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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
blind selection process and performed in 80 venues,
appearing everywhere from dive bars and art galleries
to state parks and national landmarks.

Full text and video of all shows can be found for free

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 100
© 2019 Quiet Lightning

cover art © Zoltron
“Nature Lover Abecedarian” by Teresa Poore
first appeared in IthacaLit.
“Egg” by Yoshioka Minoru and translated by Simone Kurial
first appeared in Brown University’s student magazine, Visions.

set in Absara

Promotional rights only.

This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form

without permission from individual authors.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the

internet or any other means without the permission of the
author(s) is illegal.

Your support is crucial and appreciated.
su bmit @ qui e tl i g h tn i n g . o r g
curated by
Edmund Zagorin and Kevin Dublin
featured artist
Zoltron |

Matt Leibel Who Exactly is

the Audience for This? 1
Minyoung Lee It Was the Cat’s Fault 5
Yoshioka Minoru Egg 9
Ginny Rider No Space Left in the Night 11
Ralph Paone for william 13
i am trying 14
Florencia Milito Sumika 17
Steven Hill Nightstill 21
Lisa Galloway Mercy 25
Fists Are the Size of Hearts 27
Steven Meloan The Apartment 29
Sean Taylor Fireworks 37
Barbara Hodder Toohey So Much in Love 41
Teresa Poore Nature Lover Abecedarian 47
Grey Rosado what it’s like to bleed to death 51
Johnny Alvarez Wrong Ones 55
Sage Curtis A Series of Small Apocalypses 59
Peggy Schimmelman Mojave Moon 61
Andre Le Mont Wilson Knife 63
Mairav Zonszein A Birth Story 67
Diana Donovan Retrospective 71
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
Edmund Zagorin disruptor
Katie Tandy disruptor
Hadas Goshen disruptor
Sophia Passin disruptor

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 -

the Auhdo ExactlyrisThis?
ie n c e f o

There are 5 characters.

All of them are fruit flies. They each have individual
personalities and corresponding fruits. Including the
fruits that’s technically 10 characters, but whatever.
They live in a single room together, and the witty
banter (wait for it!) FLIES. We keep production costs
low by paying the fruit flies scale. They die every 30
days anyway and are easily replaceable. Reduces the
prima donna factor. Though the banana I’m thinking
of getting to play the banana is kind of a dick.

There are 4 characters.

They are the cardinal directions: North, South, East,
and West. The comedy comes from how the directions
keep trying to make plans to get together, but by their
nature, can’t meet face-to-face. Other directions like
SSW and NNE broker introductions with indirect
awkwardness. Nothing works. We’ll call it “Compass
Rumpus!” or similar. It’s been 11 years since I got a
show to the pilot stage, 6 years since I’ve been in a
pitch meeting—I realize I shouldn’t be admitting this.

There are 3 characters.

They are the actual Three Musketeers. That is,
they’re Ancien Regime French dudes who brandish

muskets. They also look like the guys on the Three
Musketeers candy bar wrapper. All enjoy Three
Musketeers bars, although one prefers Milky Ways,
which I imagine becoming a running joke on the series
I can’t quite crack yet. I’ve already posted this idea on
my blog, which hasn’t been updated since 2006, and
is in desperate need of a refresh. Even so, the Three
Musketeers candy people have already sent me a cease
and desist letter. I got so stressed out from receiving
this that I ate four Mars bars in an hour and loaded the
musket that I keep in the garage. This was irresponsible
of me, but I was in a vulnerable place. Fortunately, no
one was hurt—that’s the most important thing, and
that’s all I care to say about that.

There are 2 characters.

