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Q uiet L

Q uiet L ightning
as performed on
Nov 3 10
@ Booksmith

© 2010 by Evan Karp + Rajshree Chauhan

front + back artwork by simon cox
:: ::

edited and designed by evan karp
:: ::

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Q uiet Lightning

a monthly submission-based reading series

with 2 stipulations

you have to commit to the date to submit

you only get 3-8 min


contents «

maisha johnson


jeremy hatch


hollie hardy

h OW t O l AND a p LANE

chris cole

n OTE t O s ELF

nic alea


matthew james decoster

a T w HAT p OINT

amanda snyder

matt stewart


andrew o dugas


seth fischer


hk rainey


ml heath

m Y g REATEST f EAR (p ART 47)

daniel ishofsky

Maisha Johnson

and even when we think we’ve missed our train
we are
where we were always meant
to be

on a morning when the air is gray and thin, i
stand on a quivering train station platform,
looking across the station to see her legs
reaching through the fog as they climb a
grassy hill. i make eye contact, at first, not
with her but with the girl tattooed on her
back, peering out at me from her bare
shoulders, above her strapless shirt. she is
drawn atop a mountain, her feet on the edge
of a cliff like she’s going to jump. only she
has tall white wings on her back. she’s going
to be fine. i keep staring and before i know
it, i’ve forgotten where i was going, just
know i won’t get there, because i’ve let my
train leave me behind and i’m walking in the
opposite direction of where i need to go. i
find her sitting at the top of the hill,
watching the trains crawl in and out of the
station like caterpillars. i sit down beside her

« 7»
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

and say i wanted to ask about your tattoos,
speaking in the past tense though i’ve never
felt so swallowed by the moment. she’s got
other tattoos, blue ink running down both
arms, but she knows the one i’m talking
about. i like winged girls, she says, like
angels and fairies and winged insects that
look like they could be girls. she keeps
talking about her love of winged girls, like
the butterflies who visit her backyard, and in
her gray eyes i keep seeing glints of gold,
which pull me closer to her until i start to
think that i’ll just kiss her. she’d be the first
girl i’d ever kissed, but i won’t tell her that.
i’ll just put her soft face in my rough hands
and kiss her like i’ve kissed a thousand girls
before, and she’s the first to leave me
weightless, like i’m standing atop a
mountain, wings on my back.

« 8»
Maisha Johnson

t HE o NE w HO w AS w
you were the one who used your eyes like
wind over grass to lift the hairs on my body
in waves down my spine and you thought i
knew you were watching and maybe i did,
maybe i sensed my corner window didn’t
stare into darkness but into your eyes, and
that’s why i never undressed completely
before it, always kept some cloth over my
body like it was silk and not gravity that
would keep me bound to the earth. those
nights when i was alone, i found myself
hovering above ground, awake and severed
from the threads of the universe tied
together by sleep. and now that you’ve told
me you’ve been watching i’m not afraid, like
you expected. you’re in my room all dressed
in black and i’m smiling to think that you
were the one who saw me dancing, saw me
speaking by moving my body, not my lips,
and now i can get that devil off my shoulder,
the one that says no one’s listening. did you
think i was dancing for you? did you think i
belonged to you, your sparrow in a cage,

« 9»
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

your own untouchable hottentot venus?
you’re here now inside what you thought
was my cage and you find that while i
belong to no one,
you are
it was the shape of my body that carried you
into the night, night after night until my light
went out and you thought you’d lost the fire
that gave you life, while i kept on living like
i’d lost nothing at all, and now that we meet,
we are beside ourselves and beneath each
other, looking between us to find what we
never knew about how much we shared, me
lighting up your face without ever knowing
what lay beneath your shadows, you
building the walls around me only to find
yourself trapped within them. look at you in
the corner, only now seeing that this room
looks like i’ve dreamed it up from the inside.
only now noticing that i’m dancing just the
same, as if
you were never there.

« 10 »
Maisha Johnson

« 11 »
Jeremy Hatch

At nine in the morning he sat at his kitchen
table and drank his coffee, early for him, the
previous night he had gone to bed early and
sober, because the prior night he had gone
to bed late and drunk, and now he was
drinking coffee and not hungry for breakfast
yet, so he decided to leave it at that, just the
coffee, with no intention of leaving the
house even though the day was bright and
sunny and cold and windy, his favorite kind
of day.

The kitchen table made him sad a little bit,
or perhaps wistful is the word, unless it was
the wind making him wistful, or sad, it was a
contributing factor anyway, but mostly it
was the table, because he remembered all
the good conversations and all the parties
that started right there, in that room, around
that table, but he also remembered it as the
scene of many arguments and tense
discussions and tears, because all that
happens in every kitchen everywhere,
including his, no matter how happy the
household, it is in the nature of kitchens and

« 13 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

also in the nature of couples, to hold
discontent alongside contentment, equally in
one hand and in the other, just as the
warmth of the kitchen itself causes decay to
flourish on the same countertops where
meals are prepared.

And so it made him sad, or wistful, because
two days earlier, in the morning of the day
he got drunk and went to sleep late, he and
his girlfriend passed a group of men in suits
down by the Ferry Building, all of them on
phones, talking confidentially within the
hearing of all, and so he turned to his
girlfriend and said, "men in suits are always
plotting something," and she said, "better
than planning nothing," which was aimed at
him, of course, and which caused an
argument not then but eight hours later,
when he asked, in a moment of irritation, the
cork having broken in the neck of the wine
bottle, "so you'd really prefer a well-paid
schemer, someone who would stab you in
the back?"

Not that he always felt that way about men
in suits, but that morning as the group had

« 14 »
Jeremy Hatch

passed, he heard one say, "Bill, I heard that,
your hold wasn't working, I heard that,"
followed by a laugh that was short of a
threat but certainly this side of extortion,
and it had offended him, our man sitting in
the kitchen with his coffee, it offended him
with his old-fashioned feelings about fair
play, that anybody should use blackmail in
the course of a business deal, which was
supposed to be honorable, a meeting of
minds, where the momentary advantages
were exploited tacitly, without any fuss
made, but then again, what did he know
about business, what would he know?

