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Quiet Lightning is:

a literary nonprofit with a handful of ongoing projects,

including a bimonthly, submission-based reading series
featuring all forms of writing without introductions or
author banter—of which sparkle + blink is a verbatim
transcript. Since December 2009 we’ve presented
1,200 readings by 900 authors in 125 shows and 100
books, selected by more than 50 people through a
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There are only two rules to submit:

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


opportunities + community events

sparkle + blink 99
© 2019 Quiet Lightning

cover art © Nathalie Fabri
A version of “My abuelita…” by Elizabeth Gonzalez James
first appeared in The Rishman Review
“Memorial Day Clambake, 1970” by Kristen Rembold
first appeared in Music Lesson (Future Cycle Press)
“Sanctus Spiritus, 1512” by Sarah Amador
is forthcoming in Best Microfiction 2019
“The Rose Shipwreck” by Christopher Bernard
first appeared in The Rose Shipwreck (A Press of Rabble)
“Hearts Like a Great Lake” by Tony Press
first appeaared in Turtle Island Quarterly
“Observational Learning” by Rachael Maier
first appeared at

set in Absara

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Your support is crucial and appreciated.
su bmit @ qui e tl i g h tn i n g . o r g
curated by
Meghan Thornton + Rohan DaCosta
featured artist
Natalie Fabri |

Sarah Henry Midnight 1

Siamak Vossoughi The Best Poet of America 7
Gonzalez James My abuelita who never smiled
and only made me SpaghettiOs 11
Kristen Rembold Memorial Day Clambake, 1970 19
Kate Folk Dinner with Craig 23
Bianca Barela Brood 27
Emma Webster Sad Souls 31
Sarah Arantza Amador Sanctus Spiritus, 1512 35
Melody Nixon Oceanic Feeling, after Christchurch 37
Christopher Bernard The Rose Shipwreck 45
Ruth Crossman Dreams 49
Jeffrey Kingman Stopover 53
Gark Mavigan Depart Mental 55
Tony Press Hearts Like a Great Lake 63
Rachael Maier Observational Learning 67
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

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 -
h Henry

listen, I want to tell you a story but first I need
you to love me when I am red and raw,
love me so brightly that I become someone who could
raise an unbroken child
bestow a name and new leaves
in an illusion of permanence,
despite the flat line and the fluorescent light. love me
for the way I wake up
to stitch the ragged edges
together into something like whole.
love the way that I cast a shadow,
because I am no longer a ghost or in pieces.
love me still when I flinch and try to hide it
as you come crashing
through the trip wires of my body,
when new tenderness feels like the same thing as old
love me so well
that you already know somehow

to wait
until there is nothing else
for me to do but to look back and meet your eyes
and begin at the very beginning, again,

three days of California wildfires

have turned the daylight orange,
the trees are burning,
the grass has gone to ash,
every gray edge crisped with white -
in six months the dead branches
will stand against the sky,
the wrong shade of a brilliant blue,
too deep and technicolor for a wasteland.
it feels like afternoon all the time, the light’s wrong,
I don’t smoke anymore but I remember doing it,
nineteen cross-legged on the front steps
just starting out, feeling impossible-
lately I’ve been waking up with red eyes
and a thick feeling in my chest, like I was out all
trailing cigarettes from one end to the other, walking
and breathing the smoke every day like it’s normal,

2 S a ra h H e n r y
come home to sleep heavy sad
giant dreams about waves of water
coming in from the ocean, covering all the houses,
drowning the mountains, all these water dreams
because I can’t stop drinking alcohol and I don’t want
go to meetings again, all these
water dreams because my father
is stranded in the desert where it only
rains twice a year, he’s eating potatoes boiled in
salted water,
asks me to buy a guitar from him because he’s so
broke and
needs the money, him and his new wife and her
year old son from a different marriage, fleeing from
wide sky country for the poison glare and baked rock,
I fly down to visit and cover their bodega groceries,
Write my name and my tips on their bills and receipts
try to wash their dishes and they push my hands
away, I try to make jokes and stay light and sing my
songs and play guitar and believe in love and the
we tell each other we love each other and we mean it,
I drink tequila from the freezer and accept a Valium

Sa ra h He nry 3
I pass out in the kid’s bed so he has to sleep on the
In the morning dad goes to the ranch to visit his
takes her to the hospital for radiation, her tumor
has spread from her neck and now it’s taking up
half of her face, I watch her take her shirt off and
hook a bra
around her ribs, a living skeleton, her breasts
the only soft part of her body now, she always
wanted to get thin and the devil heard and took the
fat from her body, multiplied her cells into infinity
turned the flesh necrotic peeling from her neck, I last
ten minutes and go to the kitchen to hide
my dad is pretty good about it, hands me a paper
to press against my face, we eat frozen lasagna
and I start drinking day old kitchen wine,
there might be fruit flies in it and I don’t care-
my new step mother is kind and she
asks me if I want to take a walk and we go outside
and walk out towards the edge of the property
lined with barbed wire, coyotes print in the dust
wind shaking the leaves of the palm trees-
it sounds like rushing water-

4 S a ra h H e n r y
I take it all in, breathe the oxygen
two lungs in my body right and left, one heart
twisted choked up I can’t dig it out I keep trying
I turn around look back and see the sunset, the sun
down the dusk, the light of it stripped orange and
across the sky, like the center of a flame.

Sa ra h He nry 5
m ak Vossoug
Sia hi
The B
e st P o et o f A m e r i c a

The immigrant is the best poet of America, Manuel

said. Because none of this is for them. They have to
work to make it their own.

The Lyft driver looked at us in the rearview.

Imagine if you looked at the beauty of San Francisco and

said, of course. Of course it is beautiful. Now imagine
you had to work to see its beauty.

My friends, the driver said, I will pick up another

passenger in 1.8 miles.

Where are you from, Manuel said.


Okay. We will make the most of the next 1.8 miles.

The driver laughed wonderfully.

Instead of saying the immigrant does not belong here,

they could be saying—tell me how we look.

The driver laughed hysterically.

No one has ever said that to me, he said.

This city is so beautiful that I am glad I was not born

here, Manuel said. I am very glad that I first learned
what poetry was.

My friend, the driver said, you are saying the thing you
should not say.


The driver thought hard. He thought for the next .6


Because we do not want them to know.

It was a great celebration in the car then when he said

that. We laughed for .3 miles.

Does it have to stay secret?

No, the driver said. Not secret. But quiet. I drive for
Lyft. I use the map on my phone but I don’t need it.
The people like to see me use the map.


They like to think I am learning.

Learning, Manuel roared.

You can turn off the map, I said.

Thank you, the driver said. It is only .8 miles.

8 S i a ma k Vo ssoug h i
When will they hear all you know about San Francisco?
Manuel said.

Some day, the driver said. But I can’t have two homes.
Kenya is still my home.

The world is my home, I said.

Listen to this guy, Manuel said.

After three beers at Mario’s, you expect the world to

be anything other than my home?

Three beers and a sandwich.

It was a great sandwich, I said fondly.