They are the two turtledoves from the “12 Days of
Christmas” song. This is as good a point as any to tell
you I’m Jewish, and am unclear on the whole turtledove
thing. I admit to vaguely imagining a turtle trying to
fuck a dove, and bogging down on the mechanics
of this. 15 years ago, I had the #3 rated sitcom on
Network with a 22.6 Nielsen share, back when such
numbers mattered, before viral YouTube clips pilfered
our entire attention span. Anyway, I’m imagining a
Klugman-Lemmon Odd Couple dynamic between the
turtledoves. They’re a couple of wisecracking birds
who are like oil and water, but somehow get along
swimmingly. Or flyingly, I guess. Just thinking aloud
here: bringing in the Dove soap people would be a
sound marketing move, so we’ll need to keep the show
relatively wholesome. Look, I’m under few illusions
that a live-bird sitcom is what America is hankering
for. I’m anticipating your “No” on this one, Suits. I’m

2 Mat t L e i b e l
rejecting you before you have the chance to reject me.
And you know what? It feels good.

There is 1 character.
You’ve already met him. He’s an on-the-edge television
writer looking for one big score to put him back in the
game. We can call it “Who Exactly is the Audience for
This?” (Cut to: a studio crowd collectively shrugging
their shoulders and throwing up their hands in
bemused bafflement.) The writer is alone in a room,
staring at a blinking cursor. We watch him struggle for
a half hour every week. We watch him drift toward
drink and high-carb foods and pornography. We see
his false starts, his doomed opening gambits. We hear
the voices of resignation in his head, the crumple of
balled-up printouts jump-shotted into a tiny wire
wastebasket. We imagine the alienated girlfriend who
has finally moved on, the old friends who won’t even
dare call him up to grab a beer. Of course, none of this
is remotely funny, so we goose it up with bongo-heavy
theme music like a 1970s game show. The proposed
title of the show doubles as the probable critical
reaction. The show is self-annihilating. It’ll be lucky
to reach four episodes.

There are NO characters.

Zoom in on an empty room. The same one where the
writer or the turtledoves or the fruit flies or whoever
would be hanging out. Nothing happens. Nothing
changes. No one shows up at the door. There is no
put-upon protagonist, no wacky sidekick. No laugh
track. The beauty of it is, a viewer can bring their own
ideas and expectations to this situation. We don’t have
to spoon feed them the stereotypical sitcom bullshit.

Mat t Le i be l 3
We don’t have to fill in all the blanks. We allow the
viewer to create her own show—a show in her mind,
imagination unfettered, the best show ever. There’s
nothing I can do to make this fail: It’s the story I was
born to write.

4 Mat t L e i b e l
young Lee
It Was the Cat’s Fault

Once there was a cat who lost her left eyebrow. This
worried the cat very much. You see, for a cat, losing
an eyebrow is like a human losing an eardrum or an
eye, maybe even a finger. The cat was afraid to explore
since she no longer knew if her head could fit through
the hole in the pantry wall. She didn’t want to sleep
on her favorite corner of the bed since she might fall
off in the middle of the day. Most of all, she didn’t
want the other cats of San Francisco to see her. They
would surely make fun of her missing eyebrow when
they gathered for their Thursday evening tea in the
Presidio Parade Ground.

The cat didn’t know where she lost her eyebrow. She
looked in the mirror one day and saw it was gone.
The spot above her green eye that once housed five
white hairs, stiff like the leaves of a spider plant in the
summer, was bare save for a thin carpet of black fuzz.
Before she had seen this, she had lived like any other
housecat, meowing at the humans so they would feed
her sardines from a can, batting at the silverfish that
crept around in the shelves, and leaping on top of the
table by the bay window to chew on the parlor palm.

Now that the cat knew her eyebrow was missing,

there was only one thing she could safely do. She

crawled to the corner of the drawing room, tucked
herself underneath a chair, and started purring.

The cat purred and purred and purred and purred.

Sometimes the humans walked by and scratched her
under her chin. They told her how much they loved
her loud purring. But the cat didn’t look at them. She
didn’t need distractions. Her mama once said purring
healed cats’ bodies and comforted their loved ones.
She needed to purr.