And then another thought occurred to him,
too late because the words were already
out, had already struck his girlfriend's ear
and were causing the intended offense, the
insult to her intelligence, or perhaps it was
her sense of right and wrong, her sense of
fair play, but as he tried to work the opener
back into the cork, only to end up pushing it
still further into the bottle, he thought, what
if he misunderstood, what if in fact the man
in the suit with the cellphone pressed to his
ear, the one who had chortled about hearing

« 15 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

something not meant for his ears, what if he
were offering not a threat but a gesture of
goodwill, that whatever he overheard was
innocuous, his adversary asking an assistant
to bring some information, for example,
while he thought he was on hold, that he
said nothing damaging and that the man
near the Ferry Building had been offering
him a pass, that the laugh meant, I'm giving
you this one for free, next time I will listen in
silence and anything you say can and will be
used against you.

But then on the other hand, the man in the
suit himself might have been the one being
played, or so reflected our man in the
kitchen with the corkscrew half-inserted into
a cork that kept sliding disastrously towards
the wine, despite his best efforts, before his
girlfriend even had time to retort to his
insult, he was thinking about the man at the
other end of the line, the adversary, whose
broken hold may itself have been a ploy to
test the good faith of his co-negotiator, it
was possible that the adversary didn't even
have an assistant present, though he
certainly had an assistant, that he simply

« 16 »
Jeremy Hatch

said, to the empty room, and here he
imagined a room with a large desk and a
computer with a very large screen, a room
that still smelled of carpet glue and paint but
was illuminated by the light from vast
windows, this was no underling forced to
labor day after day under the clammy glow
of fluorescent bulbs, this was a man of
enough power he was entitled to use the sun
itself to see his papers and paperclips, and
to this empty room, under his breath so as
not to be overheard, as you do when issuing
a confidential command even though
nobody is listening, just in case, he said,
"Rafael, fetch me the file on the Greenwood
development," and waited for the reaction
from the line, and when he heard none
decided to push once more, to suggest to
the absent Rafael that he make more of an
effort to be on time in the future, a
reprimand that came naturally, because he
was annoyed by Rafael's habit of coming in
quite a bit late, but he was also inclined to
let it slide, because he had feelings for
Rafael that held him in thrall, Rafael had a
power over him and Rafael knew it, he
wanted to hear Rafael say his name, William,

« 17 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

with gratitude and even with lust, you know
what I mean, and even though William knew
it would never happen, he still was unable to
deliver in person the reprimand he delivered
to the empty air, which prompted the
asshole in San Francisco, the guy who was
obstructing his progress on the Greenwood
deal, to say "Bill -- I heard that, your hold
wasn't working, I heard that -- " and then
William knew that his adversary was the
type to deal honestly, but if you presented
him with an opportunity too tempting, he
would take it without a word and stab you in
the back.

And so the Greenwood dealmaker thanked
his adversary, the asshole in San Francisco,
for letting him know before he made an ass
of himself, which was itself a kind of
backhand compliment, a mild reproach, as if
to say, thanks, but you're obviously a
chump, because anybody with even one
half-working testicle would have listened on
in silence until he had information he could
exploit for his own gain, or his company's,
whichever, and his thanks had the air of a
trainer congratulating a dog he suspects is

« 18 »
Jeremy Hatch

really a little too stupid to be much good to
anybody ever, a cheerful mutt who can
barely even heel without a yank on the
leash, let alone something as complicated as

And as the Greenwood dealer half-thought
through this chain and smiled at his own skill
with psychological games, who should walk
in but Rafael, startling and confusing the
powerful man with the enormous windows
behind him, Rafael with his black stubble
and lean body, Mr. Greenwood wanted to
run his fingers down the boy's spine, and in
this moment of lustful confusion at the boy's
presence, he forgot himself, our powerful
dealmaker, he slipped up, and he said, he
nearly yelped, just to have something to say
and because it was at the top of his mind,
"Rafael! fetch me the file on the Greenwood
development!" and as Rafael turned around
to face the file cabinets, the dealmaker
listened a moment to the silence on the line
and realized he had just completely blown
the whole game.

At which his adversary, in San Francisco

« 19 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

down by the Ferry Building, was puzzled, he
wondered for a moment why the Greenwood
guy had barked like that, Rafael seemed to
be a pretty bad employee, chronically late
and had to be asked twice to perform a
simple task, so why did he keep him around
anyway, maybe Rafael was somebody's
relative, some kind of pet, these real estate
guys were always dogged by nepotism, it
was forever causing them trouble, and so he
laughed and said "Gee Bill, sounds like
Rafael is kind of a pain in the ass," at which
there was a silence, a nothing, and nervous
in the face of this total absence of response,
laughed again and moved the phone to his
left ear and pursued it by saying, "I mean,
people like that hold an organization back --"
and Bill interrupted him, saying "thanks for
the management advice," and changed the
subject back to a detail of the Greenwood

And then our man in the kitchen, having
imagined all this while cautiously attempting
to gain purchase on the cork with the end of
the corkscrew, but failing, and failing, only
succeeded in pushing it farther in, down the

« 20 »
Jeremy Hatch

neck of the bottle, and his girlfriend said
"well, at least a schemer would have some
kind of concept where he was headed, at
least he would know what he wanted," and
the cork at last fell into the wine with a plonk
and he cursed.

