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opportunities + community events


sparkle + blink 98
© 2019 Quiet Lightning

cover art © Amos Klausner


gettingupper.com
“More than a Number” by Shizue Seigel first appeared
in Endangered Species, Enduring Values (Pease Press 2018).
“To Yellow” by Shelley Wong first appeared in Sixth Finch.

set in Absara

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quietlightning.org
su bmit @ qui e tl i g h tn i n g . o r g
Contents
curated by
Christine No + Chad Koch
featured artist
Amos Klausner | gettingupper.com

Fernando Meisenhalter A Better Place 1


Sarah Kobrinsky The Bagel Shop 7
Laura Vrcek Woman 9
Sprint 10
Shizue Seigel More Than a Number 13
Kevin Madrigal Today I became Mexican
like my father 17
Shelley Wong To Yellow 23
Eddie Jen To My UAC 25
Matt Carney In Spending Time 33
Claire Perry She Left a Note 43
André Le Mont Wilson Quarry 47
Stolen Photo 50
Cassandra Dallett Look at All the Diamonds 53
Holly McDede For Kyler 55
Katie Simpson Imelda 59
loneliness 60
Morning Star 61
Farah Amezcua Bring Me 63
Donna Laemmlen The Dangers of Helium 65
g is sponsor
et Lightnin ed b
Qu i y
Quiet Lightning
A 501(c)3, the primary objective and purpose of Quiet
Lightning is to foster a community based on literary
expression and to provide an arena for said expression. QL
produces a bimonthly, submission-based reading series on
the first Monday of every other 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
Meghan Thornton treasurer
Kelsey Schimmelman secretary
Christine No producer
Lisa Church curator liaison

Through March 19, we’re accepting applications for


limited-term board membership. Find our more at:

qui et light nin g . o rg /disr upto r s

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 -
n do Meisenha
r na lt
er
Fe
A B e tt e r P l a c e

I return to my workstation only to find Sandra, my


coworker, calmly reading a Raquel Welch memoir. The
title is Beyond the Cleavage.

She brings books to the office, to fend off boredom,


she says, books like How to Raise Your IQ by Eating
Gifted Children; and, How to Succeed in Business without
Having a Penis; and, Why is Everything I Like Illegal?

“Sandra, you’re more than an hour late,” I say.

“A drunk fell on the tracks at El Cerrito BART station,”


she says. “There was a huge delay.”

“You could’ve called,” I say.

“How was I to know it was going to take this long?”

“When a drunkard falls on the tracks it always takes


long, Sandra, you know that.”

“But why spend so much time saving a wino? That’s


just enabling behavior. He’ll be boozing again
tomorrow. BART is totally codependent.”

I don’t argue with her. I have more important things

1
to worry about. We’re on a deadline. We need to finish
this copying order, so I load color paper into the Xerox
machine, set it to double-sided, and start printing.

“The world is full of idiots wasting our time,” Sandra


says, “And they’re everywhere, Fernando, just
everywhere.”

“I know,” I say, looking straight at her.

“Fernando, you work too hard. You should take a


vacation.”

“Sandra, I temp. The only vacation I get is called


unemployment.”

“I took a vacation once,” Sandra says, “to the Grand


Canyon, the dumbest place ever. Why are people so
proud of it? Did we build it? No, we stole it from
the Mexicans, who took it from the Native-Americans,
who found it already there, as is, some thirty thousand
years ago.”

The machine runs out of toner and I can’t find a


replacement cartridge. I search while Sandra yaks on
about that ugly pit we call the Grand Canyon, the
worst case of erosion on the planet, and how we might
as well just give it back to the Mexicans.

Is this all there is to life, just listening to people jabber


nonsense all day long?

Next she tells me about her uncle, a former bus driver


in L.A.

2 F e r n an do Me i s e nh a lt e r
“He once saw a man shoot a woman on his bus,” she
says. “Luckily the bullet went through the woman’s
afro.”

“Did they take her to a hospital?” I ask.

“No, Fernando,” she says. “This was the seventies. They


just took her to a hair salon.”

“That’s crazy,” I say, still believing every word she says.

It takes me twenty minutes to find the toner. It’s


hiding behind one of Sandra’s many books, one called
Revenge of the Lawn.

“Is this book any good?” I say.

“Good?” she says. “It’s brilliant: Richard Brautigan,


America’s greatest writer ever, now sadly forgotten.”

“How come forgotten?” I ask.

“He went to a better place,” she says.

“You mean he moved to Canada?”

“No, you fool,” she says. “He killed himself.”

I load the toner, restart the copy machine. There’s still


a ton of work to do.

This day has hurt written all over it: the mauling of the
soul for minimum wage and no hope.

F e rnando Me i se nh a lt e r 3
Sandra hardly works. She doesn’t have to. She has a
note for narcolepsy from her doctor so she can fall
asleep on the job anytime she wants and no one can
fire her. I don’t enjoy such privileges. If I slack, I’m
gone. It’s called at-will employment, it’s everywhere,
and they call it progress.

“Did I tell you about the time I started a threesome to


spice up my marriage?” Sandra says.

Sweet baby Jesus, not another dumb ego-boosting


story!

I’m about to ask her to please spare me the nonsense,


to have mercy on my poor immigrant soul, when I
stop myself and ponder: did she just say a threesome?
I feel the pinch of true interest reanimating my
tattered spirit; the rise of a feeble flicker of hope in
my otherwise frayed universe; a dim glow of light
appearing at the end of that proverbial tunnel.

Hey, this might be interesting.

“No,” I say, “I don’t think you’ve told me that one.”

“Oh,” Sandra says excitedly, “this was back in San


Francisco where everyone does it, even the normal
people.”

She read some books to educate herself, she says, books


like Stuck in Between, and Polyamory Made Simple, and
The Rule of Three. She tells me all about it, in detail, and
I listen, and truth be told I’m enjoying her story, or at
least I’m learning to use her narcissism as a form of

4 F e r n an do Me i s e nh a lt e r
entertainment.

I guess this is one way to stay alive in this cold and


mean world. It won’t save my life, but at least it’ll keep
me from killing myself for the next eight hours.

I continue copying and copying, working and listening,


taking no breaks until the whole job is done and I
feel better, and I don’t have to worry about anything
anymore.

F e rnando Me i se nh a lt e r 5
Kobrins
rah ky
Sa
The Bagel Shop

I worked with a former Miss North Dakota at the


first ever bagel store in Fargo. The locals came out in
droves when it opened to taste this new “ethnic” food.
Accustomed to soft white bread and butter rolls, many
complained. Our boss instructed us to tell them, “A
real New York bagel is supposed to hurt when you
throw it at somebody.”

This particular Miss North Dakota spent our short


afternoon shifts talking about having sex with her
boyfriend. When she wasn’t talking about having sex
with her boyfriend or actually having sex with her
boyfriend, she went to the gym. She was all muscle.
Not an ounce of fat on her. Hard as a New York bagel.

One day a customer came in and asked me if I babysat.


I said, “Yes, I do babysit. How old are your children?”

