls the
police and they call her all kinds of nasty
names, want her to pay them to find it for her.”

“So how did she get it back?” Anna asks.

“Well, two years pass and Amah gets pregnant

again. This time, she takes a cab to the hospital

« 50 »
Julia Halprin Jackson

and just when she gets to a bed she notices the

ring on the attending nurse.”

“No!” Esther says.

“These things, I cannot make up,” Mamma says

solemnly. “Your Amah, she fought for this ring.
She pushed and she pushed and then she gave
birth to your aunt Harriet. And when she was
done, she reached over and pulled the ring right
off that miserly old white lady.”

“What?” I say.

“Well, at least that’s the story your Pappa told

me,” Mamma says. “But, as you know, your
Pappa was full of shit.” She wiggles her finger. “I
never liked his mother, but I sure did like her
diamond ring.” All three of us girls lean in, share
a breath of excitement. We haven’t shared a
feeling like this in years.

“So I tell you what,” Mamma says. “Whichever

of you girls agrees to help me die, gets the
ring.” She reaches down and rubs Frodo’s belly.
Instantly we all push back our chairs. Mamma
laughs, yells as I get up to go to the kitchen,
“Get me a beer, Malka dear,” and I do.

« 51 »
Tatyana Brown

The first time I hit you and knew that I meant it,
my fist caught the soft spot just below the
cartilage of your sternum, and kept moving into
you so quickly a pathetic puff of air broke free of
your mouth and you let out the kind of wounded
animal sound they edit out of nature videos
because everyone knows the only way to love a
wild thing is if it has some semblance of dignity.

I want to tell you I learned in that moment

there are monsters in my blood I am unwilling to
become. But even though my memory is too
clouded by the shame of it to be certain, I am
pretty sure I pulled back and hit you again.

I think when I did it, our eyes met, and the

confusion that I found there wasn’t enough to
make all of me sorry until hours later, when my
limbs stopped shaking and I remembered that
my name was your first and most frequent

Sister, your suffering was the classroom of my

unlearning. You are the reason I learned that
not all love is laced with violence. It took years
ballet dancing brutality across your cheekbones,
self-righteous with a rage you were too young to

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deserve before I recognized the warm, familiar

scent of insult on my breath, and knew I’d built
a home for us out of the worst of where I’d
come from.

By the time I caught myself, I’d torn into you so

often it was a kind of comfort. I possessed your
voice in tiny increments, stealing snatches of it
to build a birdhouse in my pockets for my pride,
hungry for more proof that I know you so well I
can finish your sentences. I can make you never
start another one. I can renovate you, rip apart
the floorboards beneath your feet until the open
air is all you stand on and your mouth rings, a
bell begging me to save you again.

Even now it’s difficult to hear you thank me for

the way I raised you right. You, the girl who
can’t hold a job for more than two months at a
time, who still hasn’t learned to be tender with
herself quite yet,
and can’t think past this week’s paycheck. The
girl who can’t imagine deserving something
You thank me like it wasn’t my boot that
smashed your spine.

I visit with your echo sometimes, examining

each spot where my hands and voice betrayed

« 54 »
Tatyana Brown

but I am not looking for forgiveness in the
hollows I’ve dug out. It is the spark of you I miss
the most.
I keep looking for the place that held you when
you ran away. I am hoping you will find your
own way back.

I’ve ripped away each finger of the phantom

of my fist from around your throat.

I have sewn back together all the tattered

of your tongue, and unplucked it from its house
inside your lips.

Speak now.
Your body is your own again.
The only thing missing from this revival
is your breath.

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On the weekends we would set
the parakeets free inside the apartment,
and wonder at their failure to understand walls.

Within a cage so small, there was no need

to learn what wings could really do—
the miracle of hollow bones and lift: gratuitous,
a tease of potential, a hungry plague upon the

No wonder they screeched senseless,

inconsolable at sunrise. A body restrained from
its calling is a death worse than oblivion, insult
and ache without release.