It was the beginning of an argument that
turned out to be their last one, or that was
the agreement anyway, after hours of
attacking one another with insults, and the
fact was that he was a schemer himself, as
much a schemer as any guy in a suit, he'd
been scheming for a long time to start a
fight that would be so bad they would have
to break up, because in fact he was tired of
her, he had begun to think of her as a little
stupid, and she didn't even seem to like him
really, what with the way she was always
insulting him, calling him lazy and aimless
(both of which were true but he didn't think
these were bad qualities), and so on this
night, with the cork bobbing in the wine, he
laid into her hard, right there at the kitchen
table, they sat face to face and discussed
things, the counters piled up behind them
with unwashed dishes and rotting food

« 21 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

scraps, he accused her of being unfair when
she criticized him, of playing dirty, that she
wasn't with him in good faith -- starting
there, the argument advanced rapidly, and
before even an hour had passed he was
saying that he didn't even want to run his
fingers down her back, that's how distasteful
she had become to him, that he missed
feeling that kind of desire and hoped that
one day he'd feel it again, but it would have
to be with somebody else, which was true
but cruel to say, and it hurt her more than
he expected: she made a pained yelp and
went into the bedroom, packed some of her
things, and five minutes later was out the

He was upset, wanted her back, regretted
provoking the argument and pushing it so
far; he texted her and got no response; he
poured himself a glass of wine, intending to
have just one, but of course he ended up
drinking the whole bottle, and he passed the
next day in a hung-over haze, wandering
around the city on foot, and during his late
lunch he got a text from her that it was over
as far as she was concerned, and she'd

« 22 »
Jeremy Hatch

figure out about her stuff later, and that was
that, she didn't respond to any of his
messages, and he went to bed that night
early and sober, and when he woke up the
next morning to have his coffee and sit
alone in the kitchen, feeling wistful about all
the times spent with her right there, he
decided to skip breakfast and not leave the
house, even though it was his favorite kind
of day out, because his scheme, such as it
was, had worked, and it appeared that he
was free to start over, beginning right then,
at nine in the morning on a bright, sunny,
cold, windy day, with a cup of coffee in one
hand and a whole world of possibility in the

« 23 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

« 24 »
h OW t O l AND a p LANE
It’s the small things that hold us. Handcuffs
and leftover puzzle pieces. Names like
fences that keep us home. Always the
stories are about freedom. How to
disentangle. How to unglue.

You are a kite on a frayed string. You are
breakfast every morning. You are the voice
of your mother quietly unscrewing the light
bulb. You are the dog barking at strangers
and skateboards. The city still beats at the
heart of you.

But the music of longing is melancholy. How
can this grasping gesture reconcile the
notion of impermanence? The door is open
and you can see the bright invitation of sun
and sky. You are drawn to motion like leaves
unwinding the wind. Eventually you will land
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

I can still hear the searing sound of the saw
splintering through the bones, the cracking
crunch, like a fortune cookie breaking open,
as my rib cage pried apart. My heart did not
come out easily. Arteries snapped and
popped. Bright blood, splashed scarlet on
pink curtains, a Jackson Pollack Valentine.
Blood in my mouth, a bitter tang, thick as
motor oil. Blood in my eyes, blinding. Blood
in my hair, knotted sticky with clots.
Handfuls of blood.

I washed off the heart in the kitchen sink.
Vermillion juice swirled down the drain. It
was heavier than I’d expected. Warm and
pulsing like a newborn kitten. I was pleased.
At first, I had been afraid that I wouldn’t be
able to go through with it. That I would
chicken out at the sight of the blade, the
scissors, the saw. I was afraid of letting you

I wasn’t strong enough to bend my ribs
closed again after I cut out my heart. Jagged
spears of bone jutted at odd angles like the

« 26 »
Hollie Hardy

wide open mouth of a shark. I had to wear
baggy clothing to hide the gaping hole in my

The wound was not healing as quickly as I
had expected. It bled constantly. To soak up
the blood, I filled the place where my heart
had been with one of your dirty sweaters. I
liked having something of yours inside of
me, something that smelled like you.

I must admit that there were moments of
doubt. In such times I would simply recall
the look on your face when I first presented
you with my heart. The beauty of your
speechlessness. You were so grateful, and
that made it all worth it.

But when thick puss and black goo oozed
from my heart hole, I started to worry that it
might be infected.

A week later you showed up on my doorstep
with my heart in your hand. You said it left a
bloody stain on your pillow. You said you
didn’t want it anymore. You said I could have
it back. You let me keep your sweater.

« 27 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

I stood on the porch and watched you
walking away. Then I took my heart back
inside and washed off the lint and hair and
fingerprints in the kitchen sink. I had to use
the scrub brush on it for a good long time to
remove its crusty new coating of green-black
mold. When it was as clean as I could get it, I
held my heart up to the light. It was no
longer the bright beautiful red it had once
been. Now it was more of a purplish-blue,
limp and raggedy. It was cold. It looked
smaller than I remembered, like it had lost
weight. I wondered what kind of garbage you
had been feeding it, if you had fed it at all.
There was a chunk missing out of the right
atrium. I held my heart up to my ear, flesh
against flesh. I heard a keening sound, an
almost imperceptible whimper, a weak,
intermittent pulse. I’m sorry, I whispered.
Then I yanked your bloody sweater out of
my body and gently replaced my battered-
but-still-beating heart.

« 28 »
Hollie Hardy

« 29 »
n OTE t O s ELF
dear self,

i know it's been hard these last few years
this whole time around actually
but really
it hasn't
i'm not blind
i'm not disconnected
just hear me out
what i'm trying to say is
i know it has seemed hard
because everyone has their own relative
pain threshold
but if you look at it universally
the struggles we've been having
to communicate
to fit in
to keep from being disconnected from one
they are problems
big problems
problems that most definitely have to be
Chris Cole

worked out
if we wanna see this thing through
when you look at the big picture
you can see that there are forces of nature
out there
or maybe even looking
for us
we have gone through so much
and i'm not trying to lessen the pain you've
i've felt
the distance that has grown between us
hasn't made it easier to deal with
you know
i'm just saying
i was reading the news
and it made me think
which i know you said not to do
i was able to think and feel

« 31 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

at the same time
i know
you said that was dangerous
it worked
i began to see that
there is help out there
so i'm thinking
that maybe we should have a benefit show
something to bring attention to the problem
we've been dealing with
we don't have to get bono or anything
i was thinking maybe that guy down the
who plays that broken ukelele
you know
the guy who hangs out in front of spec’s
everyone loves him
i know
we always get in a fight
because i want to give him a dollar each
time we pass
i know
i did the math
i know it's not sustainable
a dollar every time