The cat purred for three days and three nights. She
paused her purring just twice a day, to lap up some
water and snack on a hummingbird. But as soon as
she was finished, she loped back to her upholstered
fortress and purred again.

Still, the eyebrow didn’t grow back. So the cat purred

louder. As the days slid into weeks and weeks morphed
into months, the cat’s purrs also grew. They swelled to
such a size the entire house rumbled with each purr.

The people on the street noticed the streets were

purring. And then the people on the block noticed the
blocks were purring. Until eventually, the entire city
felt the cat’s purr.

This was the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

Once the earthquake dust settled, the cat crawled

out from beneath the rubble that was once her home,
careful to avoid her face from touching any rough
surfaces that could damage her remaining eyebrow.
She perched on top of a broken beam, and brushed

6 Mi n youn g L e e
her face with her paws, combing her whiskers back
and pressing them against her forehead, counting the
number of eyebrow hairs she had on each side. She
counted five hairs on top of her right eye, but still only
three on her left.

That’s when the cat looked around and saw the city
collapsed around her. And she decided never to purr

You and I know this cat. You can meet her when you
come to San Francisco and cross the Golden Gate
Bridge. People visit from all around the world to see
her, since, like all cats, she is beautiful, despite her
lopsided eyebrows. The day after the earthquake, the
cat swam across the strait to hide, away from all the
hurt and death she caused, and lay down to nap. She
never woke up again.

Her nose became the tip of Point Reyes. Humans

built a lighthouse where her whiskers once were.
Wildflowers grow every spring where her eyebrows
used to be and herds of elk feed on them. On her butt,
they built Sausalito.

Mi nyou ng Le e 7

死の臭いも のぼらぬ

8 Yo s h i o k a Mi n oru
s hioka Minor
Yo u

Eg g

translated into English by Simone Kurial

At a time when even the gods are absent

And not even the shadow of a living thing is present
Not even the wafting of the smell of death
A summer noon of deep despondency –
From within that condensed space
Cloud-like images are torn asunder
Things that stick and ooze are being made to
In a place blanketed in silence
Something is born
A birth that evinces the presence of a life
Polished by the dust and the light
A single egg, constituting the grand earth.

y Rider
N o Sp
a c e L e f t in t h e N i g h t

I want to get the long green Volvo into the poem,

the one I passed on my run today–
a looser color from the one my mom drove.
This station wagon is a poppy, awhile-ago green.

But it might not fit.
I think it’s too long for any space here.
I didn’t give myself enough time for circles and prowling.

But I can tell you about it.

I was alongside the Presidio, going west.
It might still be parked across the street, going east.

Let’s move along though,

barely twelve-minutes left
before the cashier’s drawer shuts, locks.
before the dog turns three times and buckles.
before the bussers smoke cigarettes on the stoop.

On Saturday nights, midnight is a tick in a half-thought.

Because I’m late, I know that it’s just about tomorrow.

h Paone

f o r w il l ia m

back home, not often

novels unfolded worms
into my brain
sealing in the creases

the wharf in ‘65

cotton bale burst flesh and time
and grandpa and the humid Sunday air

and sisters froze

and the spaghetti went to sleep on the table
and mama only six but never the same
and i, years later, sat in his empty seat
crying powdered potato dinners

none of us were really ever there

the garage below was his gravesite

in the corner, a work bench
a half century of silence
a castor oil memorial
bleeding slowly

h Paone

i a m t r yi n g

i am trying
to air the gritted sound
of mom teeth
out of this tent
which houses my soul

i am trying
to forget
my niece cowering
me cowering
at her age
and now

i am trying
to crawl
into the bones of my grandmother—hoping
this crooked old shell
might protect me

i am trying
to hum
a guardian’s spell—hoping
to shield my sister
   to heal my mom
        from 1953 miles away