Once freed, they were greedy with the air inside

our cramped and cluttered rooms. It was the
closest to any form of feral they would ever be,
so they ignored formalities like slowing down
because there was no more space to fly.

I remember the wet and sickening thud of

feathered skull against plaster, then glass, then
wood. Each collision another spike of panic in
our blood: it always sounded like the impact
might kill them.

« 56 »
Tatyana Brown

You always wondered if that was what they

wanted—an honest ending, a conclusion when
they were most themselves.

« 57 »
Keely Hyslop

m IND & b ODY f ORGIVE e

I pleaded with my body
to let in the wolves
to prove we were not afraid
but she was afraid
we both were
and we had reason to be.

I tried to ply her with alcohol

to coax my body to open
the door and let in the boys
who were fondling my breasts
on the porch.
They had weapons they were saving
in the corners of their smiles
but I didn’t see them.

Through the haze of rum and lust

she fingered the key she had turned
years before but did not unbolt the door.
I hated her then. She always denied
we were the same person.
She always believed what happened to me
did not happen to her.
When the boys’ teeth turned into knives
they cut bits of me away to get at her door

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which shed splinters like porcupine quills

but they couldn’t get at her.
They dug their fingers into my wounds
to make me beg her one last time
to let them in and then they left.

I didn’t want to speak to her.

I didn’t want to look at her.
We were bound together, Siamese twins
but if I could have left her then
I would have. How can you forgive
when your own body betrays you?
She was angry with me too.
I could feel it in her tension.

Years later another man came to us.

I politely explained
we were not taking any visitors.
He said he would not starve
if I did not feed him for he knew
where the wild berries grew.
He said he would not freeze
if I could not offer shelter
for it was a warm night and he knew
the earth would always warm him.

He asked if I would like to come outside

and count the stars.
There were crickets singing

« 60 »
Keely Hyslop

to mates they might never touch

in darkness. There was joy
in their songs mixed with longing.
He said we could make up songs of our own.
I could sit in a tree and he would
sing to me from its roots if I wished.
I could lay next to him on the damp grass
and he would sing as long as
I wanted him to and only touch me
when I pulled him towards me.
My body was intrigued. She watched
us from the window.

Sometime during the merciful night

that was everlasting because we asked it
not to end and it was kind to us
I felt myself slip into her.
I understood what it meant to own a house
to safeguard it against fire and thieves
to patiently make repairs
when something’s been broken
to accept that it trusts you to
know what’s best
to accept that you know what’s best.

I was holding the key when I let him in.

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Grandpa was Frankenstein
staring eyes half-lidded
leaden legs lifting dropping
rigid arms reaching forward
nerveless fingers slicing through air
and I was Elizabeth
stumbling away running
being caught by the creature
shrieking in terror
I was 7 and I loved to scream
my screams could pierce ear drums
I was going to be in the movies someday
and Grandpa loved to help me practice

At night when the jug was empty

when I was supposed to be in bed
I would hear grandpa howling
he would yell at my uncles
he would yell at my mother
but even when I was caught
eavesdropping in the hallway
he would never yell at me

When I was 9 Grandpa was a skeleton

lying in a hospital bed
with cirrhosis of the liver
his eyes and cheeks

« 62 »
Keely Hyslop

sunken deep into his skull

his ample belly had filled with blood
and burst like an overripe grape
my uncle sat by his bedside every night
Grandpa wanted to be taken off life support
when my uncle refused him
Grandpa balled his sharp thin fingers into a fist
the emaciated arm flew off the bed
and blackened my uncle’s eye

After the funeral the late night conversations

echoed down the hallway
the story of a good, clever Catholic
who learned how to lure death
with gallons of cheap wine
and value packs of Marlboros
thus getting the ending he wanted
without the eternal damnation.