« 32 »
Chris Cole

we are on a budget
but that isn't the point
at least not the point i'm trying to make
i think we've been looking at this whole
between you and i
the wrong way
we need help
help from the outside
maybe if we got a few people on board
started one of those think tanks
maybe we could begin to fix things
it's just an idea

i haven't been able to express to you lately
how much you mean
i hope you see this as a step forward
who knows
i mean
we tried spending time apart last spring
and that didn't do anything
i hope that you'll see this as an olive branch
i want to work this out

« 33 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

we are sharing the same body

well maybe we can talk about this tomorrow

by the way
that girl you liked
she said she would totally be into
you know
both of us
she just wants to meet you first

much love,
your better half

« 34 »
Chris Cole

there are moments
when i want to break away
from where the path seems to be going
not because i know where it leads
or because i don't know
but because
there is a feeling

that something is there
off to the side
in the beaten bush
where voices
disguised as animal noises
seem to speak about a shape
that i can make out
if i close my eyes
and hide my thoughts

not something about me
but something about someone
that means something to me

and even though i don't know anything
at least i know that i don't know
which after a brief moment of terror

« 35 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

is comforting

you get to choose
whether you carry around all this heavy shit
for the rest of your life

if you chip away
at all the parts of the massive rock
that you do not recognize
or cannot feel in your heart
to be true
you will end up with a small stone

it will rest lightly
in the palm of your hand
it may not give you any answers
you may not be able to tell what it means
but at least it will fit in your pocket
until you can

« 36 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

my mother used to be an employee of the
now she is a patient of the hospital
dad drives slow to the hospital
drink coffee at the hospital
know secret passageways at the hospital
dad looks ancient at the hospital
sister looks lost at the hospital
body’s all bones at the hospital
everything’s so quiet at the hospital
used to make tally marks
from quill pens
scraped deep into my hipbones
count the times
i’ve stood outside the hospital
because the outside of the hospital
reminds me of
the inside of the hospital
the outside of the hospital
reminds me of
the inside of the hospital
of the inside
on the inside
on the inside of the hospital
i send overnight packages

« 38 »
Nic Alea

to the mother with a cracked skull
to the mother with the 5 inch crater
marking the birth of all her tears,
to the mother with the intestines
wrapped up like typewriter ribbons
tattooing pages of doctor bills from the
bring flowers to the mother
with migraines smashed into bedrock
wake up to your morphine
drip drip sounds like
stormy adolescence in the hospital,
sounds like
count surgical scars
like hairs on her body
like lines in my fathers face
swap medical tape for
an afternoon
outside of the hospital,
the outside of the hospital
looks like the inside of the hospital
curtains keep the sterile in
windows keep the music out
keep the music out
keep the music out
keep the music out
keep the mothers in.

« 39 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

the last time you cut yourself was,
the last time you cut yourself was,
the last time you cut yourself was because

you can’t sleep with the light off
can’t sleep with the light off
can’t sleep with the light off
because the shadows from pine tree outside
are walking whispers across these walls
and you know mom and dad are sound
and these goose down feathers are wet from
muffled screamings
can’t sleep with the lights off

you can’t sleep with the lights off
because each time the air from
your window creeps across your skin
you can feel hard pressed fingertips
branding their labyrinths
into your backbone
blooming blood flowers
along your biceps,
turning touch into muscle memory scars
you can’t sleep with those lights off

« 40 »
Nic Alea

because they are the only protective north
you got glowing,
because after he touched you for the first
and then the tenth time
it felt easy
so tell me
does it feel easy
when your veins are uprooted twisted
and those lights are the only thing
keeping your mind from
replaying the moments
that he touched you
and he touched you
and he touched you
the last time you cut yourself
was on a wednesday
because wednesday in spanish is miercoles
and miercoles sounds like miracle
and miracle sounds like
trying to see the sun
from the inside of this nightmare,
you apocalypse windstorm,
write about hope without removing your
you must be a rose bush,

« 41 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

you must be real thorn heavy.

and when you were born,
when that uterus expanded,
when that universe expanded,
when that uterus expanded
and you were born
like rose tattoos
on your mothers breast bone
did you know you’d turn
into your own rose thorns
and call yourself bathroom floor/.
did you like the way those thorns felt
like stakes cratered into your skin,
do you smell like blood in the winter, ---
do you still call yourself november/.
your name is thigh muscle,
your name is medical tape,
your name is clenched fists,
your name is mirror,
your name is hanged man,
your name is ultrasound,
your name is rose bush.
you are the greatest form of cargo car
off the side of the train tracks
where they scatter bulbs to grow into rose

« 42 »
Nic Alea

do you ever call yourself brutally beautiful/.
do you ever call yourself naked body,
hold your calloused fingers to your razor,
do you call yourself lover/.
and your name is something that i said once,
and your name is copper on my tongue
and your name is rose bush
and your name is
you don’t need a confessional booth
as long as no one’s watching
and you cut yourself
as deep as when
he touched you
and he touched you
and you cut yourself
because he touched you
and you can’t sleep with the lights off
because if those lights are off
you can’t find your razor,
can’t see your cuts with the lights off
can’t stop thinking with the lights off
and every time he touches you
you are a little bit more dead
but each time you cut yourself
you are a little bit more alive
and each day now

« 43 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

you are dying
and then living
until your skin
is just one scab
that he peels off
every time he touches you
and you tell no one
except your razor

« 44 »
Nic Alea

« 45 »
Matthew James DeCoster

a T w HAT p OINT?
In April my partner and I helped you pull off
a sensational wedding, the second for you
and your new bride. You were surrounded by
family and friends, all shining more than the
magnificent Malibu sea. The guests were
also gleaming with satisfaction and joy that
you and your bride had finally found
happiness with the “right one.” We, never
just guests, were called upon to decorate
with perfect swags and centerpieces. The
night before the nuptials, I drew your bride’s
scented bath to soothe her anxiety over
proper coffee cup placement. We made 80
salads; I lovingly brushed your tuxedo with
my lint brush. I assisted with seating
arrangements and happily kept your bride
away from her dour sisters she didn’t want
to see.