“Oh it’s not for my children. My wife’s out of town.


Can you babysit me?”

I was alone behind the counter. Miss North Dakota


was in the back mixing a new batch of blueberry
schmear. I was so uncomfortable. As uncomfortable
as every teenage girl captive behind a counter in a
situation like this feels. I froze for a moment then
awkwardly rang him up.
7
When Miss North Dakota returned, I told her what
happened. My cheeks burned and my hands shook.
“Oh boys will be boys!” she laughed and proceeded to
describe the new lingerie she bought to wear for her
insatiable boyfriend. I imagined he looked a lot like
the man who needed a babysitter to watch over him
while his wife was away.

If I, a forty year old woman, was captive behind a


counter like that now, I would handle that situation
very differently. But no married man asks a woman of
a certain age to babysit him while his wife is away. But
if he did, I would throw a real New York bagel at him.
And if I did, I know it would hurt.

8 S a ra h K ob r i n s k y
a Vrcek
Laur

Woman

As a girl, I envisioned womanhood as Storm from


X-Men with her mercury-silver suit and ice-white
stare. She could lock the ocean into place with a word,
detonate a hurricane with one clean whip of her
hair. She was so unlike my own mother who couldn’t
control when it rained, but had the power to choose
my name.

When jogging through a thunderstorm in Brazil in my


twenties, I chose a few new mothers: a towering stone
statue, arms raised in praise; Yemanjá, the water gown-
wearing Orixá who, when she cries, controls the tides.
Women who could change minds, change themselves
on a dime.

My brother and I never gave our mother enough credit


for her ability to just remain. Through the heavy rains
of our wet winters. Through the mundanity. Through
the affair, and what came thereafter.

As a girl, she was never the loudest in the room;


preferred to read novels from a folding chair on the
front lawn of her parents’ home. So far away from
Brazil’s low sky and shallows. Yet in her adulthood,
in place she stood with the rain on its way, no matter
how hard our house, with our father’s fury, shook.

9
Sprint

My father didn’t want to cage or collar our animals.


He’d rather let them roam free, the wild things that
they were. Our dogs seemed only a hair domestic with
their wolf ways—the surprise of a chesty bark come
unexpected in the early hours of the morning—the
black heat of their pupils among prey.

Unlike those of our neighbors, our dogs couldn’t be


left outside to their own devices. Two bolted after
sprinting deer halfway across the highway within a
handful of years. So we searched for flat rocks to paint
with their names and nailed together scrap wood
crosses. Lay them in our makeshift pet cemetery at
the far reach of the property, beneath the traipsing
canopies of the cherry trees and among the jagger
bushes that would, sly in their candor, rip a hole
in your clothes if you dare not look where you step.
The tender cut of summer skin was the only warmth
around.

Our memory of pets is both a light and dark one: a


basement room lit by one window, a nightlight of the
moon. The place where the Alpha howls at its own
freedom, where children, bath-clean and dressed in
pajamas, have death explained to them for the first
time. This primal rite of passage into their neon green
lives.

10 L aura V r c e k
Because even, they told us, repeat tragedy has its
purpose. And that we will learn next time to attach
the leash before opening the door. In case the animals
can’t control themselves. In case the prey smells signal
our dog’s eyes wide before we notice. In case the wet
hunger from behind their hearts triggers a fury for the
hunt that outweighs their love to stay, to be their best
domestic selves merely for us.

Lau ra Vrce k 11
zue Seigel
Shi
M o r e Than a Nu m b e r

You, unknown woman


from an unknown time
Plaid blouse sharp
Against a wall of white.
Glancing out of frame
At the unseen.

Tell me about your life.


Did you dare
break out of the box—
bring yourself alive
as more than a number,
more than a shadow on the wall?

Number Three daughter of Number Two son,


what escape did you seek
with your sidelong gaze?
What part of yourself did you hold
in the secret curve of your smile?

Did you dare tell your ma so long ago


what happened to make Sister
slit her eyes narrower

and shrink down smaller,


what happened that knit Brother’s brow

13
and locked his mouth in a stubborn pout?

Or did you smother with silence


the sudden blows, the endless scorn
the ignore-ance and expectation?
Did you get no peace
outside your home or within it?

Will you carry your wounds enclosed


in a hard shell, a locked casket
that your children will fear the more
because they don’t know what’s inside?

I have hopes for you—


hopes that someone showed you
you could get what you wanted,
that the walls of your prison
were only as high as your fear.

I hope someone taught you


that a dream is no waste of time
no mere indulgence.
It’s a gossamer bridge to the future,
a bridge that grows stronger
every night that you cross it.

They used to say we dream in black and white


I hope you dreamt in color,
free from the hum-drum greys
of limited reality.

Look up! Tell me


you fought your battles and you won,
even if some victories were so small

14 S h i z ue S e i g e l
that no one noticed but you.

Better to risk becoming yourself


than stay entrapped
in the Bingo game of life
playing it safe
lining your numbers all in a row
week after week in the church hall,
shuffling the mahjong tiles,
choosing the same Lotto numbers
again and again for luck.

Living through your children


Number One doctor
Number two lawyer
Number three beggar man
Number four….
We do not speak about the last two…..

I hope you taught your daughters


to step out of line
and risk reaching for all that they wanted to be.
Not to beg, bargain or steal
for some small scrap of freedom.
I hope you taught them
to dare to be more than a number.
To fully inhabit many roles in turn—
dragon and fool, flower and mouse
Taught them to risk everything.
To be alive, not just survive.

Sh i zu e Se i ge l 15
in Madriga
Kev l
Today
I became Me xic a n
like my father

When I was young, being Mexican meant


accepting hugs and kisses from tios and tias
that you never remembered meeting.
(They all remembered you, though)
Being Mexican meant unconditional love
for anyone that you called family.

But as I got older, my idea of being Mexican changed 


especially growing up in America.
Every time I eat out, I’m confronted with my identity.
It doesn’t matter what type of food
Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Italian, Danish.

You name it, and at all of these restaurants


there are people in the kitchen that look like my tios
and tias
shouting en español
listening to mariachi music
and cooking.
17
These same people
who can’t pronounce the names of the dishes they
create
are the ones whose job it is

To suspend your disbelief.

These cooks use the knowledge passed down to them


to
teleport you to another time and place—
The wood-fire warmed kitchen of an old
grandmother living in the countryside.
—and by some amazing feat
This time and space is completely foreign to them.

Once upon a time, my father was one of these cooks.


He worked at an American diner making comfort
food favorites like
cheeseburgers, steaks, mashed potatoes.

Made people believe he was a little old American


grandmother
named Delilah cooking from her family’s
handwritten recipes.

That was the only beautiful part of it though.

18 K e v i n Ma dr i g a l
The hours were many and the pay was little.
But to put in his words
“Conseguir trabajo en la cocina es buen trabajo
cuando no conoces a nadie”
“Getting work in the kitchen is good when you don’t
know anyone”

Hidden behind closed doors


He didn’t have to know or speak with anyone to cook.

It was a job appropriate for anyone…


And no one.