« 63 »
Maisha Johnson

well, wouldn’t you be afraid if you were her?
with memories slipping from your skull
like the warm sand of your island home
falling through the cracks in your brain,
and you clutching all you have left
by your ribs while you sleep, waking each
to find someone tugging your treasures away?

this is for Granny A,

who’s starting to forget the important things
like my father’s name,
a name I hope I’ll always remember,
and the name of the island she calls home,
the place the rest of us call Trinidad,
only because we haven’t lived as long as she
lived there so long she doesn’t need to call the
island by name
can reach out to it the same way you can call
the mosquitoes,
by dripping sweat like syrup, not salty but
from sugar cane thicker than your thigh.

it’s no wonder she doesn’t want to change her

clothes when the folks who offer new outfits

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look more like strangers each day and the only

thing more familiar than the warm, thick blanket
of heat is her own smell, rising from her body
so that each time she inhales, there’s a chance
she could take back something that was within
her, like echoes of her babies’ cries, which once
leapt from the walls of this house as she
wondered if they’d come from within her own

some parts of the island will never leave her,

like the stray dogs who follow on her heels. in a
way, one can never get lost beneath skies made
of honey and cantaloupe stains and in a way,
even the unpaved roads will always lead home.
you don’t remember, but you’ve been there
all of us have been there, with strangers
hovering over us because we don’t know how to
care for ourselves, but Granny A is holding on in
a way none of the rest of us know how.

so this is for my grandmother, who’s thinning

but not waning, who might’ve written this
except she’s not like me, it’s not words she
wants to remember, so while I stand so far from
her island trying to decide where on my body I
will fit tattoos of all the words I never want to

« 66 »
Maisha Johnson

she’s kissing and tasting each memory as it

floats on the wind that drifts away, and
someday she won’t remember what home is but
she’ll know how it feels and she’ll know on her
lips, on her skin, and in her bones that this is
the air she wants to breathe.

« 67 »
Sharon Coleman

In a crevice
where brown mountains
lined with orange minerals
drop to the desert floor,
just under and therefore
out of sight
of sharpshooters
who spit bullets
at dawn and dusk
into their own shadows
as they migrate
across sand and dust
and sometimes hit
the living who find
themselves covered
by a shooter’s blotted form,
here in this crevice,
directly below
and therefore out of sight,
I inhabit a place,
half cave, half wooden thatch,
that looks onto the arid valley,
half exile, half home.

I came here following

a sidewinder covered in feathers.
She looked at me and said

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You’re part jackal, part ibis,

part desert cat.
Yes, I responded, but I don’t eat the dead
won’t clean the desert of carcasses.
I eat death. I want an end
to the desert as finality and ruin.
Slow cat eyes took in fine dirt,
grey thorn, plastic bottles of kerosene,
rusty scissors under a mesquite,
bones that young coyotes left behind,
spent bullets and charred hackberry
milkweed and empty lighters,
falling sandstone and sky.
A jackal stomach could burst.

So, during the cool hours,

I sit and condense the world
that’s lived through me
onto paper, which burns
in noontime sun.

Nearby a spring dribbles from a crevice

and sinks into the ground.
Sometimes creatures come
at midnight to lap at the wet stone
or they come mid-morning,
stay in the shady thatch until mid-afternoon
and watch the ash curl, crumble away.
They come along the mountain walls,

« 70 »
Sharon Coleman

brushing them with fur or scales;

they’ll do this until the sharpshooters
change their ways,
then we’ll all find other ways too.

The children also come sometimes,

the children part blacktail deer,
part chuckawalla, part whip snake,
part red-eared spider, part grey fox,
part white mouse, part crested quail
come to drink. Sometimes they—
offspring of war or curiosity or
troubled migration—come to me,
always with the same question:
What can they say when asked
on which side they belong.

As if through a long, curved beak

that finds words deep in the sand,
I whisper in their ears:
Say what they don’t want to hear,
then say what they want.
Then ask them quietly:
“How can you hope to know by simply asking?”