That is the place on Columbus?

Yes, Manuel said, have you been there?


Please promise us that you will go and have three beers

and one sandwich.

I promise.

You are a good man, I said.

In .3 miles, I will pick up the other passenger, the

driver said. He looked at his phone. Her name is Julie.

Well, Manuel said, I think we proved it.

Si a ma k Vossou gh i 9
Any last summations? I said.

The immigrant is the best poet of America, he said. But

everybody else is pretty good too.

The driver laughed. He stopped the car and the girl got
in. She was pretty in a way that somebody with money
would love some day. We all went to our deepest
sobriety and stayed there the rest of the way.

10 S i a ma k Vo ssoug h i
e th G z
z ab Ja
E li M y a b u e l i ta s e

and who never smiled

o n ly m a d tiOs
e m e S pa g h e t

My daughter is seven and has just learned how to text.

I’ve caught her a few times on the couch with my
phone, one finger slowly hunting and pecking across
the touch screen. In these moments my fears grab
me around the throat—that she’s gone searching for
Peppa Pig and instead found clips of tentacle porn—
but these worries never come true. She’s only taking a
selfie because she’s eaten a blue popsicle and wants to
send a picture of her tongue to my mother-in-law, her

My mother-in-law is a very responsive texter. It is

strange to see these conversations unfold around
me, taking place on my phone, under my name, but
unconnected to me:

Look at my tongue!

Lovely dollface. How was school?

I’m building a jetpack so I can get ice cream anytime I


Sounds wonderful. See you later alligator!

My abuelita, my grandmother, never learned to speak
English despite having lived in the United States for
almost fifty years. My grandfather coaxed her from
the little town in Mexico her ancestors had founded
back when land was granted by the king, and took her
2,000 miles north to Detroit. This was the 1940s, when
it was common to find signs in restaurants prohibiting
dogs and, what I’m assuming the sign-printers believed
their logical corollary, Mexicans.

In the few pictures I have of my abuelita from the

years she spent in Detroit she’s never smiling. In each
photo she looks tired and put-upon, as though she’s
finally found a moment when the dishes were finished
and the children were content and her husband wasn’t
shouting for another beer and then someone had come
shattering her happy seclusion demanding she smile
for the camera. Some people can’t hide their emotions.
Some people won’t.

By the time I met her she was a hunched figure with

skin the texture of a medjool date. She wore cheap
slippers and mint green house dresses that hung on
her like pillowcases. She’d gone back south to Laredo,
Texas and my family had followed, moving into her old
house while she relocated to an apartment complex for
independent seniors. Every Saturday, for eight years,
my father and I visited my abuelita at her apartment.
She and my father sat at the kitchen table and did not
get up until two hours had passed. They never laughed.
I don’t know what they were talking about but it was
never anything funny. And in eight years of weekly
visits I can remember only one instance of my abuelita
speaking directly to me.

12 E l i z ab e t h G o n za le z Ja me s
My daughter is currently obsessed with jokes:

What do you call a bear in the rain?

A drizzly bear!

My children spend the night at my in-laws’ house

about twice a month. In the mornings they get into
bed with my mother-in-law and read joke books aloud.

Where do pencils go on vacation?


I imagine this goes on for quite a while and my mother-

in-law, with an endurance far superior to mine, will
laugh, or pretend to laugh, at every punchline. A long
time from now I hope my daughter remembers these
mornings. She was loved and valued so much she could
reread the same horrible joke a thousand times and
never reach the limit of her grandmother’s affection.
Someday she may feel the world’s teeth closing around
her neck and I hope she carries this memory in her
pocket like a scrap of velvet to stroke with her thumb.

I don’t know why my abuelita never learned English.

Maybe she didn’t have to. Detroit was heavily
segregated, and when she left Detroit and moved to
Laredo it would have been effortless to live in Texas,
a stone’s throw from Mexico, and never utter a word
of English. Perhaps she resented my grandfather for
making her leave Mexico. Was shunning English her
way of clutching tightly to the doorframe, feet planted,
refusing to be pushed any further inside?

Eli zabe t h Gonza le z Ja me s 13

She never learned English and I never learned Spanish.
My father married my mother, a white woman, and I
was born in 1982. He’s never said it but I think it was a
relief to him when I came out the spitting image of my
mother: pale skin, grey-blue eyes, a short Scandinavian
nose. He never spoke Spanish in the house and this
seemed a conscious choice. “If you’re white, you’re
alright”—this is what he says he learned in Detroit.
Was my father trying to protect me from something,
or was he protecting something for himself, unwilling
to share?

When I was seven my mother went into labor with

my brother and I needed somewhere to sleep while
my parents were at the hospital. I was nervous about
staying at my abuelita’s. What would we do? What
would we talk about?

It was strange in her apartment at night. My abuelita

had only the kitchen light on and it was too feeble
to reach into the corners. It made me feel as though
she wished I would go to sleep even though it was
barely past seven. Her novelas were on, a constant
background of women arguing in rapid Spanish, cut
with violins and an occasional cheerful ad for Bisquick.

Still she didn’t talk. She sat at the kitchen table

smoking More cigarettes and cutting coupons for
soap and I was keenly aware of my intrusion into her
life. I was a voyeur, taking in something not meant for
consumption. And rather than fight the silence I fell
into mimicry, moving through my play without sound,
reflecting her solitude and magnifying it, two people
standing on opposite shores.

14 E l i z ab e t h G o n za le z Ja me s
At some point I must have said, I’m hungry, and she

She reached in her pantry and pulled out a can of

off-brand SpaghettiOs. “¿Quiéres spaghetti?”

I nodded.

She heated it on the stovetop. In five minutes I had

my dinner.

Do you want spaghetti? In eight years this is the only

sentence I can recall my grandmother having ever said
to me. I’m not sure it was even a question. If I had
answered, No, I don’t believe she would have offered
an alternative. And the SpaghettiOs: Did she eat them
herself, complementing her ration of government
cheese, or had she bought them just for me? I find it
hard to picture my father suggesting them, but I find
it equally difficult to picture her seeking them out in
the store, following the advice of friends or one of the
pitchmen on Univision.

There are times I think I want too much. Wasn’t it

enough to have food and shelter? To not be beaten with
a wooden spoon? And there are other times I look at
my daughter and my mother-in-law and wonder what
the hell was wrong with my abuelita.

I believe I slept on the pull-out couch. For once the

novelas were turned off.

I wonder what my children would do if they’d grown

up with my abuelita—would they hug her? Hide from

Eli zabe t h Gonza le z Ja me s 15

her? Sing and dance circles around her until she’d
finally capitulate to their noisy love and join in? I
don’t think any of those things would happen. I think
we’re molded by the love we receive: exuberant love
produces people who love exuberantly. People who
step out of their solitude only long enough to cook a
meal produce people who save the best of themselves
for themselves, dying with their secrets sitting atop
their tongue like a pearl.