And so he was rightfully upset when a Mexican like


me
who grew up all in the same place,
knew many people,
and graduated from college
chose to follow in his footsteps and cook.

I tried to justify what I was doing


told him that I wasn’t only cooking.
I was building a movement.
So that people like him
wouldn’t have to stay in work appropriate for no one

Ke vi n Ma dri ga l 19
for as long as he did.
So that people like him
could use it as a stepping stone.
So that people like him
wouldn’t be judged unfairly based on their
background.

He never really understood, though.

But today
my father walked through the doors of my Middle
Eastern inspired restaurant.
He remarked at the beautiful space
Made joyful comments about the pink-lit, glittery
bathrooms.

He sat down to eat our


Shakshuka
Halloumi salad
and Greek yogurt with date molasses and turmeric
granola.

And for a moment he believed


he had been transported to a continent he has never
imagined he could visit
and that an old Tunisian grandmother had prepared

20 K e v i n Ma dr i g a l
his food.
Only, it was people like him in the kitchen.
People who face insane barriers in life.
People who are working towards something better.

He ate my food
And for the first time in what felt like forever
He began to glow with pride.
He finally understood.
And with his affirmation -

Today I became Mexican like my father.

Ke vi n Ma dri ga l 21
lley Wong
She

To Yellow

Your orb falling over the ocean


is a grand clock. You suffer
for that which you should not
be named for: my skin, my people.
You are unfairly suspect—
your fever, your peril—
though you are as chill
as lemonade. You dangle from trees
with the ease of a summer
spent on a porch swing. The ladies
make linen A-line dresses
out of sunflower print, basking
in your light though it blinds
and burns them. Dear yellow,
you have never covered
my body. I leave your light
in the dark. At seventeen,
I saw a film where the heartbreaker girl
only wore green so my colors
turned verdant. When you appear
in names of books, I ask, “Why does it
have to be you?” Last spring I bought
a yellow purse and hope that it will
turn heavy with gold. As a woman, I am still
learning about illumination, how
I should never want to fade

23
into silence and that quiet is strong
and often beautiful. No longer green,
I write you to learn your minor keys.
My tribe is rising. We are the new names,
the ones we have always known.

24 S h e l l e y Won g
Eddie Jen

c c o m p T o M y U A C il d) C li e n t
(Una
a n i e d A l ie n C h

Dear Brynner ,

ConDRAGulations on winning your asylum! Do you


know this word, con-DRAG-ulations? As your attorney,
I would like to gift you this word. When I try to describe
how wonderful and magical America is, this word is
a part of my vocabulary. So, conDRAGulations—and
breathe a sigh of relief. Your life will be easier now that
you have legal status.

By the way, do you know what drag is?

Did you know any drag queens in Guatemala?

I met you when you were just thirteen, and, my, how
much you’ve grown in three years. You’re a teenager
now! One day you’ll be an adult and you’ll understand
the sentiment: kids, they grow up so fast.

And we’ve won! I wish I was there to open that


envelope together with you. When your dad texted to
say a new letter came, and asked what should he do,
I immediately thought of Trump; I was prepared for
bad news. They held up your approval for over a year
after our asylum interview. It was highly unusual.

25
So I immediately had your dad take pics of the letters
and text them to me.

I read it. Then I squinted at the pic harder, deciphering


the meaning of the words one more time. Then once
again to make sure.

Only then, did I call your dad and say, “Congratulations,


Arnolfo.”

You were my first—and only—client, ever, in fifteen


years of practicing law. I literally youtubed videos on
how to make a court appearance. Those times we went
to court together? That was your attorney playing a
cross between Ally McBeal and Dylan McDermott
from The Practice.

Now that we’ve won, I’ve been composing acceptance


speeches. I can’t help it. Have you ever won anything?
I’ve won drag beauty pageants. It took me three tries,
but your attorney is also Royalty.

Did your family celebrate?

Looking back, I think we should have gone for a meal


together afterwards. I would have liked taking you
to my favorite Chinese restaurant for you to try their
dry-fried chicken wings. I would like to share with you
the happiness of my immigrant experience. Because
we never had our “moment,” did we?

We never had our closeup.

Here I am, savoring my hero-slash-celebrity worship

26 E ddi e J e n
from all my liberal friends on Facebook, and I’m
coming to terms with the fact that you’ve never looked
me in the eye. We never made eye contact. Not once
in three years.

My hazy memories of law school have me asking, what


duty of care do I owe a 13-year-old child who has been
traumatized and is clearly with PTSD? For starters, I
should not have grown exasperated with you when
you couldn’t repeat back to me (what you literally just
told me) when I was taking your declarations. Patience
is a virtue, and I’m always learning.

Or maybe I should have just instructed you to look me


in the eye. Teach you like the way my Chinese mom
taught me: you have to look people in the eye; otherwise
they think you lie!

Because when we had our asylum interview — and


you started replying I don’t remember to all of the
asylum officer’s questions — I froze. We went over
your declarations. It’s your story. You know this story.
Just say what happened. Tell your story. That’s all you
had to do.

Do you remember the asylum officer getting frustrated?


She said something to the effect of, I need you to focus.
Your declarations make very serious allegations.

(In the interest of full disclosure, you should know


that she probably said this because your declarations
read very well. You have an attorney who takes pride
in his sentences.)

Eddi e Je n 27
She asked you one more time if you could remember
anything else before you finished your testimony, and
that’s when you said it.

I heard the meaning of your words through the voice


of the translator. That helped absorb the shock.

You never speak up. To hear your shy mumblings, you


coming out of your introversion, actually volunteering
information about yourself.

He said he was going to kill himself.

We went through six months of preparing your


declarations, and not once did you offer this
information! But it came at the perfect time. In drag,
this is what we call the reveal. On the main stage, before
the judge who will literally be deciding for your life!,
chantay you slayed. The energy in the room changed.
It was so unexpected.

I knew what happened to you, but until then, I never


really grasped what it would be like to have both your
parents gone and being raised by your 17 year old sister
whose husband beats her in a country where the laws
won’t protect her.

Until you said the words, I didn’t realize that he would


probably kill your sister.

I’m sorry. I forgot my client is a child.

Don’t take it personally.

28 E ddi e J e n
If it’s any consolation, I’m this way with my friends,
too.

You remember all those strange and different


translators who called you and texted you but you’ve
never met? They were mostly gay men. And because
they’re my friends, they like dressing up in women’s
clothing and lip-synching to Lady Gaga. And I’d like
for you to meet them. We should go to San Tung’s and
sneak a bottle of tequila into the teapot. My friends
are like cartoon characters. These bitchy friends
of mine who volunteered their time for a stranger
they’ve never met. Would you like to thank them in
person? It’s what my Chinese mom would make me
do. I think you can relate as a Guatemalan. No matter
how foreign you see me (your dad always referred
to me so reverentially as “Mr. Lawyer,”), we share
commonalities as people of color.

We eat the animal parts white people don’t.