« 71 »
Scott Lambridis

She wasn’t pretty. I don’t even remember first
seeing her. She was small. She had, as my
friends told me, great big tits, though I really
didn’t care. It was spring in the Midwest—I was
a sucker for short skirts and cleavage and large
wide smiles. I was also a sucker for adventure
after a nasty break-up and six months of post-
college nothing. I didn’t like that this made me a
“dude,” but then maybe I did. It’s never a good
idea to get involved with someone in your
office, but the taboo-ness of it was a hint of
what I needed from her. She taught me how to
fuck when I didn’t want to learn anything else.
She was the perfect girl for the wrong time of
my life.
She was brazen. When she was sober, it
was intoxicating; when she was drunk, it was
nauseating. After my boss fired her because she
wasn’t as good as me at calling off sick, I got to
see her in her element at the department store.
I wondered if we would have sex in the
changing rooms. Or if we would even make it
that far, considering the density of all the racks
and turnstiles covered with clothing. We might
duck below them right here, on lunch break. My
friend Billy warned me over pasta and
breadsticks at some chain restaurant to stay

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away from girls with fucked up childhoods, but I

didn’t see how she had a fucked up childhood.
Or maybe he said don’t fall in with stupid
people, but Billy was an elitist and we had been
struggling to keep our minds on the same track
and this was the beginning of our
estrangement. He told me I should leave the
state. I had nothing keeping me. A year was
enough. Move on.
Narrator lacks focus. No grounding in time
or place. Losing us. Theoretical framework
unclear. Questionable erotic value despite
potential readership.
I don’t know what to tell you. This is all I
have and I didn’t say it was a story when I
started. Do you really want to know more about
her crying? About how she cried every time I
saw her for months? It didn’t start during her
threats of being pregnant again. It started
earlier, after the abortion was over, when I tried
to break up with her because she was crying
about it, even though she’d agreed to it, even
though she’d said it wouldn’t change her. She’d
call and call and call and ask why, why, why,
and I started avoiding the calls, but then she’d
just show up, and she’d be crying, sometimes
even in her pajamas, there on our front porch,
not really caring that any one of the other five
guys I lived with might answer the door and see

« 74 »
Scott Lambridis

her there, all wet-faced and pouty. She cried

every time I saw her, but it did not make me
sympathize. Quite the opposite. It made her
trashy and pathetic and somehow sexier in that
slick, damaged, torn-stockings sort of way. How
could she cry even as her pussy got wet? It just
made me want to fuck her again, and that lack
of empathy made me disgusted with myself, so I
became more disgusted with her, because it
was her fault that I felt disgusted with myself,
and so I became more disgusted with her and
wanted to punish her by making her forget
herself, by drowning her in orgasm. It had
nothing to do with my own satisfaction. I wanted
her orgasm to make her cry even more, and
even now thinking about it my dick stiffens. She
sickened me and I wanted her to explode in
pleasure, just like she seemed to want, to forget
the difference between tears and joy. Forget me
entirely. Be only a moment of ecstatic nothing.
I couldn’t help myself. Every time I met
with her to get rid of her we would have sex
again. Even the last time; I said to her after we
both came in each other’s mouths, “You know, I
didn’t fuck you, because, uh, I didn’t want to,”
and she said, “Well I didn’t want to fuck you
either,” but still we had bent over each other in
her single bed in her upstairs apartment, I had
pulled her legs up and open from inside her