One day I hope to be a grandmother and maybe I won’t

share a language with my grandchildren. Maybe they’ll
look nothing like me. I won’t recognize their strange
faces peering up at me, sticky hands tugging at my
clothes, bare feet squeaking on the tile floor. They’ll
say fifty words too quickly for me to catch and I’ll be
tired because I’ll be old and I’ll pick up a magazine
instead of trying to be their friend. They will know
where I keep the cookies. And I’ll have the television
tuned to the English-language station because my
husband is dead and I like to hear the men talk. And
the children will grow bored in my small apartment
and I’ll only remember the times my own children
played quietly by themselves and I’ll be angry thinking
that something has gone awry in society when
children expect to be entertained. And there is only
me in the apartment and why should I cook for only
myself and the van is broken and no one remembers to
take me to the grocery store and all I have is this can
of SpaghettiOs.

Or, I will remember how my mother-in-law used to

kiss my daughter on her stomach when she was small,
and sit on the floor endlessly cutting hearts out of

16 E l i z ab e t h G o n za le z Ja me s
red construction paper. I will remember how her love
poured from her like Ganymede with his bottomless
pitcher and, even though I might secretly long for the
moment their mother will pick them up, I will answer
their questions as best I can, slip them pieces of candy
before dinner, glue together the things that have come

We are molded not only by the love we receive but also

by the love we witness, that comes to us indirectly. I
have seen an abuelita who knows how to smile. I hope
that one day my memories of the two abuelitas will
merge, become one, take on the stylized nostalgia
of an old photograph: a kind, brown face, a cotton
housedress, and a smile. I want my memories to
become a collage of abuelitas, jokes and novelas and
spaghetti and red paper hearts and I love you and Te
amo taped onto cardboard like an ofrenda. When you
step back, you can only see the good parts.

Eli zabe t h Gonza le z Ja me s 17

is ten Rembol
Kr d
Memorial Day
C l a m b a k e, 19 7 0

A country girl, well-practiced,

used to chores and tasks,
huddles with the other adolescents
in the still cool morning,
setting up the tinder and the kindling,

sheltering the fire like a nest

so it will flame and catch
against a field of gray and brown and green,
against a sky, overcast,
against familiar elements,

stone and flesh, dooryard and farmyard,

fanning that rainbow of flame—
life, unbridled, as she imagines—
that roar, distant and deafening,

tending the blaze

of the rebellious heart she holds
the rift between
this landscape and herself,

she feeds the flames,

breathes on them as God breathed
life into man, building
a shrine for fire,
where the flames dance like Shiva’s

four hands—flicker, shiver,

spark—all the sinuous
arms, all the precious
gold and bangles,
so the flames rage

against the four square

cabin walls,
and even the tepee wails
Who will step forward?
Who will be called?

Once tindered, the spark

can’t be controlled,
catches the shirt of the girl
who stood too close,
who didn’t mean to be

speaking in tongues,
casting a woeful
look over her shoulder, as if she
only now could see what’s coming,
like those immolating

monks regarding their robes

on the temple steps,
some ill wind
she didn’t guess,
until her mother comes crying

20 K r i s t e n R e mb o l d
the girl’s name
in incantation,
running, astonishing her
with her body, outstretched

Kri st e n Re mbold 21
Kate Folk

D i n n e r w it h C r ai g

After we spent most of dinner talking about his

recent breakup, Craig asked how everything’s been
going with me. We were eating at this awful buffet-
style restaurant near my apartment. Craig is a man,
which is the type of person I sometimes have sex with,
but luckily I’ve never wanted to have sex with this
particular man, my friend Craig. I was nodding at the
right times and not saying much otherwise, and for
once this was the right thing to do—I could tell by the
way that he, Craig, continued talking and moving his
face in a way that indicated he felt heard and supported
by his friend, who in this case was me. In this human
interaction I was frankly excelling. But when Craig
shifted the subject to things happening in my life, my
ears started ringing and Craig’s face blurred and the
room swelled and then snapped back into place.

“Well,” I said, and I knew that here was where I might

mention the snake, which had grown to almost the
size of my apartment. I mean it was getting hard to
step around it. I had to step on it, in fact I had to crawl
all over it. Every day I had less non-snake space. I’d
been thinking of maybe going inside the snake, but
only after I’d obtained assurance that it, the snake,
wouldn’t refuse to open its mouth again once I
was inside and thus start digesting me, whether it

meant to or not, some things after all, such as stomach
enzymes, proceeding independent of the human
construct of intention. As long as that didn’t happen—
being annihilated by snake digestive acid I mean—I
was thinking it might be convenient to move my stuff
inside the snake, to set up my apartment in there so
long as I could emerge at regular intervals, rather than
how it is now, eking out a life in the diminishing gaps
between the snake’s body and various walls.

So, “everything’s good,” I told Craig, instead of saying

something, really anything, about the snake when
I had the chance. I said something else then, about a
popular TV show I had been watching. Craig hadn’t
seen it. I kept talking about the show a little too long.
Craig said “well” and pushed back from the table and
put his coat on and said he should be getting home,
though he didn’t say why, and I recognized that my
chance to have told someone about the snake was no
more. Because of these choices the fact remains that
no one knows about my situation with the snake in
my apartment which appeared one day several weeks
ago as a normal-sized but eerily calm and intelligent-
eyed green/black/red snake sliding up out of my toilet
and which has grown day by day to encompass my
apartment, and that’s probably for the best, that no
one else knows about the snake I mean.

A week later and I’ve got my furniture all set up inside

the snake, me and the snake having come to a sort of
understanding. My apartment looks pretty much the
same as before except now it’s inside a snake. The
snake helped by swallowing, and then it moved so
its mouth is right against the door, so when I walk

24 K at e F o l k
into my apartment I walk straight into the snake’s
mouth. Those gestures made me feel like the snake
was in this thing with me. I mean I felt less victimized
by the situation than I otherwise might have, if the
snake hadn’t seemed to make an effort to swallow my
furniture into itself, and anyway the snake can’t help
how it’s gotten so big, it’s another thing out of anyone’s
control just like with the stomach enzymes. It’s dark
and kind of wet in the snake but I have flashlights and
once you’re in the main room it looks more or less the
same, only much darker in spite of the flashlights, and
yeah pretty wet. I do have to leave every few hours,
like with permit parking, because that’s when the
stomach acid starts to settle into my skin and if I let it
go too long it does corrode my flesh, but again, that’s
hardly the snake’s fault. I still have to leave the snake
to shower and of course to leave the apartment and do
the things I do during the day, which admittedly have
become fewer since I began living in the snake.

I went out for dinner again with Craig tonight and he’s
got a new girlfriend. Actually, it’s the old girlfriend, but
he swears this time it’s different. I say sure, I’m sure it is,
and I mean it. I believe in Craig and I believe whatever
he tells me. “What’s new with you?” Craig asks.

“A snake came up through my toilet and has grown to

encompass my whole apartment,” I say, impulsively. “I
live inside a snake,” I clarify.

“Okay,” Craig says. “What’s that like?”

Like me, Craig is a good listener. I explain how it works

between me and the snake.