In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to make


one more confession: I tried getting rid of your case
right after I signed up. I got assigned to a work project
in Phoenix, and the reality of what I signed up for
finally hit me. I emailed the attorney who assigned me
your case and politely explained that my employment
had taken me to another state; I asked to be transferred
off the case and be reassigned when I returned.

He never returned my email.

And, from that point on, your case became the exam I
must pass. Don’t worry: Chinese people are born test-

Eddi e Je n 29
takers. I never took seriously law school or the practice
of law. But it was different now. I had a child whose
future depended on me. Failure was not an option.

Had I been able to communicate with you, this would


be the message I’d try to impart. We are descendants
of dragons and pumas and leprechauns and the OG
Queen herself. You have the strength in you. You made
it here, didn’t you? As an eleven year-old, you fought
your sister’s husband when he kept beating her. And
you still have that scar in your hand from where he
cut you with broken glass. You got balls! And then you
made it here, over 3,000 miles through foreign cities
and foreign countries, to find yourself with a drag
queen attorney with magical powers. And then you
won asylum.

You’re special. You really are.

I’m a writer. I was an attorney only in drag. In reality,


I’m a writer. I tell stories. And I want to let you know
that the most important stories are the ones we tell
about ourselves. And you’re special, my child. You’re
here in America. You can be whoever the fuck you
want to be.

When the time comes when you’re qualified to become


a US citizen, say your oath and mean every word of it.
Because there will be people who say you aren’t really
American. They will try to make you feel like you are
not real. Have a finite amount of patience for them;
we are all human. But stand your ground. You may
not have started life as an American, but you will die
an American. These small-minded people who drove

30 E ddi e J e n
you from your country—these bullies reside in every
nation. And we’re not going to let these same bullies
drive us from America. You’re one of us now. Make it
count.

We’re Americans.

We’re the good guys.

Don’t ever forget that.

Sincerely yours,
Eddie Jen
your accidental attorney

p.s. Do not get in absolutely any trouble for the next


four years—not until you reach citizenship eligibility!

Eddi e Je n 31
- SET 2 -
t Carney
Mat

I n S p e n d in g Ti m e

an excerpt from the novel Igniograph

Athens, 2020

Tim pushed through the audience, wedging between


throbbing skinheads all in the pink and blue neon.
All were foreign; no face her face, no shoulders her
shoulders. Where had she gone?

Tim started to shout. But he knew no name to call out.


So he just shouted obscenities, pushing and shoving
and diving, feeling the impetuous resistance of the
crowd as he kept sinking into it. No dirty looks or
angry punches. They only reciprocated Tim’s thrusts
of helpless rage, transferred through to everyone else,
additive anger, the mosh pit more and more vicious.

Until he pushed one person—she punched him


sharply in the kidney. He folded—her hands were on
his cheeks suddenly. “It’s you! Sorry!” She shouted.

Tim coughed, but righted himself. “Listen!”

“Of course I am listen!” she yelled back. “This music


is too loud!”

“No, no, I’m only—!” and he grabbed her hands.

33
“Listen! You don’t know how much you’ve helped me!”

She grinned.

“Tell me your name!”

“Boyana Ignatova!” she shouted. And Boyana kept on


grinning

“Boyana!” And Tim took her face in both hands and


kissed her.

The secret was gone from her lips, from her face then.
He knew it and she knew it too in her wide eyes.

He spoke into her ear. “I’ve never, ever done that to


a stranger.” Even though it was the first time he’d
approached a woman at all. But he continued. “I’ve
never met someone this intense. I am terrified of you.
Take me to your house. Take me anywhere. I need you.
Right now.”

Boyana stared at Tim with bewilderment flushing


in her eyes and cheeks, but her lips had returned to
the cool mien. She pulled away. “No man has been so
forward with me!”

“Yes!” Tim shouted, and grinned.

Boyana began to walk away. She paused. “Brush your


goddamn mouth!” She yelled at him.

“Yes!”

34 Mat t C a r n e y
She pushed roughly against the pulsing horde,
disappearing.

Tim closed his eyes, laughing and laughing. What


could he do? He ceded to the multitude surging
without control to the band’s perilous invocation of
the most evocative rock-and-roll song ever written.
Outside society—they’re waiting for me! Outside society—
that’s where I wanna be! Tim wasn’t disappointed. He
was free. He was released by Boyana Ignatova, to make
direction, the future now his to—someone grabbed
him by the collar.

“Why the fuck you’re still standing here!” Boyana


shouted. And she hauled Tim through the fray toward
the exit.

Then they began spending time together. They began


spending time together so suddenly Tim couldn’t
remember how they’d started.

They spent time as a tangle of arms pressing into the


wet brick wall outside Nueva Trova, blue-pink neon in
their eyes and gleaming in their sweat, pressing into the
bricks, rolling across them, rolling tongues and arms
and legs and backs—Boyana pressed Tim into the wall,
grabbing him by the hair and cocking his head back
for a kiss and a suck on his neck—he winced, pulled
her away—something like the first heat, not the water
moment, but fire in his chest, his veins engulfed, and
he pushed her hard into the wall and pulled the neck
of her shirt, her breasts—

Mat t Ca rne y 35
She pulled away, and in the middle of the street they
spent time wordlessly pulling and groping and pushing
each other away in cycles, stumbling endless forward
as bitches in the wind, the heat of their bodies too
much, the cold of the night too much, forth and back,
no way to rest, the masks slipping with the friction
of what wants and what cannot haves, all walking
toward a somewhere else unknown, so much burning,
can’t stop touching, can’t stop pulling and fawning in
restless urgency the need for both closer and further
away. Sodom was alive and well and roaming the earth
drunk in Athens.

They spent time sitting in the stairwell of his hotel,


their hands wandering across muscle and scar tissue
and hair and sweat covered skin canvases—he found
the place at the top of her thigh, the smooth space
and bone, and when he lingered there and pressed and
pressed, and it made her push her face into his and run
her fingers through his hair and across his chest, both
of them sinking into the stairs, everything sinking.

They spent time inside the room, against his door, so


much pressure, unable to not stick, unable to feel it,
the difference from one or the other, and they spent
time kissing and feeling all, spent time fumbling with
the lapel, the button, the zipper, spent time falling into
bed, and spent time making love—sort of—no, not
love—they spent time making hands to fingers to legs
intertwining in time to their push and pull into her,
hard rolling, slow writhing, sharp whispers, pained
inhaling, slow nails over scalps, never taking faces
apart, never breaking apart until, there, finally they’d
both come and he fell back and there was nothing left

36 Mat t C a r n e y
but fall apart and rest.

Sort of. No. They spent little time at rest—very little


time. Because then Tim woke up. It was only a few
minutes later. Tim then remembered his own name
and remembered Boyana’s name.

But something else happened—Boyana saw Tim sit up,


and the newly risen sun, but saw it in his eyes. She saw
the draw of that demon thing, the empty space, empty
space empty eyes staring flat at the sun. The way the
sun made the dark in his pupils lighter, the film on his
eyes a dust as if he were already dead, or the revelation
that they were the eyes of any other animal outside
the humanizing context of personhood. Something
else about it.