Yes, we were admitted to the Colony
following our flight from San Francisco. Yes
we sat with you at the head table. Yes, we
were thanked profusely in your first toast.
Yes, your ballerina bride pulled me aside and
said I should have been the best man. Yes, I

« 47 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

was flattered but I understood. Yes, we wore
yarmulkes. Yes we held hands and danced
the Horah. Yes, I lifted your lithe bride up to
the sky. Yes, we were happy to be there.
Yes, we enjoyed the weekend.

We met when I was 15 at summer camp;
you were the older brother I never had. We
climbed Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in
the lower 48; you talked me through my
altitude sickness and we ascended the
summit together. We fought off bears who
wanted our food in Kings Canyon. We ate
tons of Mongolian barbeque and I got drunk
the first time on Lowenbrau with you. We
saw Stevie Nicks, the Go-Go’s and, best of
all, Peter, Paul and Mary, 3 times.

In May, California legalized gay marriage; I
could have the ceremony you’ve enjoyed
twice. In August, following your lavish
European honeymoon, you and your newest
wife came for a visit. This was your sixth trip
to the Castro home I’ve shared with the man
I’ve loved for 16 years. I selected Julia
Child’s favorite Vietnamese restaurant
honoring our shared history and shared

« 48 »
Matthew James DeCoster

interest in spicy Asian food and then walked
to Café Jacqueline, San Francisco’s “most
romantic restaurant” for the perfect
chocolate soufflé to honor your new found
love and my consistent one.

Honoring your wife’s interest in ballet,
thanks to Netflix and my sensitive hosting
abilities I had “The Turning Point” waiting for
us all to watch. The story of Dee Dee and
Emma coming to grips with their life long
friendship with dance as a backdrop. It was
at lunch, the next day at Fritz in Hayes
Valley, that we arrived at our turning point
when you said, “I don’t think you and
Matthew should be able to get married
because I believe consistency of institutions
is good for society.”

I wanted to fling my drink in your face and
ask you both to flee our home and
hospitality. I’m certain that the blood
draining from my face was evident. I’m
certain your ballet bride was aware of the
extreme effort that was now required for me
not to make a scene. I’m sure neither of you
were aware that in a split second I was

« 49 »
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deciding if I could continue our friendship.
You couldn’t know that, having just lost my
best friend; I didn’t have the luxury of
chucking our friendship without a fight. So, I
took the intellectual interstate with my blood
bashing my brain. I brought up
institutionalized anti-Semitism and asked
you if you thought divorce devalued the
institution of marriage. I was trying to hit
you, not where it would hurt, but where it
would make you reconsider your never seen,
narrow minded, bigoted, ignorance.

On the last day of your visit, pissed and
emotionally drained, I couldn’t bring myself
to join you for yet another excursion in my
city by the bay. You both clearly stayed
away for the day, knowing we’d reached a
turning point. Uncomfortable wasn’t it? Yet
when you returned you’d bought me an
expensive French press; honoring my love of
a great cup of coffee, secure in the
knowledge that my old press was letting too
many grinds through. And then you said,
with your arms around me, sincerely, “You
know I love you and I’m willing to be
convinced.” It was an exquisite pirouette.

« 50 »
Matthew James DeCoster

So with the polling on Prop H8 so very close,
it became my mission to convince you by
posing questions to you: At what point did
interracial marriage become acceptable?
When a law was passed or when society
woke up and did the right and thoughtful
thing? At what point did institutionalized
Apartheid become unacceptable? When the
law was changed, or before? At what point
did segregation become unacceptable?
Wasn’t it before the law was passed? At
what point did letting women vote become
acceptable? Before institutionalized
misogyny was unlawful, or after? At what
point did society make the glass ceiling
noticeable? At what point did your yellow
Star of David become different than my pink
triangle? Weren’t we all packed into cattle
cars and gassed together? Didn’t our ashes
comingle, falling on the ground of
institutionalized hatred? At what point do
you realize that fundamentalists often hate
us both? At what point do you, the chosen
one, realize I didn’t choose to be hurt this
way? At what point did we need to have a
law to stop institutionalized denial of human

« 51 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

rights? At what point do human rights need
to be institutionalized? At what point do I
devalue your first institutionalized marriage
in favor of your second? Was it when you got
your get? Was it when you said, “I do,” for
the second time? At what point can you
really be convinced? Is this the point I can
press and grind into your intellect that you
are wrong? At what point do I really get
admitted to the colony?

At what point did we stop climbing the
summit together? Is this matrimonial
mountain a summit that you can conquer?
Can you ascend this peak of acceptance? If
not, at what point?

« 52 »
Matthew James DeCoster

« 53 »
So maybe it’s because I’m bored or maybe
I’m just nosy, but the fact that I don’t have
cable probably has something to do with it: I
found myself two nights ago with my ear
pressed to the hardwood floor of my second
story apartment. Ah, the joys of city living.
You see, my neighbors were fighting
again. I heard some slamming, then a
“JESUS CHRIST!”, then some more
slamming, then a very adamant, “Now listen
to me.”
They are a couple, downstairs from me.
A woman about my age and a man probably
10 years older. True to every big-city
stereotype, I have lived above them for
three years and I don’t know their names.
But due to the thin ceilings and floors
though, I know they like big band and swing
music with the occasional John Denver track
thrown in. I know they have birds. Birds!
Who has fucking birds? I know that when I
fall over three times in a bananeira
handstand and go crashing to the floor, they
bang on the ceiling. I know when they fuck
and I know when they fight.
And maybe it’s because there’s no
Amanda Snyder

fucking or fighting going on in my
apartment, but dammit, I just had to listen.
The fucking, unfortunately, isn’t worth listing
to, so the only thing worth pressing my ear
to the floor for, is the fighting. It’s the fun
kind of fighting where people hurl insults at
each other, not the scary kind where people
throw plates or vases or fists.
So before I suction cup my ear to the
floor, I turn down Law & Order: Special
Criminals Jury Victims Intent Unit or
whatever the hell it is so that I can hear
better. It’s just a few moments before I hear
a shrill, “Who is she?” and I realize with
malicious glee: someone’s cheating. Oh, this
is good. This is better than Sex & the City—
which, because I don’t have cable, I only get
to watch the edited, safe version on network
TV, which ends up being more like Foreplay
& the City.
Anyway, it’s right about then that I hear
my next door neighbor—an old guy in his
60s—tromping his way up the stairs. He’s so
loud that I can’t hear anything downstairs.
The man is nuts—he’s installed an alarm on
both his front & back doors—which goes off
every time he enters or leaves his