Kat e F olk 25
“Well, I should be getting home now,” Craig says when
I’ve finished talking about the snake. I bet Craig wants
to get back to his girlfriend.

“I should be getting home, too,” I say, though to be

honest I’m not looking forward to going back inside
the snake. “The snake misses me when I’m gone,” I
inform Craig.

Craig nods with tight lips like he doesn’t believe it

about the snake missing me, but it’s another lie we
allow to sit there between us unrefuted, same as Craig’s
relationship. It’s not so bad, with the snake. I open the
door and find its mouth already open, a moist void for
me to step into, which is all any of us can really hope
for, I think. When I need to get out again I tap the roof
of its mouth and its mouth opens like a garage door, so
I can imagine I live in the suburbs and have a family et
cetera. The stomach acid is whittling my flesh to bone,
sure, but that’s not the snake’s fault. And the snake
can’t grow any bigger than this, because it’s now the
size of my entire apartment, unless its mechanism of
growth proves robust enough to shatter the walls of
the building, which seems unlikely. It could be worse,
is all I’m saying. It could be a whole lot worse.

26 K at e F o l k
nca Barela

Bro od
My father, despite everything my mother ever said,
was always up for an adventure, and rarely ever

said no, even when our requests involved

my brother and I carrying home fluffy yellow chicks

on our laps on the bench seat of his little white pick

up truck.
Once we got home, with our bag of feed, I’m sure now

that my dad must have quickly realized he didn’t

know the slightest thing about raising
chickens, in the same way he probably felt the first
night he was alone

with two kids under five after my mom moved out,

but we didn’t know that he didn’t know
and we didn’t care because we had tiny fluffy

and a rooster, that we wouldn’t find out was a

rooster until weeks later

when the animals started to grow into teen versions

of themselves, and we all learned they needed more

space to grow and thrive
than the laundry basket with blankets in it that had
been their first home away from home.

So my dad did what enterprising young men do, I

suppose, and built them a chicken coop
in our backyard and the rooster that we hadn’t
known was a rooster began crowing at every

and any hour of the day. My brother and I were so

happy to come home after a week
at our mother’s house, where we definitely were
never taken on field trips to the local feed bin,

and see how big our chickens and one rooster had
grown. We named them and took care of them
without realizing that of course, our dad with the
rough hands and soft voice,

was the actual care giver. The coop he had built

seemed to be perfect
until the afternoon we arrived home to find feathers

and our chickens nowhere. My brother and I cried,

28 B i an c a B a r e l a
even though we had reached a stage
in our young lives when it was no longer acceptable
to openly cry,

we bawled and he held us and we damned those

damn neighborhood dogs
and we wished we had built a safer coop to protect
our chickens. And one rooster.

Bi anca Ba re la 29
a Webste
Emm r

S a d S o u ls

I knew her sadness first; saw it in thin, scarred lines

on her pale skin, heard it coming from her mouth
when she told me her name. The sad parts of our souls
recognized each other, found each other, and though
mine was much smaller, more tamed, it was enough for
us to become close friends quickly. I told her I’d be
there for her no matter what, not knowing what that
meant until she called me one night from the water,
her body urging her to wade in and never come back
up. I begged her not to, told her we’d get through it
together. She promised she wouldn’t, but she didn’t
say never. She just said, “Fine, not tonight.”

After that my world became consumed with getting

her from one tonight to the next and somehow I’d
taken on the task of saving her before I’d had any of
the joy of being her friend. She fought me often, but
only as hard as someone with little fight left can.

My mother told me, it is not your responsibility to

keep someone else alive.

But if it wasn’t my responsibility it would be hers,

and that was a responsibility I knew she couldn’t
bear. If I didn’t, no one would, and then when she
inevitably went into the water and never came

back—I would be right to blame myself.

The second time I got that phone call, she didn’t make
me any promises, instead layering one apology over
another, eulogizing herself before there was even a
body. She thanked me for my friendship, tossing out a
casual goodbye the same way you would at the end of
a party you didn’t really want to be at.

Then she stopped answering her phone and I called

my mom, then my sister, then the head of HR to find
her address, then her one last time. That time, she
answered, and I told her with what little voice I had
left that I was sending the police to her house if she
didn’t guarantee me she’d be okay. She paused, and
I could hear her weighing her options on the other
end, cycling through them like any other routine
decision; coffee or tea, red wine or white, live or die.
She finally spoke, as decided as before, saying okay,
she would go to bed unharmed. There was no need to
send the police, she promised, she wasn’t in the mood
for dying anymore today anyway. I believed her that
night. I chose to believe her, because believing her was
easier than believing the part of me that knew she was
probably lying, and even if she did get through tonight
there would just be another tonight tomorrow.

When she showed up the next morning at work I

sobbed so hard I had to take the rest of the day off.
I held my breath for the next four months, afraid of
what would have to happen for me to get any of my
oxygen back. At least once the worst thing in the world
happens, there’s nothing left to fear. It’s the moments
before the worst thing that are fucking terrifying.

32 E mma W e b s t e r
I got to keep Chloe, somehow, and it’s my most selfish
victory. Because I don’t know if she stayed because she
really wanted to, or because she just didn’t want to let
me down.

That was two years ago. And even though there’s always
a part of me that’s waiting—waiting to learn that the
progress she’s made has all been a lie, waiting for the
call that this time she just did it without consulting
me first—she’s still here. She kept her promise, and she

She doesn’t call me from the water anymore. Now,

she calls me from land, feet flat on her bedroom floor,
her girlfriend laughing beside her. Now, she promises
she’ll stay, not just for tonight but for this week, for
this year. Even when the air gets cold, even when the
water looks warmer, she turns around, and she walks
back inside, and she stays.

Emma We bst e r 33
- SET 2 -
h Arantza Ama
ra do
Sa S a n c t u s Sp ir it u s, 15 12 r

They brought her down the mountain the afternoon

before the earth shook and the sea retreated and then
returned four times stronger and taller. It was dry
winter and the camp was bored; the captain sent a
troop of soldiers to push a slave up into the hills in
search of gold. The further they climbed, the more
desperate they all became, and when they found her
half-frozen in the icy damp of a high cave, a shock of
iridescent scales and bare breasts and buttocks, they
forgot about the gold completely and stole her instead.
As they wound their way through the camp, people
stopped and stared at the woman tightly bound in
horsehair rope. She was locked into a livestock crate
brought off one of the ships after she attacked a cook
who had reached out to touch the opaline spines along
her back, and there she sat unblinking, slow pulse, as
slaves, soldiers, and mistresses alike delighted in the
way she changed colors when they poked her with
sticks through the bars. After the disaster, the dead
were disentangled from the mangroves and piled with
trash into mounds along the beaches. The camp cried
and prayed, and she sat in her cage, focused on the
smell of sea brine and the cook’s meaty neck.

ody Nixon
O c e a ni c F e e l i n g ,
a f t e r C h rist c h u r c h

After Jackie Wang, after David Lau


We keep arguing about the ancient Greeks. “They had

something special that allowed them to develop these
incredible ideas—ideas that have carried for millennia.”