14 Ra l ph Pao n e
i am trying
to let the tears
carve their own stanzas


**            * *

i am trying
to rekindle
this fire
striking damp matches to mush

i am trying
to evaporate my roots
the concrete blocks of my heart
every drop of sweat poured here
(was never home anyway)
become a cloud
on the next trade wind out of town

i am trying
to find home by giving it freely

i am trying
to fall back to form
to visit your ears
as rain plucks a harp

each drop quivering

with the full force
of my thunder

Ra lp h Paone 15
o rencia Milit
Fl o

Su m ik a

There is an old optical illusion that consists of a black

and white picture that, depending on how you look
at it, reveals either a young girl or an old woman.
Both are, of course, on the page at all times, and what
you see, then, has little to do with what is actually
there, and everything to do with where and how you
focus your eyes. I saw that illusion for the first time
in a psychology textbook in college, under a chapter
entitled “Perception.” And since then I have come
upon that particular example on several occasions, in
various books and magazines.

Years ago in New York I came across what I consider

to be a human incarnation of that optical illusion.
Her name was Sumika. She was a young art student
newly arrived from Japan and was to be my roommate
at NYU for the summer. I remember thinking that
something about her eyes—maybe not her eyes per se,
but a look on them—reminded me of James Baldwin,
if it is possible to transpose James Baldwin’s eyes
onto those of a young Japanese girl. She had beautiful,
slightly bulging eyes and long black hair, and to the
undiscerning eye she was brimming with life. She
loved photography and painting, tango and the
Romance languages. She was also an amazing cook.
I was having a difficult summer (a long commute to

work, a friend in the hospital), and on more than one
occasion I came home to a lavish spread. Her garlic
bread, each thick slice prepared with almost half a
clove of garlic, was particularly comforting.

That my new roommate was anything but a typical

transfer student was clear to me from the very
beginning. She donned an air of mystery. It wasn’t
anything she said in particular. Except for her
government conspiracy theories (and everyone is
entitled to at least one gratuitous eccentricity in New
York), most things that came out of her mouth were
quite plausible.

No, it wasn’t in what she said but rather in what she

didn’t, in the way she avoided direct addresses, in the
way she tossed off my questions gently, like balls of
origami. Despite her lack of fluency in English (she
had only been in the U.S. for a few months), she was a
gifted conversationalist: like a master horseback rider,
she knew exactly when to tighten, when to loosen.

Without exception, all the men that came to visit us

were mesmerized by Sumika. One of those men was
my brother, and it was in him that she confided what
an old Japanese fortune teller had predicted long
ago—that any man who loved her and whom she
loved back was fated to die prematurely. And to the
fortuneteller’s credit, Sumika’s father had died of a
sudden heart attack, her childhood love and twenty-
year-old boyfriend of eight years, in a car accident. I
trembled for the middle-aged Italian sailor whom she
met while taking pictures at the Seaport that summer.

18 F l or e n c i a Mi l i t o
Sometimes all it takes is one experience to shake our
skepticism. Looking at Sumika, I knew I was looking
at an old soul, and it was the reflection of this old soul
onto the body of a twenty-something-year-old girl that
produced the optical illusion: either an old woman
or a young girl, depending on how you focused your
eyes. I could not shake the feeling that I was looking
at more than one life encapsulated inside the body of
this young art student.

I know little about the occult, about auras. These

things defy my secular, scientific upbringing. And yet
now when I overhear someone speak of an “old soul,”
I no longer assume the expression is being used as a

F lore nci a Mi li t o 19
n Hill

N i g h tstil l

Bruised moon, imperfect crystal

I am tied to the land where I am
and the land maws like a pit bull’s jaw
sucks from me through my feet.
I am no plant
converting sunlight effortlessly,
I break the dirt with a hoe
and want to own my own
square piece,
as any plant sprouting leaves.
It is not perfect, my situation, or perhaps it is
my expectation, or my explanations,
my imperfections, or
my description of the world,
not Buddhist, not billionaire, not America First
but mine.