« 55 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

apartment. He tapes pictures of cats on his
front door and I’ve seen him several times
from my front window walking down the
middle of our one-way street, gesturing and
arguing with absolutely no one. I would not
be at all surprised to find out he keeps bags
of eyelashes or lint or strands of hair stashed
in his apartment.
By the time Mr. Crazy figures out his
own alarm and I can once again focus on the
ruckus downstairs, I realize the ruckus has
been replaced with the syrupy music of
Karen Carpenter. Karen fucking Carpenter?
How did that happen? What happened to the
slamming? The JESUS CHRIST? The cheating
“Come on!” I say to my floorboards.
“Give me something, here!” But it’s over.
The fight is over and it’s only when I realize
I’m sincerely disappointed in this turn of
events that I think perhaps it’s time to
reevaluate my life. Perhaps I should find
better ways of spending my nights than lying
on the floor listening to my neighbors.
Maybe cable wouldn’t be so bad after all.

« 56 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

She let him get her drunk. It was easy with
martinis. One hour and the floor shimmered;
two hours and the chandeliers danced. He’d
selected a hotel bar, murmur-filled and
businesslike, the sort of place that stocked
forty brands of Scotch and no jukebox.
Cleaner than her usual dives and accordingly
more expensive, but over the course of their
35 pre-date emails he’d insisted on paying,
and she was inclined to let him.
They were both working entry-level. He
was in finance. She was in PR. He told her he
hated his job after the first martini. She told
him she liked that he told her he hated his
job, then admitted that she also hated her
job but had been scared to say so. Not
exactly scared, to be precise, rather it hadn’t
occurred to her to admit she hated her job
so early in their first date. Maybe she hated
her job less than he did. Definitely, he
jumped in, explaining that his dream was to
own a coffeeshop, rising early to review
pastry deliveries and chat up customers and
tinker with coffee-bean combinations, in the
evening hosting art receptions and bluegrass

« 58 »
Matt Stewart

solo acts and hipster literary events, one of
those coffeeshops that stayed open until
midnight so grad students could do their
grading curled up with a macchiato. She
wondered if he’d smell like coffee all the
time. Almost everybody liked the smell of
coffee, she supposed, but there were limits.
She imagined a deep, slumbering Kona
blend settling into his bed, a lighter French
Roast sweat on his towels. A nutty Arabica
bean odor saturating his car, his shoes, his
hair. He probably wouldn’t notice after the
first day, same way her grandparents
couldn’t smell the pulp mill after 60 years
even when she tasted it in her cereal. She
almost told him this story, but after a long
reflective martini sip she opted to hold it, in
reserve, until he earned it.
He stopped talking after the fourth
martini. She stopped too, attempting to
demonstrate a comfort with silence that she
hadn’t truly mastered, and wound up
dropping her glass. Incredibly, it didn’t
shatter, and as they rushed to retrieve it
they bonked heads with a drunken ferocity
that would seem like an obvious sign years
later. In the moment, though, they just felt

« 59 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

silly, and too inebriated, her yelping
uncontrollably and him hiccupping in
squirmy chipmunk progressions, which she
adeptly interpreted as a sign he’d ventured
beyond drunkville and into a dirtier land of
second-guessing and lonesomeness.
Floundering, she told him that his fly was
open, whereupon he said that the fifth
button on her blouse had come undone, and
while neither point was true they both
laughed like conniving children. The next
martini went down at rocketship speed, and
when he leaned over to kiss her she let him
in on the second try.
It wasn’t the kind of bar you could
make out in for long, so they caught a cab to
a pub near her place. In the taxi a violet lust
throttled her, an all-body craving for a deep
black kiss in the deep black night, his hand
running up her skirt, the cabbie cursing
them in Farsi. To be bad, pornographically
bad, broken windows and police warrant
bad, then melt into him like a box of
popsicles left in the trunk. It was something
she wouldn’t regret. But when she slipped
her head onto his shoulder he jumped like
he’d been whacked with a cattle prod, then

« 60 »
Matt Stewart

reminded her that he was from Tennessee,
and being from Tennessee it was required
that he enjoy country music, which shouldn’t
come as an unwelcome surprise, as his
preference for country music was clearly
detailed in his profile (he’d run
into trouble on the subject before). The
violet lust surfaced and she grabbed his shirt
and tried to kiss him deeply, blackly, but he
wiggled out of it, a ghostlike fade,
transmogrifying her gulps into a light kiss
like a falling leaf.
She looked out her window at the
flotilla of taxicabs speeding to infinite
destinations, the endless lives she could be
living. Should she feel rejected? She would
with other guys, but they would also be
texting by now, or more likely gone, dropped
on a corner to find an alternative sexual
receptacle. Instead, he was singing, badly, a
cowboy ditty about losing a woman over a
rodeo bet, thrown ten feet off a bronco and
blood in his coffee the next morning. Always
with the coffee, she realized, he had to get
that coffeeshop. His voice came out like a
traveling guitar, austere and beaten by a
lifetime of motels.

« 61 »
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Hungry, she thought, he sounded so
wonderfully hungry.

« 62 »
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We are caught in the moonlight
like classical statues,
bloodless and bone-white.