“Yeah, they had democracy, right?” I say, pouring milk

into my tea, this colonial gesture—my ancestors made
milky tea a fine, barbaric art. I take a sip. “Democracy
that was reserved for the elite. Ten percent, wasn’t
it?” I ask this because he’s a classicist, therefore tends
towards reverence for the Ancient Greeks. I feel like I
have to counteract it, the myth of Western civilization.
“We only choose the bits of history that make our
present readable,” I say, waiting.

“The Nazis did use the Ancient Greeks to justify their

Aryan ideals,” he says.

They did. They did.

In sailing class I’ve been learning the names for the

various bits of wood and rope that make up a boat.
“Port” and “Starboard” come from the Vikings, did you
know that?

Do we only have names for the parts of the past that

are sewn into us by Europe?


I’m walking a hillside with Monterey Bay hazy and

blue below. My arms hang at my sides, achey sticks.
If I keep walking I will, I think, be okay. Big Sur,
Esselen homeland, is just a thin-tipped outline across
the water. Henry Miller, that Henry Miller, the one
we praise, and whose memorial library we embark
toward in summers, said the indigenous Esselens
were slow-witted and not very smart. In a typical
gesture of patriarchal “benevolence” he praised their
other virtues. As if that might redeem him. I do not
understand why we do not talk about this more.

Deborah H. Miranda writes poems in Esselen language,

her language. “Mute ka iw’sin watin / sihapa malpa
hano imita…. Let ampa-lala powapisi. Nemulam let
ma’ali nenilala.” “Let’s go / Make gossip in the sky…”
the translation reads, “We will eat wind. / We will not
go back…”


My friend Raed thinks that white supremacy is

the west reckoning with the end of itself. The
end of the dream of manifest destiny. It was an

38 M e l ody N i x o n
anxious, fitful sleep; this is a rough morning.
Raed and I talk about this after a white, Australian
gunman murders 49 people in a mosque in my
homeland, New Zealand.

It is difficult to break the name of this event over

one another. We refer to it as “what happened.” That…
thing. The thing where a white man plans for two
years to massacre members of the Muslim community
during a moment of their spiritual practice. And then
livestreams the killing. And then uses social media to
promote it.

The West is waking from a fitful sleep, tangled in the


A Christian-raised Kiwi and a Lebanese Muslim, best

friends in California. As we take in the information,
shock making my tone a blankness I say things like,
“I’m so sorry. Please let me know if there’s anything I
can do.” He says the same thing back to me, but his
voice has more liveness. We experience this trauma
from different angles, trying to examine how to
comfort one another. My trauma has none of the
threat of safety of his. Yet I am all emotion. He, a
strong person, is philosophical.

“It’s okay,” he says. “I always feel like I could die at any

time. I guess it’s hardwired in my DNA that by its very
nature the future is unpredictable, and it is violent.”
He grew up during the war; the war that he says took
his parents’ lives away, though they survived.

The medium is important. We exchange these

Me lody Ni xon 39
thoughts as voice messages over WhatsApp, because
we live in different cities in the Bay. We talk about
social media’s role in white supremacy, in narcissism,
and the alienation it produces, while we check the
news on Twitter.


Guy DuBord, in his aphoristic writing, saw that nature

was one way out of this mess. The antidote to the
spectacle, to the image that we celebrate, fueled by our
position as consumers. Spectacular violence.

As I walk the hillside I see a deer who, I think, doesn’t

know she’s going to die. Not right now, but at some
point she’ll die. She’s just strolling in the redwoods. Is it
the fact of her death, which she carries in her sensitive
limbs, a sad thing? Does she know of her death? Maybe
she does, but in a different way than we humans know
it. Her end is carried in her muscles, a movement away
from sound. If I was a theory jerk, I’d say it’s her telos,
or some such, which is a nihilistic way to read a deer.

Telos is a Greek word. I try to resist, but then I message

him when I see the deer: “you’re kind of goofy looking
in the daylight.” I’m not great at flirting.

“Love is harrowing, as you know,” says Anne Carson,

and we all nod our heads. This is what it’s like to love
the white man. Not just right now, but it’s always been
like this, I think. The father, the brother, maybe the
lover, the masculine part of the self. Harrowing, which
sounds like the marrow of the bone.

40 M e l ody N i x o n

I think the blossoms on the magnolia outside the

library don’t know. They bloom so hopefully, ready to
replicate their tree, but the seasons are shifting. Is it
better that the creature knows, or doesn’t know?


I post a pic of myself standing in front of a bewildered

audience. They have steins of beer and pretzels, and
I have been reading to them about white supremacy.
To be honest, I didn’t know there was a German
community in Santa Cruz. But maybe those are
actually bottles of craft beer, and this is the west side,
and they’re buying that beer with Googlemoney. My
finger hovers over the keypad of my Android. I have to
avoid the screen cracks when I type.

“Tonight I read to a food hall of drunk fisherfolk slash

techies.” I decide on. “Someone threw a pretzel at me.”
I erase that last part, ‘cause it’s not true, and replace
it with: “Still not sure I’ve found the right “literary”
community out here, but I’m trying.”

I want to type, “WE ARE ALL FUCKING

IMPLICATED.” But I don’t. I add some emojis.

Seventeen people like it, and one person comments

“Yassss,” before erasing their comment.

Me lody Ni xon 41

I read him the piece I have written and he is concerned

that it is not “factually accurate.”

When I spend the days after Christchurch dazed and

in shock, weeping at strange moments, like the sun
going down, I have to explain to him why.


Processing grief from afar is one of the most disquieting

parts of the migrant experience. No soil to sink down
on to. As I walk in my neighborhood, deciding to
fill my stomach with a matcha latte, I feel that big
skyward hole over me again, that slash of empty that
will expand like a wet stain if I don’t stop it, despite
(because of?) my bourgeois tendencies; the ones that
mix green tea with milk. That bring me from milk tea,
to products like Yogi tea, to this abomination, matcha

Suddenly, there on the side of the street is a New

Zealand Pohutukawa, our “Christmas tree,” red
bristles in full bloom against dark green leaves. It’s
doing its thing, in full bloom at the same time as its
southern hemisphere cousins. How or why there are
Pohutukawa all over the Bay Area remains a mystery
to me. Its flowers link me to the other side of the
Pacific. And they are red.

“The world always sustains the maximum suffering it

can bear,” writes Ariana Reines, and she’s right in a way.

42 M e l ody N i x o n
On some elemental level you could say that nothing is
ever breaking.


Romain Rolland, in dialog with Fraud, called that

feeling you get when you feel one with everything
“oceanic feeling.” This feeling, says Rolland, is the
feeling that is underneath anything religious. It is in
itself religious, even if the feeler believes nothing.