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faded flower-printed nightgown and sucked her

and she had held me in her mouth with her
hand and we panted there for some amount of
minutes trying to do something to each other,
but each of us failing miserably.
Narrator needs work. Cheap retrospection
is no substitute for a proper meta-narrative arc.
Characters sentimental but lacking in both
sympathy and anti-hero potential. Protagonist
vs. antagonist relationship remains unclear.
Reminder: This is not a therapy session. We are
not counselors. We are not friends.
Why do you keep interrupting? I’m the
goddamned antagonist. I can’t help it. I cannot
write about her without getting agitated and
aroused and picturing that slickness on her face,
streaming from her eyes, and that slickness on
her thighs, spreading between her legs. It’s an
autonomic response. I don’t want it. Was I
wrong to degrade her like that, to tell her I loved
her when she told me she was pregnant again,
to lead her on and make sure she had a second
abortion, to pretend, knowing I was using these
words for my own safety, and for the moral
defense of this unborn child of two idiots right
out of college? Of course. Was she wrong for
lying about the entire thing, using the threat of
keeping a second fake pregnancy as a cheap
trick to keep me in her life? What if she wasn’t

« 76 »
Scott Lambridis

lying at all? Can I be sure she was? What if I

caved in? Would I have made the lie a truth? I
have no idea, why are you even asking?
Narrator is becoming defensive and
Of course I am. You’re pressing me for
closure. She was not good for me. She was
candy. She was great for me. What’s the
lesson? I am a terrible person, and I regret
nothing. I have no idea why I’m telling you any
of this, but thank fucking hell she’s gone now.
Narrator should be let go. Dispatch letter
of dismissal with the following note:
Recommend the narrator keep their journals to
themselves. Recommend the narrator take a
few pills and tell a friend, a new girlfriend,
someone private. Follow up with an open letter
to applicant pool: Seeking new narrator for

« 77 »
Jennifer Barone

A slow, repetitive squeaking
begins to reverberate
over my head
in the bedroom

I whisper to myself
all alone with this sound of my neighbor
who I can’t really picture
making love
but I try
I close my eyes
still nothing
can’t picture him
but I know what I feel
that the squeaking has returned

it’s been so long since I heard it

I was beginning to worry about him
and starting to feel really bad
that my husband and I
have been making such
obnoxious love noise
in all the rooms of our apartment

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Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

at all hours of the day and night

with no regard for our neighbors
at all

but now
that sound of joy has arrived again
that soft
monotonous sound
like a little mouse jumping on bed springs
brings me a sense of relief

It depends
on where I am in life
that sound
has made me feel so differently

Once when I was little

I woke in the middle of the night
and came upon my parents
those sounds coming from the living room
the sight of their naked bodies
rolling around on the floor
but they weren’t fighting
they seemed happy and strange
whatever was going on
I knew I shouldn’t be there
and that I should probably back away slowly
as if from a vicious animal in the forest
and return safely to my bed

« 80 »
Jennifer Barone

without disturbing them

something in me also knew
it was some kind of rare and sacred occurrence
and must mean that they love each other so
they want to devour each other
or perhaps meld inside each other’s skin
in an effort to become one

when I was older and single for way too long

that sound
that dreaded sound
made me ache
made me angry
made me feel jealous and lonely
those damn, selfish people
sweating and writhing in their sexual ecstasy
not caring at all that I
sad and lonely I
was next door just trying to get
an innocent night’s sleep
but no
I was left having to listen to their squeaking
perpetual squeaking
and here comes the moaning
and the pounding
and the sighing
and finally
good, old silence

« 81 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

before the shower

the sound of running water

but most of the time

I spent time wondering why the world
is so completely obsessed with this activity
that usually lasts so briefly
everything in society seems to be built around
attracting it
obtaining it
sustaining it
exuding it
bragging about it
exaggerating it
and yet
I wonder why I hear that
squeaking sound so rarely
that sometimes
when I do hear it
it gives me pause
it’s the only proof around me
that it’s actually happening
yes, yes, yes
people actually do make love
it’s not just an advertising scam
not just a fantasy
and yet
no, no, no
I barely ever hear it

« 82 »
Jennifer Barone

but today
I lay in bed
in the middle of the afternoon
trying to be quiet enough
to hear this proof of love existing again
becoming ever so vibrant
and real
above my head
quietly squeaking
the repetitious love mantra
of my neighbor
finally back to life

« 83 »
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