She says have some, have some,
her breasts flat as flowers pressed
in a memory album, gripped in her fingers.
Poised, she's a statesman debating,
ignorant of the choral singers
that groan in my ear like cats mating
in the trees right outside the windowpane
(my nose and fingers steam Rorschach)
and before I can turn, she's tamed,
leaning back, askew, head rolling away,
eyes closed but pulsing marble, like she's
of Rome and raw-armed lovers,
my chorus alive with screaming, now
at each other, Spartan mothers
with rippling thighs, each of her eyes
pressed flat under the lids, ashine
like her stomach, the sweat and sighs
greasing her, and her alone.

Where am I?

« 64 »
Andrew O. Dugas

Where are my voices? my fever running
She is gone without me, not moving at all
in the blue light, her eyelids glowing white,
burning from inside. My eyes are frozen
caught between white and gray
like the diamonds in her sweat
breaking day. Where am I?

David shudders when the tourist girl sighs
in her summer dress, and tonight stoned
she whispers his name again and again,
grinding and groaning until the end, when
my chorus leaves me without leave,
leaves me with her, mired in honey!
Far from becoming one, we shatter into
plaster-of-paris others, we become all those
might-have-been lovers, prizes pedestal'd in
And after we're done, she rises
to gather her clothes.

« 65 »
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« 66 »
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I once worked writing memos for a politician
who wouldn’t let us use paperclips. She was a
powerful and decent woman. I liked
paperclips, but I didn’t complain.

Legend had it that after the energy
companies stole billions from the poor, and
after the President had refused to do
anything about it, she stuck her finger in the
Vice President’s chest and said, “You can’t do
this to these people.” He said, “Lady, there’s
a lot about economics you don’t

This all happened before I worked for her, but
I’m certain the briefing she’d read that
morning had not had a paperclip anywhere
near it. I wrote her a memo once on the
closing of a bus stop in Sunnyvale. I used a
stapler. Around then, a five hundred pound
smart bomb landed on the wrong house near
Mosul. The US government said five people
had died. The house’s owner and the AP put
the number at fourteen. Seven of the dead
were children, and there is nothing left of

« 68 »
H.K. Rainey

them, not even the hairs on their arms or the
little bones inside their ears. No one could
prove anything except that there is now no
house where once there was one. I should
have written a memo about those nine
people. It would've been fifty pages long. It
would've included their best photos and
translations of the lyrics to the last song they
heard and recipes for their favorite kind of
soup. That year the President said thirty
thousand Iraqi civilians had died in the
fighting. Other estimates put the number at a
hundred thousand. How do you bind the
obituary of seventy thousand people? I
could’ve used a binder clip. She didn’t have a
problem with those. But the memo would’ve
been too long for her to read; it would’ve
taken too long for me to write. She had a lot
of chests to poke, and my job was to write
about bus stops. So I quit, and now I work in
a museum. I use as many paperclips as I
want. I unfold them and use them to pick at
the area around my nails. They’re perfect for
peeling off dead skin until my fingers are pink
and raw.

« 69 »
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His body was dimpled
pale as a dumpling.

My father tested each
inch of the diving board

with his toe like a dancer
before he’d let it anchor.

Tap, plant. Tap, plant.

You could
still see

of the
diver in

the way he positioned himself on the end of

« 70 »
H.K. Rainey

the board, squatting a little, his once-tight
rump rounded out, bulging into the heat of
the Florida summer. Straightening his legs,
his hands Y’d above his head, he eyed the
water. Calculated its distance from him, the
exact moment of his impact and immersion.
He smiled, but not at me. At the judges he
was still seeing, the gods of the scoring
placards, who tally the numbers and measure
his worth in digits. He squatted again, rose
again. Repeat. Sudden as a great egret
taking flight, its massive white wings
throbbing, he arcs into the air, floating on the
humidity for just a moment, body
straightening, his paunched belly sucked in,
his forearms together, fingers pointed. When
he breaks the water, he barely kicks up any
spray. Ripples flow outward, forming a mouth
into which his body disappears.

When I think back ten years to this memory,
I can’t divine what went wrong. There was
plenty of depth to the pool, plenty of skill on
the part of my father. But when he didn’t
surface again, it felt like the silence after a

« 71 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

joke is finished, when no one is laughing.

I would not have remembered this moment,

Yesterday, there was a sudden Florida storm.

An egret ran awkwardly across the yard
between houses, flapping his wings,
expecting the sky,

caught up

in a flurry of wind,
and was dashed//against
the clapboards of the neighboring house.

I saw my father in the lifeless bird, stunned,
still anticipating his lift off.

« 72 »
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Past the bedroom window, a flash of colors:
balloons on a fast motorized cable car
shaming the sunset.

You are still in bed, this mugwump
hornet swarming late fallback afternoon;
convinced if you stay there
nothing bad can happen,
yet also praying for fireworks up your

Not wanting to heed dinosaur whispers
this way time’s up game over
Hard enough to sleep hard enough to wake
Hard enough to claw crawl maintain
All that is cheap costing too much
All that you trusted in right-brain production
calling in sick or drunk or disengaged this

All that should please should engage
sneaking furtive over your head
Listening but not hearing
Hearing but not understanding

« 74 »
M.L. Heath

Yet at a glance still healthy for your time;
Fatal disease wouldn’t allow you to feel that

So count your blessings like unrolled
there may be enough for drinks with dinner

« 75 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

My intelligence is jewels and barbed wire
Dub vapor of Tubby and Scratch
the tube amp rasp of Link and Childish

Smiles over the telephone
and mail from the coast

My intelligence is cellular unconscious
Middle of night spoons in bed
The dripping chlorine crown of morning lust
The sober exact measure of expression

An intelligence too precious to relinquish to
wasted wine
Relinquish to the played out carbon cycles
of long ago social scenes

And yet
Though a clearly resilient thing
Why do past mistakes not register
Set me back onto another detour in
the ratrace maze

At the end of which is a lover’s
stonefaced monotone disapproval

« 76 »
M.L. Heath

this hungover cloudless morning

« 77 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

My greatest fear is no love/money/kindred

My greatest fear is that the faint broken
in my arm/appendix/scrotum means

My greatest fear is a faultless July afternoon
wandering through City slang
without the proper phrasebook

My greatest fear is the desiccated cherries in
staring back in the mirror: three days awake,
three hours before punching in at work

My greatest fear is twenty years older
One peeling eggshell minifridge room
Squirreling away Social Security
for a night of
marybarthedoor passion
once every six months
with a faceless striated torso

« 78 »
M.L. Heath

from the back pages of the Bay Area

My greatest fear is that into which
I invest my energies
one day becomes nothing more than
a dusty thrift store ledge, shared with
broken laptops, celebrity illiterature,
and the battered scraped 45’s that kindled
that energy

My greatest fear is a beer and no cigarettes

My greatest fear is being called on
this not really being poetry but therapy:
Hey! it worked for Poe, Plath and the
Marquis de Sade

My greatest fear is that this
is all constructed from fear:
Pressed into stationery, soaked in
apricot brandy and bummed smokes,
a construct all too flammable, set alight
set adrift off the North Beach seawall
mistaken for a child’s accidental arson
thirty minutes before the blossom sunset.