Just FYI, oceanic feeling is not the feeling you get

when you open a packet of Yogi tea and are forced, out
of a masochistic curiosity, to read the inscription on
the tag—though I understand that these are linked:
a twentieth century European dramaturge in dialog
with a psychoanalyst, entranced by scripts of behavior;
and the neoliberal moment that got us here, seeking
spiritual advice from a tea bag tag. Both ascribing
meaning to so-called freedom. Pursuing the break.
Maybe there’s something ritualistically colonial about
tea sipping that provides white women like me with
oceanic feeling. Breathe in and you are one with every
Thing. The annihilated. The annihilator. And you are

The not-Ancient Greeks have six words for love. Philia,

éros, agápe, storgê, pragma, and philautia. I think of
Christchurch and it is several of these, a desire for
several, a feeling so strong of their absence. When
you name something you are lacking its full body

Me lody Ni xon 43
materializes before you. “Oh, that!” you think.

The Agape one is the one about humans loving God

and God loving humans back. I want us to love and
be loved by a female god. By many gods. I want us to
be loved by the god of the forest, the god of the sky,
the god of wind, the god of the earth, which Raed says
you feel close to when you pray in a mosque. On the

44 M e l ody N i x o n
is topher Berna
C hr rd
T h e R o s e S h ip w r e c k

Such a shipwreck of flowers—a petaled wreck

on an azure sea, of blood-red salmon 
stained with peach, with a steady clear
tolling of deep bells under a sheer blue sky
half-deafened in the gale—flowers staining 
the sea in disintegrating color, like the heads of children
drowning—and the magnificent ship slowly dissolves
in the whirlwind of its wreckage,
a dream of itself, a littering of its losses
to wind and tide, a fatal cry of roses
brimming its mouth—the thunder heaves a shout,
and the sea rumbles like a vast
train in a tunnel—a flare of lightning
disappears, silent as the shipwreck sinks,
spilling its wreckage across the white floor
of a seasick ballroom, bales of flowers
splitting till the petals cover the wastes,
like the Roman’s feasters, drowning them in roses.

The ghost of a sea swallows the ghost of a ship
under the ghost of a sky: listen, you can hear them,
the ancient sailors singing like the sirens,
calling you to sea—to sea—to sea –
steel gray, enamel blue, and white with foam,
to join the ships that blossom like so many roses
and scatter their petals as they perish, and drown,
and sing,
like them, calling the next generation
to sea—to sea—like us—well? will you brave it?
will you build your ships of roses and brave the sea?
or is its storm a terror worse than childhood’s,
not to be escaped, the waves and wind
the white of a cage, the ice and snow cold bars
in a burning sky that seals the world and twists
down on our heads even as we heave
out into the open sea, our white sails out
like butterfly wings, our hopes so many hooks
the wild sea can catch and hold us with,
like love itself, a bark, a cage, a brand?

Shall we build our ships of roses and brave the sea,

that rose of fire, garden where winds take root
and grow into forests?
Though night is coming, shall we aim our bow

46 C h r i s t oph e r B e r na rd
toward the dark,
though the storm is coming, shall we spot the
and steel our sheets till they thrum in the underwind
and the water flails and hisses over the bulkheads
and churns and cries and crashes in our wakes
like an arrow thrusting us ahead, to sea,
to sea, far out, pushing us till we fly
into the storm? Shall we build our ships
of roses? Shall we flower over the whirlwind sea?

Ch ri st op h e r Be rna rd 47
th Crossman


We were mostly a night thing anyways. You had asked

me out on a proper date, once upon a time. I was the
one who pushed it back to ten pm and suggested a bar
instead of a movie or dinner, like the drinks were just
a formality.

Back in my bed you rolled off me fidgety, sobered up.

“I wanna go home. I mean...I want you to come with


You looked at me through the dark

“I’m too wired to sleep... but.... You can smoke in

my room if you want.” It wasn’t a far walk and you
wrapped your arm around me, protecting me from the
2 am streetlights. We stayed up almost til dawn chain
smoking and holding hands, watching stupid true
crime shows on your TV, and I think when we finally
went to bed you tried to spoon me.

I didn’t know what any of it meant. I could have done

a little sleuthing, just the tiniest bit, and maybe
prevented some of the mess, the tangly mouse nest
of our connections, concentric circles of friends
venn diagrammed into our social scenes. The last

time I saw her she had said we should hang out some
time, do some collaging or something. She was nice
like that.

“So you’re friends with her.”

Your intonation matter-of-fact, this-is-what-we-have-

to work with. We both still had our pants off. What
good would it do to say that really she was more like a
friend of a friend, someone I talked to at parties. Like it
shouldn’t count that I was screwing her ex, her newly
minted ex who she still shared Netflix passwords and
sweatshirts with, who still walked her dog when she
was out of town.

“You can talk to her about it, I’m not trying to hide
anything, but” here was the point.

“I can’t deal with having you both in the same place

at the same time. It’d be like crossing streams yknow.”

I thought about that metaphor for a minute.

“Are you still sleeping with her?” You looked at the

ground, pleading the fifth. You’d made a big show of
putting a condom on the first time, like you didn’t
think I trusted you to. But we were getting sloppy
about it—sometimes yes, sometimes no. Maybe that
was the turning point, when you became something
valuable. I could tell you missed her by how tight you
held me. I remember the night you texted at 3 am, out
of your mind drunk and when I came over I found
out she had just left, the room full of beer bottles and
cigarette butts with her lipstick on them. “She’s a bit

50 R ut h C r ossman
pissed off about the whole thing” you had said, barely
able to stand before you pulled me in, vicious and
needy, to bite my lips to shreds.

That was the night of the first dream: you and I walked
on a beach hand in hand and then she appeared out
of the blue. I begged her forgiveness, told her I didn’t
know what I had done, but she just smiled at me and
said oh girl, you’ve got it bad. As soon as her mouth closed
my eyes popped open and I looked at you snoring next
to me in your undershirt, the moonlight catching the
strands of gray in your chest hair, the badly executed
eagle tattoo on your arm. In the morning I told you I
had to go without making eye contact and you kissed
my forehead, cupping my hair and whispering “see you
soon.” I didn’t know what to do.

Two days later I texted you out of the blue, taking

initiative. What are you doing tonight. Strand of energy
reaching out, exploring, something fraught and tender
I have band practice until 10... I let it drop. I didn’t want
to beg you. Things around us got heavy after that: for
you the death of a friend. For me a rock bottom, then
sober living. I dreamt you angry: wiggly lines of red
lightning spilling off your long hair, and found out
later that was the night you broke every object in your

I started meditating in the morning and felt a wound

for you as my mind cleared. Your face coming into my
mind and making something tug in my stomach like
a vein pulsing. I was working at the art school then,
taking notes for international students and watching
them do tone studies over and over again, squares

Ru t h Crossman 51
of black fading slowly to shades of white through
constant mixing, each tone on the chart a perfect
degree of separation from the last, and I had my final
dream of you, of us: the instructor was standing in a
light filled studio and explaining to me that our squares
were close to each other, our grays only separated by
a little pigment. I saw myself hop scotching over blots
of gray, moving closer and closer to you and I was so
happy. Like I knew a secret.