She felt. And she hadn’t felt in that way in years. She
knew what it was to starve to death with years of
longing and feel either secret agony, or nothing, only
to have the empty thing awakened again and want to
die once more, or end the cycle early with a pistol or
an overdose of something once loved for its strong
distance and finally embraced for permanently closing
that distance.

Boyana showed Tim she knew the demon thing too.


The endless need. She took him firmly by the arm.
“Fuck me,” she told him, “however you want. Do
anything you want. Hold back nothing. Nothing. And
then I’m going to fuck you.”

Incredulous, he was, wide eyes and a fearful open


mouth as he always had been. So she slapped him hard
across the face.
Mat t Ca rne y 37
They spent time fucking each other. He spent time
fucking her first as she’d prescribed. He stopped
pretending, stopped doing what he thought he should
do, started just doing what he wanted to do. He pulled
her up from the bed with a twist, his hands on her
wrists, and he pushed her back down face first, and
then he started muttering urgent things like, now
spread your pussy, now suck my cock, now lick your
tits, now spread your ass, yes, god, fuck, shit, hell,
big christ, lord, god, cunt—of course he called every
part of her body by its vulgar name and muttered
everything as hushed obscenities, pushing himself in
and out of her with slow, deliberate, mouth breathing,
moaning control—sort of—control sort of at first,
but forgetting, then just fucking as hard as he could
anywhere with abandon and her against the wall until
he fell back and out of his orgasm as if being punched
out by a glacier cold seizure.

If you were around in these moments, for whatever


reason, and you asked him who he was, or where he was,
he’d have no idea. He’d drool at you like a brain fried
dog. If you likewise asked him which year it was, or
which empire it was, or which century it was, or which
species he was, or which planet we’re on, or which star
system we survive in, he’d similarly only stare through
you with an open mouth eliciting some sunken moans
before falling back slowly and staring up into the sky
like a dying but smiling fish, all mammalian aspects
off, his arms out, the years of restraint and rage and
difference all pumped completely from him through
his cock.

“Now it’s my turn,” Boyana said.

38 Mat t C a r n e y
So then she spent time fucking him. She took her sweet
fucking time fucking him, fulfilling an old fantasy
she’d had of enslaving a man and using him up in a
fancy hotel room over the course of an afternoon—
this wasn’t the fanciest room. But it would do. It
would do. She found the champagne and chocolate
the hotel left in the room and set them on the night
stand. Say nothing for the next three hours, she told
him. Pour me a glass, she told him. Feed me a truffle,
she told him. Keep your hands behind your back and
suck on my fingers, she told him, and suck on my toes,
she told him. Give me a sip. Keep your hands behind
your back and lick me, she told him, and she laid back
as a spread eagle until he licked every single inch of
her body. Feed me a truffle. Give me a sip. Give me
a sip. Keep your hands behind your back and eat me,
she told him, and sat up and shoved his head between
her legs while he performed, controlling his motion by
pulling his hair, slapping him, and once choking him
until he turned red and coughed. She enjoyed the look
of complete absence in his face, the acceptance he had
that she was using him, the now blissful emptiness,
and it helped bring her to climax. Feed me a truffle.
Give me a sip. Keep your hands behind your back and
open your mouth, she told him, and she poured half
the bottle of champagne in his mouth, him gulping
for air, coughing, choking, bubbles dribbling out. She
found new places for four fingers. Then she decided
to please him. Pushed him to the floor, held his face
down, sat behind and worked him to orgasm with such
tight fisted motion that he sobbed like every time he’d
ever cried and ever come alone and ever cried and
come alone shot through him at once.

Mat t Ca rne y 39
And then, after all that, they did spend a little time at
rest, a heap on the hotel floor, drenched, breathless,
finished. After all that, he sighed, and he could only
say “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.”

Tim and Boyana spent time resting until Boyana


eventually stirred, rising and dressing in the afternoon
to go—he touched his hand on her thigh. But the look
she gave him—he knew. “See you later,” is all she said.
But he knew. It was both a question and a statement.

Tim wasted time that afternoon until dinner time. He


was hardly hungry, could barely bring himself to eat
the olives and cheese and peppers, the fish, could drink
the wine but could not feel anything but zeal and fire.

Tim wasted time and wasted his dinner until the sun
had set, the Acropolis had been re-illuminated by
lights and bonfires again, and he could leave his room
and wander the winding streets again back to Nueva
Trova. On that second night, like he’d felt, like he’d
known, Boyana was waiting there for him sipping
her absinthe as the bartenders and staff continued to
sweep the previous night’s broken glass and scrub the
dried mud and blood and beer.

“Hello, Boyana,” Tim said.

She had been watching him since he’d walked through


the door, eyes stoney green discuses, face unchanging,
always holding the secret.

This is how they spent their time on the second night


and the third night and fourth night and untold others

40 Mat t C a r n e y
just like they’d spent their time on the first, always
stumbling back to Tim’s hotel room, always syphoning
into the empty things, always his sobbing as he came,
always fading into the sunrise, Boyana always rising to
leave, Tim always wasting time until dinner, and the
two of them always finding the time to meet each other
at the same exact place every night until they could no
longer count the nights they’d spent time together. At
least twenty or twenty five, and at most forty.

They spent their time together in this way until Tim


had spent all his money—he could not afford the hotel
anymore. This surprised him. He learned he’d spent all
his money only when the rotund innkeeper handed
back his credit card to process his weekly payment.

“Decline,” the innkeeper said.

“Yes.” Tim didn’t flinch. “Yes. Yes, excuse me.”

He spent a minute or two shoving his clothes back


into his backpack, the artifacts, bracelets, a book—the
things that would fit. He rolled everything else up
into his wet bath towel, and he thew them out the
window—the towel splayed opened just one story
down, the clothes fluttering into the evening breeze,
the trinkets falling and shattering on the cobblestones.
He hesitated, but then threw his backpack out the
window as well.

The innkeeper was already staring at Tim as he


rounded the corner from the stairwell. His eyes sunk
deep into dark pitted circles, leaning on the front desk
with expectation.

Mat t Ca rne y 41
Tim laughed. “Yes. Yes, I’ve got to go to the bank, you
see.”

“The bank is burned down.”

“Yes.” Tim started to walk, then halted. “The other


bank.” He walked backwards toward the door. “My
bank is the other bank.”

He spent time sprinting, gathering his strewn clothes


from the street, bundling them up, carrying them
with his backpack to Nueva Trova, where Boyana was
waiting for him as she had been all those nights.

“Hello, Boyana,” Tim said. “Boyana. I spent all my


money.”

Her face never changed. She swilled her drink, stood


from the barstool, and took Tim’s towel bundled
clothes under one arm. “Let’s go home.”

42 Mat t C a r n e y
ire Perry
Cla

Sh e Left a N ote

It was late November, her birthday, and raining.

She woke easily in her tiny San Francisco apartment,


fed the cat, cracked open the kitchen window, lit a
cigarette and blew the smoke between the raindrops.
She broke a promise to herself and beckoned him.