« 79 »
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« 80 »
If you're going to burn everything you own in
a fire pit on Ocean Beach, do it on a Monday.
On the weekends, people stake out pits as
early as 9 AM. Also, per budget cuts and
recent activity in Oakland, the police do not
comb the beach during the week.
If you can pack everything you own into
two large duffel bags that would be ideal as
you don't want to have to make more than
one trip from the bus stop, as even though
you're burning everything, it would be a
shame to have anything stolen. Gift the
items you are too weak to burn: Your copy of
The Prophet. Your fishing rod and tackle in
the hopes that someone will learn and feed
themselves for a lifetime. The first, and only,
Playboy you ever bought when you were
sixteen with Cindy Crawford on the cover.
You bought it along with a post card of
Times Square, and a pack of gum so the
cashier would think you bought Playboys all
the time. After about half an hour of ogling
the pictures, you got bored, and now the
shreds of the postcard hold the places of
your favorite jokes and an interview with Ray
Bradbury. Put the magazine into a manila
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

envelope addressed “North Pole” and drop it
in a mailbox.
Start with the books and clothes made
of synthetic fibers. Natural fibers require a
bit more heat to catch, so hold those off for
later. Return stuff that isn’t yours. Burn
effigies of things you’ve loaned to people
that have no hope of finding their way back
to you: a blender, a grill, your self esteem, a
plunger, a thirty foot tape measure your
roommate borrowed to measure dicks with
his boyfriend, your sugar bowl.
Burning books feels wrong. People
tend to hang their heads anywhere that
books have been burned, knowing that the
cause they once championed was a fool's
errand. You are not a fool. You are not
burning these books because you do not
believe in them. Convince yourself that
particles of wisdom from these books will
float through the atmosphere for ages,
landing where they are needed
unexpectedly, like Kwai Chang Cain in Kung
Don’t worry about the environment.
Remember overhearing your neighbor who
trades sustainable energy and drives a

« 82 »
Daniel Ishofsky

Hummer, yelling into the Bluetooth he didn’t
know how to use that he was buying carbon
offsets for the whole block since everyone
was so fucking wasteful.
If there is a box in which you keep
small items that you have kept over the
years for no other reason than they
warranted keeping: shotgun shells full of
mica found on the beach, wine corks from
bottles that meant something, wine corks
from bottles that meant nothing, an empty
box of saffron half an inch square, a railroad
tie found along the tracks when you walked
back from South San Francisco, not because
you missed the train but because you had
the time, smash the box, as it will make
excellent kindling. Burn the contents at your
discretion. Don’t feel bad if you suddenly
aren’t so averse to certain people burning.
Tell yourself you hope they only hope they
only burn metaphorically. Believe this.
Make sure at least one thing you burn
has an alcoholic content as the way the fire
rushes to greet the alcohol is an apt
illustration of how your bloodstream rushes
to meet alcohol. If you cannot bring yourself
to burn anything with alcoholic content, you

« 83 »
Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

might have a drinking problem. Don't worry,
cologne, rubbing alcohol, and other less
desirable proofs will do the job in a pinch. If
you are sipping something as you throw the
stuffed animal you've had since you were a
boy, the keeping of which has gotten you
into no less than three fistfights, spit a cheek
full into the fire and remember the
excitement of the circus.

Remember some girl’s high school yearbook
quote said, "Shoot for the moon, if you miss
you'll still be among the stars." Remember
that you had sex with that girl at prom.
Remember that she was not your date.
Remember that you had sex with your date
after prom. Remember that when your date
asked what you were thinking about, you
were wondering if it was weird that you liked
sex better in a bathroom than you did on a
bed. Remember saying to her, "I'm so glad I
found you." Remember remembering that
from a TV show, the name of which you
currently forget. Stoke the fire to make sure
you get smoke in your eyes at moments of
painful recollection.
Resist the urge to do drugs or for that

« 84 »
Daniel Ishofsky

matter to drink too heavily as you'll want to
be present enough to remember what it’s
like to see the glass of your grandfather’s
pocket watch finally crack; the melting
hands making you wonder whether Dali
studied the Theory of Relativity. If you get
inadvertently high while burning your stash,
at least you did so in the act of destruction.
You are a Phoenix.
If a soft rain starts to fall take your shirt
off and listen for the sizzling intercourse of
water and fire. Don't be shy. Stragglers and
passersby may notice you and ask what you
are doing. Say, "I woke up this morning and
realized everything I had was so last
season." Be over the top. Drag out the "o".
Or else be deadpan, but it's important that
you commit fully, otherwise people will think
you're crazy instead of deliberately
eccentric. This is a fine hair to split, but an
important one. The difference is intent.

« 85 »
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American Street Showcase | 3rd Sunday
Portuguese Artists Colony | 3rd Sunday
Guinevere Q’s Variety Show | 3rd Sunday
Porchlight Storytelling | 3rd Monday
InsideStoryTime | 3rd Thursday

Anger Management
Babylon Salon
Bang Out
East Bay on the Brain
Speakeasy: A Literary Saloon

[ just google it ]

Evan films these and other things and talks about
them @ quality writing about all things literary
+ cultural a literary exploration of San Francisco

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