52 R ut h C r ossman
frey Kingman

Stopo ver
snored up to eighty


through the gas station

wheels linger now

what’s regular ordinary

the air

so sweet at dusk

we stare ahead

at the stop


she doesn’t know what to say

goes right on reading as if words are the wilderness

k Mavigan

Depart mental

When Ed McNally radioed my store walkie-talkie and

summoned me to his office, I sensed my days at The
Red Star were numbered.

After 10-4ing Ed’s request, I stuffed a pair of Vince

Camuto heels into a box and left my battle station: the
Macy’s Women’s Shoes department. During my time
in Women’s Shoes I hadn’t developed much, outside of
learning seasonal shoe trends and acquiring an almost
necessary foot fetish. To survive here, you needed
to cherish all ten toes. Armed with a shoe horn and
foot stocking, you had to know Steve Madden from
Michael Kors, American Rag from Style & Co, flats and
slides from gladiator sandals and pumps.

I proceeded with my death march, past the powder-

faced divas in Cosmetics and the hip millennials
in Juniors and up the escalator, winding through
Intimates and Children’s with my head down and my
hands in my pockets, until I finally reached the office
of Ed McNally.

His door was cracked open just enough to see the

bright-red carpet. So much blood had been spilled

“Hey, how are ya?!?” Ed said, rhetorically, with his usual
Midwest twang, even though he was from New York.
I knew his gleeful greeting was the sweet rainbow
sprinkles on top of a devastation sundae. The large
manila envelope on his desk spoke volumes; he didn’t
need to say another word.

“Well, this isn’t my favorite thing to do, but…we’ve

decided to let you go.”

Let go. It took some time to process, to let go of my

letting go. Retail wasn’t my calling—I knew that
when I applied at the on-campus career fair—but this
was still my first job out of college, the difference
between living independently, within driving distance
of my longtime girlfriend, and packing up to move
into Mom’s one-bedroom apartment two hours away.
Macy’s was the only planet I knew in this perilous,
pitch-black, post-grad solar system.

What else was out there?

I drifted back to 11 months earlier, when I was a

twinkling young upstart in the Macy’s constellation.
I remembered arriving early on my first day, like any
promising lad entering the esteemed Management
Trainee Program, donning a navy-blue pinstriped
Tommy Hilfiger suit with a powder-blue dress shirt and
a presidential red-and-blue-striped tie. Foreshadow of
the blues yet to come.

I didn’t know mall doors could open before 10 a.m.,

before the steel gates were lifted to reveal colorful
window displays and fashionable mannequins. That

56 G a r k M av i g an
elderly folks—probably Macy’s shoppers—power-
walked through the mall in their off-brand running
shoes for exercise, some starting as early as 6 a.m. Mall
employees called them “walkers.” They robotically
marched around and around like tired cells in a dying

When the rest of the Macy’s managers arrived at the

store, I met San, my Management Trainee Mentor,
for the first time. He was a sharply dressed, thirtyish
Filipino man with a Windex’d bald head. He un-nicely
said “nice to meet you” without shaking my hand and
then read through his daily sales reports.

San’s stale disposition, marked by prolonged silences

and Dirty Harry death stares, contradicted the swanky
outfits he pieced together. Even with his colorful
Kenneth Cole Reaction shirts and Ralph Lauren bow
ties and Club Room suspenders and snazzy Cole Haan
shoes, San was no different than Christopher Walken
at the end of Deer Hunter: a mushy-brained, battle-
scarred, zombified Macy’s puppet with one in the
chamber at all times.

Had retail lobotomized San bit by bit and reduced

him to a dead man walking? One thing was certain:
I needed this job to stay afloat, but I wouldn’t stick
around long enough to become San 2.0.

I kept my wits by visiting other departments. I lounged

on the Raymere sectional couches in Furniture, ran
my hands through Martha Stewart duvet covers in
Home, smelled Origins scented candles in Housewares,
listened to the Shiseido cosmeticians describe their

Ga rk Mavi gan 57
latest concealer. I often left the store altogether to
grab an Orange Julius or Wetzel’s Pretzel, if only to
escape the constant loop of Hall and Oates, Fleetwood
Mac, Madonna, and Dolly Parton.

As the months slogged along I felt increasingly empty

inside like Macy’s on an idle Tuesday morning. I
applied for other jobs, stopped wearing blazers, crazily
air-guitared “Edge of Seventeen,” air banjoed “Coat
of Many Colors,” and air cowbelled “Don’t Fear the
Reaper” in front of customers. Ed McNally, no less
artificial than Wetzel’s Pretzel cheese dip, pretended
like he wasn’t gathering a list of fireable offenses, but
I knew I was a marked man.

My credit card sales were in the dumps. I got duped

by a fraudulent Joe’s Jeans return. Ed didn’t like how
I folded shirts or tied my ties. A black customer in
Women’s Shoes said she was followed by an associate
and pointed to the broader issue of racial profiling;
to Ed’s chagrin, I agreed with her. Ed dinged me for
drinking a Starbucks Doubleshot at the morning store
rally, citing it as “unprofessional.” The same store
rallies where Ed once joked about another manager
not having a college degree; where we waterboarded
excitement out of the associates at 9 a.m. to the tune
of Pharrell’s “Happy.”

And then, once my laundry list of unprofessionalisms

outgrew its hamper, my brief stint at The Red Star
had finally reached supernova. I would soon be a
jobless twenty-something surviving on Michelina’s TV
dinners and paid research studies, stripped of my posh
$42K annual salary, long removed from the loving,

58 G a r k M av i g an
reassuring arms of Father FAFSA.


Ed continued reading his termination script. “Nothing

personal…It’s just not a good fit.”

I was light years ahead, calculating the money I

had stashed, hatching a plan to avoid moving back
home, opening and closing my fists, noticing how
conveniently small Ed’s neck was.

I long suspected Ed was a down-stuffed corporate

dummy or state-of-the-art cyborg from a dystopian
retail future. Perhaps even netherworldly, the way he
mockingly shouted “Halleluiah!” when sales boomed,
then stomped through the store on slow days sniffing
for scapegoats, habitually shuffling his feet as if irked
by infernal coals. The Devil didn’t only wear Prada,
it seemed; sometimes he donned a three-piece Ralph
Lauren suit with a Macy’s nametag melted into his

The store’s HR manager, a pale, older version of

Wednesday from The Addams Family, entered the room
and slid an unemployment pamphlet across Ed’s desk.
The blue-tinted brochure featured a middle-aged man,
presumably getting fired, smiling as if he were just

Ga rk Mavi gan 59
Ed ended his closing remarks by pointing out my
most dishonorable transgression against Macy’s: “I’ve
spoken to your associates, and they told me that it
feels like you’re one of them.”

“Why is that bad, exactly?” I countered. “I can act like

I breathe the same air as my team and still have their

“No one has come up here and told me that they like
working with you or respect you as a leader,” said

She wasn’t worth my syllables, but I couldn’t help

myself. “With all due disrespect, you’re here for two
days a week, for a few hours. Hardly anyone knows
your name, or where your office is. After someone gets
off work, or clocks out for their break, do you really
think they wanna come all the way up here and talk to
you about how great their manager is?”