Death had always had her name on his lips. She was his
favorite human. He visited her often during the years
ending in seven and three in her teens and twenties.
She flirted, they danced, she made him promise to
keep his hands to himself. He did. She let him walk her
home but told him he couldn’t come up.

The December when she was twenty-seven she met


her soul mate and broke it off with Death. She quit
smoking, locked Death in the dark cobwebbed corner
of her heart, and focused on her future.

Her life blossomed. Her career was flying, her bank


account was smiling, she’d been pre-approved on a
home loan, and most importantly, for the first time in
her life, she was happy.

Five years later, in April her mom died. In June,


perhaps on a whim, or out of curiosity, or because

43
she felt she deserved it, she beckoned Death back into
her life. It took her the next three months to tear apart
her relationship and send away her soul mate.

Death wasn’t himself at first. He didn’t talk much, he


slept on the armchair in the corner of her bedroom,
he’d stand on the balcony and smoke or he’d sit cross-
legged on the floor of her wardrobe. Within 2 months
the permafrost between them thawed. Their nods and
sparse words became sentences, then smiles appeared,
then the sparkle returned to their eyes and the flat
electromagnetic waves became stormy. The energy
recognized itself in the other and it danced between
them like chaos.

A month ago she crossed a boundary she’d never before


crossed. As they danced, she pulled his hands around
her waist. As they strolled home from dinner, she slid
her arm through his. As she got undressed, she invited
him into her bed. The universe birthed new stars as
he made her come again and again and again until her
body tingled and she was pleasantly exhausted.

But beneath the surface of her screams of bliss ran a


deep anxiety. Sleep escaped her. Her stomach cramped
in a way that made her want to rush to emergency. She
arrived at work looking like a zombie, most of the time
she’d just sit and stare at her computer, and when she
did work she made silly mistakes. After work, Death
took her to eat and dance, then he brought her home
and made her come.

At work, she unapologetically texted during meetings,


shrugged her shoulders when her boss called her out

44 C l a i r e Pe r r y
on it, and began leaving early. At home, she maxed out
her credit cards and burned old friendships.

She was a struck match in a room filled with barrels


of gasoline. She was a cigarette butt flicked out a car
window on a Northern California freeway. She was a
volcanic eruption on the ocean floor.

She was crying and drinking and yearning. She was


worried she was running out of time and worried it
wasn’t moving fast enough. She was angry at all she’d
sacrificed and wanted payback. She was angry at the
people around her who’d stolen her time, or borrowed
money, or taken favors.

She felt an ocean-size hole in her chest. And when she


looked around there was only one person still there to
sooth her. And he was the only one she’d ever really
wanted anyway.

Death whispered sweet plans of their future. She


drank them in, they were water to a woman lost in the
desert. As the weeks passed her need for Death grew
and her weight dropped to 80 pounds. This morning
she remembered how her boss had let her go yesterday.
The firing was abrupt and cruel and it meant that
everything she’d worked for was now gone.

She found an old medical bill, flipped it over and


wrote:

There is no need for a note, there is nothing left to say. Life


is long and hard and my suffering is constant and deep. I’m
going to a better place. This is my birthday gift to myself.

Cla i re P e rry 45
Then she did it the way all the famous people do –
with a silk scarf and a door knob. Death held her face
between his palms and kissed her gently so she’d go
beautifully the way he’d promised. And when her
soul slipped into his hands he did something he’d
never done before, he slipped her golden light into his
pocket, and when his boss called for a tally he gave him
a number that was one less.

46 C l a i r e Pe r r y
é Le Mont Wil
dr s on
An
Q uarry

The word quarry has two meanings. The first is an


excavation or pit from which stone is obtained.
This definition applies to several gravel pits that
pockmarked my neighborhood of Sun Valley, Los
Angeles’ dumping grounds. At least one played-out
pit, partially filled with groundwater, formed a pond,
which locals called Quarry Lake. The second is one
who is hunted or pursued, or any object of search,
pursuit, or attack. This definition applies to me.
Neighborhood rumors that I was gay pursued me for
years before I came out. Some guys whispered, “I don’t
want to sit next to him.” Other guys begged, “Can I
sleepover, please?” Pariah by day, magnet by night, I
reflect on an event in May, 1984 as a confluence of
two definitions of the word quarry. Ever since then,
I’ve dug to unearth what happened when three white
teenage boys with a BB gun approached a black gay
man. The teens (for the purpose of my essay, I’ll use
their initials), M, A, and F, were my younger brother’s
friends. They had played hooky from school and come
to my bedroom window, asking for a drink of water.
I noted M held his Christmas gift—a BB gun—and
appeared to be the best shot of the three when they
target practiced on cans placed on a basketball court
fence pole. I passed them cups of water through the
torn screen. No longer boys and not yet men, the

47
three resembled beautiful monsters. I observed the
way their faces transmogrified into those of inchoate
adults and their sneakers stomped the earth, as if in a
rush to own the world. Cigarette smoke billowed from
their maws and drifted into my room. I turned on the
fan to blow smoke back in their faces. “Want to go
fishing with us at Quarry Lake?” M asked. Bare-chested,
I rolled my tongue around my cheek. A necklace of the
Mask of Benin rested above my nipples. The face of
Queen Mother Idia looked serenely at the boys. The
stone excavation meaning of quarry comes from the
Vulgar Latin word quadraria, a place where stones are
squared. While no one squared stones at our gravel
pit, I tried squaring the stone of M’s invitation, which
didn’t add up to six sides. The trio hid something from
me. They always called me fag and gay, and I rebuffed
the sexual advances of two. Now they got a gun and
invited me fishing. With a gun? Four years had passed
since another neighborhood teen tried to kill me with
a railroad spike. I stalled for time, “Well, guys . . .” I
had just turned twenty, while the oldest of them was
sixteen. As minors who skipped school, they risked
getting in trouble if police caught them carrying a
realistic rifle on the streets of L.A. How about giving
the rifle to an adult to carry? But how long would I live
after police respond to a 911 call about a black man
“holding white boys hostage” and “threatening” them
with a gun? Perhaps they wanted to carry the gun
and walk behind me, but I felt uncomfortable about
three armed white boys walking behind my swishing
black ass. I thought of the Nazis rail-transporting my
Hungarian Jewish aunt to Auschwitz. I thought of
Night Riders tying my great-great-grandfather to a
boxcar and setting him afire. Sweat formed beneath

48 An dr é L e Mon t Wi lson
my Benin necklace on my chest. I continued, “I’m
sorry, but Quarry Lake’s notorious for illegal chemical
dumping. Any fish caught there is toxic.” A grabbed
M’s rifle, stormed out of view, shot, and returned,
holding a wounded lizard by its tail. He placed it on
the basketball court for M and F to shoot until it
stopped wriggling. F dug a grave in the dirt below
my window, and A crossed two Popsicle sticks atop
the mound. Unlike the birds and squirrels the boys
shot and strewed on the sidewalks throughout the
apartment complex for disgusted pedestrians to step
over, the lizard had a grave until F kicked it. Now the
twisted corpse baked in the sun, and I cannot help
but imagine myself as that BB-riddled lizard had I
gone to Quarry Lake with the boys. Quarry’s hunting
association comes from the Old French word cuirée, a
derivative of cuir (a hide), because hunters fed their
hounds the kill’s entrails placed on a hide.