I placed my name badge on Ed’s desk like a suspended

cop, and rose to my feet. I felt like a boss.

I’d feel mega-boss in a few weeks after discovering

the ecstasy of “Funemployment.” It turns out
unemployment insurance and focus group checks
can be quite lucrative, frozen dinners quite tasty,
and student calling centers abhor out-of-work alums.
Getting fired was more ignition than incineration, a
singed awakening. I would later embrace my griddle
marks and the realization that nine-to-five martyrdom
is far scarier than post-grad joblessness.

60 G a r k M av i g an
“What do you want us to tell your team? That you
decided to leave the company?” I chuckled at Ed’s
question; clearly, I was dreadfully nervous about the
rumblings in the Women’s Shoes department the next

“You can tell them I went out with a fight.”

I was nearly out the door when Ed muttered one

more, seemingly unnecessary remark: “Again, no hard
feelings, this job just requires a certain amount of…
common sense.”

I turned around and responded, “You know what,

you’re absolutely right.”

Ga rk Mavi gan 61
Tony Press
H e art
s Like a Great Lake

Today, twenty-one days before Good Friday, the

people of Oaxaca celebrate the Day of the Samaritan.
Two, three, five times in each ancient block of the city,
on small tables in front of stores or offices, and houses,
too, as well as in grand gatherings on church steps, you
are offered “agua”—bottled water, sometimes horchata,
or jamaica, or even Coca-Cola—all to remind us of the
benefit of sharing what we have. And what is more
important than sharing water?

I woke in Oaxaca this morning realizing I’d been

dreaming in Spanish. I’m blessed to be here, to have
the time and space to study, practice, realize—not
just the language, but so much more. Daily I sit in
contemplation in the hidden patio of La Iglesia
Soledad. Neither locals nor tourists seem to find
this small paradise—it is mine. Weekly I lunch with
Father Jesus—that is his name—the uncle of a dear
friend back in the states. The first time I ventured to
introduce myself to him the church secretary directed
me to what I thought was his office. It turned out to
be a room for hearing confession. After a few confused
moments we were laughing and chatting of his
sister’s family to the north.

Six months ago I was in the hills above Alicante, the

Southern Spain skies all the blankets I needed. We
were inland from Villajoyosa, just a few kilometers
beyond the tiny village of Sella. It was a thirty-day
retreat, a gentle mix of meditation, conversation
and study, physical labor around the grounds, and
silence, shared with five other Buddhists on a property
known as “The Secret Realm.” Spring and summer
were reserved for four-month retreats and as many
as 35 participants. The grounds had a large kitchen,
meditation hall, and library. This September, it was
just six men: five from that side of the Atlantic, and me,
the lone American. I was El Gringo. Days rolled into
nights, morning birdsong into its evening counterpart.

Our huts were encircled by terraced rows of almond

trees. Behind them were massive rock walls, one so
large we called it “La Ballena”—“the whale.” Winding
through the property was a public path for hikers,
some of whom were real women. When I’d arrived in
Alicante I was met by one of the six retreat participants,
who took me on a walking tour of the beach, filled as
it was with captivating bare-breasted women. He said,
“if you’re going forth, it’s good to know what you’re
leaving behind.” One day in the middle of the retreat
I managed to walk a mile or two with a woman along
that path, and she gave me a kiss on the cheek when
we parted.

It was here, within the remarkable library, that I

discovered St. Therese of Lisieux. St. Therese, a
Catholic nun, followed what she called The Little Path,
attempting to meet everyone with love, no matter
how ill-tempered the other person might be. She
endeavored to treat every situation with love. She did
not attempt miracles. She did not wish for great events.

64 T o n y P r e ss
She simply attempted to act as a saint would act, every
waking moment. She died at 24, of tuberculosis, after
seven years in a nunnery, after a lifetime of ill health.
When she was dying, she feared she had been a failure.
She wondered what, if anything, she had accomplished
in her short life. Reading about her years later, to me it
is evident what she did accomplish: to serve by acting
in a manner as true to her path as she possibly could.
And more, to be sure, because you and I and everyone
who might read these words knows, deep in our Great
Lake hearts, that the best teacher, the most effective
instructor, is example. We change our lives, we sharpen
our minds, and we open our hearts, when we see it,
when we experience it. Imagine meeting each person,
no matter how difficult, as St. Therese, as a bodhisattva,
with love. We can learn from all we encounter, and
teach, too.

I gushed to Father Jesus about St. Therese. He smiled.

He knew a bit more about her than I did, and had for
many years. Still, he welcomed my enthusiasm. That
was the day we most intensely explored my Buddhism,
his Catholicism, our poetry.

In Spain I could have meditated more—I could always

meditate more—but when I wasn’t sitting with the
others, which we did four times daily and are still the
finest meditation experiences of my life, when left to
my own devices I often sat in the sunny rock garden
outside the library. I don’t often read biography but
I don’t often live so near to the sun, and biography
filled my morning hours. In addition to the slim
volume on St. Therese, I found Ariel by Andre Maurois,
written in 1924, which, according to a later dust

Tony Pre ss 65
jacket, “established a new form of dramatic biography.”
Its subject: Percy Shelley; its enthralled reader: me.

In London, in Shelley’s time, arrests were illegal on

Sundays. In those days you couldn’t get arrested in
the daylight, not on a Sunday. No doubt there were
exceptions for actions committed that very day and
directly observed by law enforcement, but if you were
an ordinary man with your name on a warrant, or with
debts beyond repair, and threatened with immediate
seizure, on Sunday you could leave your crime behind
and walk the boulevard with your head high. Warrants
could not be served. A day of grace, one in every seven.
You could stroll arm-in-arm with the love of your life,
clad in your best suit, and when is liberty sweeter than
when we know it is temporary?

St. Therese, with her fears and her legacy; Percy Shelley,
larger-than-life; and even his young bride Mary, she of
Frankenstein fame, she whose grave I once visited in
Bournemouth, England, with the notation that it also
contains Shelley’s heart, all this I carried with me on
the trains north to Madrid, to London, on the plane
to Mexico City, the six-plus hour ADO bus to Oaxaca.

Imagine: Thieves and gentlemen, cops and robbers,

could dine together, could have a drink or two or three,
but unstated was the knowledge that the one would
slip into the night. It never occurred to the other to
follow—it wouldn’t be sporting. One day a week,
everybody could come to the table. Today in Oaxaca,
under the intense rays of the sun, there is no thirst.
There are tables for everyone, and no pesos change
hands. No pesos are required.

66 T o n y P r e ss
hael Maier
O bser
vational Learning
The sea casts an aqueous net with the grasping end
of each crashing wave, as if saying, This belongs to me.
Trying to pull back into its belly all the castaway
and bull whip kelp it discarded in a fit of rage,
it still wants these things.

And then it recoils, as if in humble self awareness

that even its own
unknown depths can’t hold that which wishes
to be free.

- may 6, 2019 -

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