André Le Mont Wi lson 49


Stolen Photo

Stepping out of my soaked swim trunks


at Cal State, Northridge’s locker room,
I heard a click.

A camera flash blinded me.


I stood naked and dripping
as my eyes readjusted.

It was then that I, and a white guy—


undressing while seated on the bench—saw
you lower a Nikon from your face.

Sure, I took photography in college,


but I didn’t have my camera with me at the
moment. I memorized you instead.

Blond and about twenty,


you peeped from behind lockers,
like a Great White Hunter on safari,

your lips parted, your face a mixture


of fear and desire,
of stealth and brazenness,

your blue eyes, unaided by telephoto lens,


ravished our naked bodies
and shocked expressions.

50 An dr é L e Mon t Wi lson
Before we could unfreeze
and chase you to smash your camera
and expose your film,

you ran and slammed


the locker room door open.
Your feet pounded down the hall.

The other guy turned to me and said


something like, “Well, how about that?”
I nodded and said, “Uh-huh.”

Violated, I showered quickly.


I constantly looked over my shoulder,
fearing a camera more than dropped soap.

I imagined you in your darkroom,


drooling over snapshots of stolen nakedness,
like some second-rate Robert Mapplethorpe.

Did you stalk me with your camera,


like a paparazzi of the penis?
Now you know the truth about black men.

Did you take advantage of random guys—


one black, one white—undressing in close proximity,
enabling you to fantasize about interracial sex?

I never reported your voyeurism,


but, every now and then,
I wonder if you still have my photo.

Did you trade it or sell it?


Did you post it online?

André Le Mont Wi lson 51


Do you jerk off to it?

If so, I’m glad I gave you pleasure,


but I prefer you had asked my permission,
had asked me to join you in your darkroom.

What I most want to know is


if you ever found love and held a body like mine.

Now flabby and far past fifty,


I wish I had your photo
of my body when it was young

and lean like those mahogany


carvings of African nudes
at Crenshaw Mall.

Gazing at the black and white,


I could fantasize
about the black and white,

when love was possible,


when sex was possible,
when immortality was possible.

If my stolen photo ever


arrives in the mail,
I would sigh and thank you.

52 An dr é L e Mon t Wi lson
ra Dall
s sand et
Ca t
Lo o
k at All the Diamonds

Look at all the bottles purple—


heartburn filling the recycle bin.
Look at wrinkles magnified in mirror
between tweezers sharp.
Was that a mouse in my closet,
or insomnia creep-crawling my peripheries?
Look at this dog hair, and shit, and the bags—
all the shit bags filling landfill.
A full closet awaiting a dieted body
all I want to do is go home
and then I’m in there—
spinning around my broom.
The years I can’t get back
get lost for 48 hours in a book of photographs.
A life I once lived or tried to
before I fucked it all up and landed here—
somedays that’s the bonus,
somedays it’s the failure.
I watch
the neighborhood cats and birds,
searching for that goddamned mouse
The mouse of poetry unwritten
a chewing rabid little thing.
Look how I cleaned the space for the desk,
and the desk, and the dusting,
and the light comes through just so.

53
If only the words came like the light through the
blinds,
demanding to be ass-slapped on the page.
It’s the pressure cooker between us—
constant survival and remembering how to fuck
again.
Something he heard in a poem
had him frightened into loving me right.
I am a book who can be judged by its cover.
I told you the first time.
But until the words were earphone close
like a meditation—hypnotic—
suddenly he’s holding me like a flotation device
my bones compress in formation— I start to shine.

54 C as s an dra D a l le t t
ly McDede
Hol

Fo r Kyler

my last words to you:

what do you know about rhubarb

(you replied that you had


a succulent that died once.
perhaps an unconventional
foreshadowing device,
maybe a goodbye planted
in the subtext
i said nothing).

a facebook notification:

there is death
funeral at 10am

let me tell you


that day in the newsroom
no one could make me care
about Brett Kavanaugh

the riled up Dow Jones or even


the Oregon man
who grew a 2,000 pound pumpkin
in his backyard

55
i did not understand why
the anchors were not
telling the listeners
you were gone, why the experts
were not gripping their microphones,
gargling out numbers about
the opioid epidemic, or at least
explaining the sudden gaping hole
that emerged in the world

here’s what i remember:

you, sitting next to me in Spanish class


because our teacher said
the idea of putting a Kyler next to a Kyle
was making her head spin

a McDonald’s turned into a fortress


where we invented suburban slang and
spied on an empty, hungry town
in need of big macs and heart

a pizza party with mountain dew


overflowing red cups

driving for hours


trying to find
invisible ice cream shops
in Metuchen

holding hands during a horror movie


a visit to a hospital room

my mind, dodging memories

56 H o l ly Mc D e de
like bullets, your eyes
capturing everything

making you my tape recorder


for records i wanted
to keep

me, running away to California


returning with an A’s hat on my head,
wearing it like a mark of my escape
you, wearing it with me, because
for a little bit
we swore we were the same person

you promised to put


“do not die” on your to do list

the aftermath:
i was not there for the finale
of Adventure Time
i was not there
for your discovery of parakeet themed memes

or the days when your intestines


twisted and tangled, when doctors
reached into your stomach and pulled out
parts of you

i was not there


the nights you raved
swallowing temporary relief,
trading one sickness for another
until daybreak

Holly McDe de 57
i was not there
for the recovery or the relapse
or the amends or the giving in or the fight

instead,
my last words to you:

a question about keeping


rhubarb in tact, a worry about
too much water
and leaves turning brown

please, let me try again

in a different way-
kyler, let me toss you a note
from the back of spanish class
with one last ask:

tell me just the right amount of light


of water, dirt, and toil
to keep the best of us here
to bring you back

58 H o l ly Mc D e de
ie Simpson
Kat

Imelda
flowering skulls remind me of you
and the land outside your house

where the grass blooms


after a good rain

who could imagine


a city girl living out there?

its precipice between


life and death suits you

the teacher who shared chocolate milk


with a boy living with HIV

Imelda, the Castro bartender serving


your sharp tongue and piercing heels

loving those boys even as


you watched too many disappear

who but a phoenix


could survive so many plagues?

the earth could


her body cradling dead

Imelda, still steady still giving


despite a capricious sky 59
loneliness

call it an unholy thing


but i’ve been that sailor
confusing fire for stars
eager to feel something
even immolation
to escape the salt

it’s a strange thing


beneath my tongue
a brackish water
i drank for years

what has it made me


a ship a port
a figurehead at the prow?
just a clinging mollusk
ready to eat

60 K at i e S i mp s on
Morning Star

every dawn
your absence
has the same
cold heat

the bed’s width


becoming further
and further
a white linen horizon

once i’d tried to keep


the dawn from you
but after so many winters
your heat
was delicious

melting couldn’ts
into wouldn’ts
until only shouldn’ts remained
evaporating between
our lips

in the blue gray light


where everything consumed
is remembered

Kat i e Si mp son 61
ah Amezcua
Far

B ri n g M e

bring me my money yr bibles my hands my feet bring


me swollen atrophy bring me your dreams put my
body back together

bring me your dream at exactly 2:57AM bring me your


dream about something scratching your back bring me
the nails

bring me the stories your mouth your belly button


bring me your poem, read it to me your eyes, turn
them around backwards into your head your ideas,
turn them around backwards in your head

bring me the dead boy on the beach bring him back


without the scars bring him back without having
remembered a thing bring me web history bring me a
shredder bring an incomplete draft

give him a piece of you a piece of your brain bring


the shredder bring me the frying pan find me all your
discontent the bullets the blood spatter report bring
me in the back seat so I can keep a lookout

bring me Borderlands bring me Citizen

bring me the rosary hanging on the rear view mirror

63
bring me your license give me your registration bring
me my visa

bring me back to the playground

bring me Allen’s beard to get me out of this manhole


the rope bring me suicide bring me the scissors bring
me my bat bring me the knife under the mattress

bring me your accent bring me your Chi-hua-hua do


you speak Mexican?

give me back my brown skin give me my check box

bring your bones, fall out bring me your home, fall


out your Barbie dream house your grandmothers roses
bring me your grandmothers sowing needle your pulse
build me a wall bring me your mask bring me your
guns bring me your gas bring me your trust

moon bring me back to where you came from carry me


to my bed carry me to my bed carry me to my bed carry
me from the car to my bed carry me from my carcass
to heaven

64 Fa ra h Am e z c ua
a
nna L emmlen
Do
The Da
n g ers o f H e li u m

He came from a time and place where people looked


up, up in the sky at Superman and meteor showers and
spaceships, but now everyone looked down, scrolling
through their phones, their necks craned over laptops
and iPads. To remind them of cumulous clouds and
the infinite beyond, he offered a brilliant bouquet
of primary colors, buoyant colors that lifted upward
toward an azure sky, but he hadn’t had any takers, yet.

Moving closer to the BART station, he waited for


the next throng of early morning riders. He fluffed
the frilly collar of his over-sized jacquard suit and
tugged at the edges of his curly orange wig. He still
adored his outfit, even the bulbous leather shoes that
squeaked when he tap-danced, but when the masses
strode past him, no one glanced at his bright white
face or exaggerated smile long enough to appreciate
the spheres of joy billowing from his hands.

Then he saw her, a five-year-old cherub with plump


cheeks and a blonde pixie cut, who dragged a dirty doll
across the concrete by its long tangled hair. He didn’t
mean to frighten the young girl—he only wanted
to grace her with his offering—yet she screamed
with such startling accuracy he instantly regretted
the two sudden steps forward that had landed him

65
directly in her path, blocking her before he could
untangle a single zeppelin from his hand. He forced
a smile, an attempt at calming her, but her mother
wouldn’t have it, wouldn’t have him within ten feet
of them, and off they hurried to some unknown
destination safe from strangers like him.

He blamed her reaction on John Wayne Gacy. Before


that man had selfishly ruined their reputations, there
had been clowns that made people happy; Bozo’s
popularity once commanded a ten-year wait for
tickets to his show; and Emmett, despite being a sad
sack hobo, and even Krusty, with his acerbic laser
wit, were still funny. But once a serial killer paraded
through children’s birthday parties dressed in their
joyous uniform, they were all doomed. Poltergeist. The
demonic Pennywise. Killer Klowns from Outer Space.
Fear was the mask everyone wore when they saw him
now. Fear was the commodity of clowns.

He awoke the next morning more determined than


ever. Vivid dreams of his buddies from the carnival
circuit had revitalized him; Magnet, with his long
bony fingers of magic, juggling and dazzling with
ease; Tantrum riding miniature donkeys and cows like
some Big Hooves Rodeo King; and Cowpoke escorting
young Buckaroos in circular patriotic pony rides.
They were all gone now, rollicking through some
monkeyshine wonderland. It was up to him to dispel
their undeserved image as creepy-faced boogymen.

He took his time painting his face and redrawing his


mouth, massaging the corners into more of a grin and
less of a grimace, hoping to mask the stubborn frown

66 D on n a L a e mml e n
that persisted there. He used Rose Glows on his lips
instead of Bull’s Eye Red, wanting to feminize the
edges, to make him look more like Clarabell and less
like the Joker. He shrunk the arch of his eyebrows.
Used smaller ears. Decided against glowing cherry
cheeks. At last, he smiled at the image in the mirror, a
man willing to meet anyone halfway, and marched out
the door.

When commuters started spilling from the bunker


of BART, he posed with a perkier smile, offered a
gentler grab for attention, but his rusty tap dance was
overshadowed by a brash new busker, an adolescent
boy blowing his trumpet like a party favor. He played
one song over and over, almost in synch with the beats
of his bluesy recorded music, but not the soul, yet
the crowd adored him with his black skinny suit and
tie and precocious zest for life, and his bucket filled
quickly with bills and coins.

But the commuters still disregarded his own bulky


suit and revised mask, as if he were an over-dressed
advertisement for a new pizza parlor or a mattress sale
at Macy’s, and he suddenly billowed to the ground,
where he rested on his shoes, the tips protruding like
swollen cow tongues. He released his blimps into the
air and the commuters laughed as they remembered
the dangers of helium, some grasping at the strings
now that they were unmoored. He pulled the curly wig
from his head, freeing a sweaty bulb of thin grey hair,
and unfastened the collared noose from around his
neck. A few children stopped to stare at him, intrigued
by his dismantling, and he kept going, pulling a long
train of colored scarves from his pocket, a blue one,

Donna La e mmle n 67
then red, then yellow and green, wiping the make-up
from his face with slow deliberate strokes, wiping his
eyes and cheeks clean, but not his haunted mouth, not
yet, not with this gathering crowd, his crowd, even the
young busker watching, his music now trapped in a
skip-filled loop. Entranced by his sudden performance,
some commuters clapped, others tossed money into
his rainbow lap like a carnival game. A young tourist
couple posed for a selfie. A business man offered him
a doughnut from a bakery box. As he took a bite of
his fresh maple bar, a quizzical child softly touched his
hand and hurried on. He nearly froze after all these
years, but then he felt it, the lifting, the unmistakable
sensation of lightness, the unwrapping in his chest.
He looked at his feet as he took another bite, certain
they were hovering a few inches above the concrete
and cigarette butts and discarded commuter tickets.
He quickly grabbed onto a concrete garbage can, not
at all ready for the ride, but then he looked up at the
cumulous clouds, the azure sky. He wiped his mouth
free of the maple frosting and the Rose Glows lip color,
revealing a new shape to his admirers, an upward curl,
and he finally let go, following his buoyant colors to
an unknown destination, into the infinite beyond.

68 D on n a L a e mml e n
- march 4, 2019 -