And now there is time

for refinement and deep breaths,
and what of that?
Now I shall breathe shallow and always come up
short, and
what of that?
                 And that, and that?
On June 17, 2015, white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine
African Americans in the middle of an evening Bible study at the
200 year-old Emanuel AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church
in Charleston, South Carolina. 21
                 Forced labor in China coal mines,
that is that and hard to deny,
and lethal to take deep breaths for
the fine black soot petrifies
bronchial tubes;
the air is thick
in Ferguson ghettos,
in Rohingya temples and Berlin bordellos,
among Emanuel AME Bible study death prayers,
and there
the short quick breath is life,
the walls have ears,
              and that is that.

The short, quick breath is love,

is resuscitation
for who in love has time for long, deep exhalations?
There is so much to love, so much that requires
constant spark.
Fragile life withers and the plant needs water,
the roof begs repair, the faucet leaks
the dull rock of entropy evaporates
by what divine rule shall I choose?
My child cries in the purple of the night,
and off I go
       to comfort her:

                 and when the child is once again asleep,

                 bald head reflecting moonlight

22 S t e v e n H i ll
back to bed I crawl
to the sound of my partner›s hairy snores.
At the edge of the bed and rapideye dreams
on my knees I pause
and claim all my voices—

none are silenced under the bruised moon,

rising up as crystal dew through the straws of my legs

                 voices dialogue back and forth,

                 they find common ground for armistice and

                 “Silent night, holy night

                  All is calm, all is bright...”

and for a few deep breaths I love this terrible land,

like the bombings in my body
of Aleppo.

Time appears as an imperfect crystal,

a jagged silhouette rising in the nightstill sky.
Moonlights, bouncing on the water,
silhouette branches that drip like black fingers,
                 that grip a hammer or a sickle
                 or a galaxy balanced sideways,
for humans to comprehend.

St e ve n Hi ll 23
a Galloway


If you ask me in person, I’ll say I’m glad my mom is

But when I dream, I long for her grimace.
I want her mouth
open tonsil-big shouting—
a window in the fuddle of grief.
But, I want her
to shout through the broken
glass fist-shattered by my 15-year-old
dyke-not-Her-daughter severed tendons.
I want her
to shout through her family’s
Baptist Yor-goin-to-hell condemnations  
To shout through her head-
shaken-side-to-side NO, Lisa
I want to hear spittle,
slobber flying as fists
I want her pounding glass
with urgency
like the dream is filling with water,
I want her
desperate even if just to save herself.
I really want to know,
can You Hear
the sound of a daughter’s hands
on her mother’s throat?

Can you hear
the mother say You are My baby, always will be
do you hear
her say No daughter Of Mine…
Do you leave it unexamined?
Can you see us now?
Without pry or pound, I need things
from her mouth.
But, no one can hear I’m sorry
before our mouths fill with water
and become just warble and bubbles.

26 L i s a G a lloway
a Galloway
F i s ts
are the size of Hearts

I see you laid out on cold steel,

your back propped with a body block,
arms and neck stretched back
pushing your chest upward, saying take me.

I cut deep, down to

your pubic bone, lay my hand flat
and try to take back
childhood bruising to cleanse, to free you—
exposing the white keys of your ribs, I practice
my concert piece, practice,
practice again, trying to make perfect, but
your dead weight flattens the song, your
complete lack of participation
disheartens me.

I keep thinking your lips will

peel open like super glued fingers separated
to scream, no one will ever love you.
The knife gleaming reflection,
I see myself scary
as I did after we choked each other.

I cut skin, rip

open your chest, two fists pulled apart quick
remind me of a belt snapping.

Cutting through to
carefully scalpel tissue, a surgical blade like
the one I stole to slit at my numbness, to feel.

I want to replace your heart with

a clock, a pacemaker different than your father’s,
one I set, to free you, me of all those times—
but only a bit with each second’s tick. So, by the time,
we could meet again, we can both forgive.

28 L i s a G a lloway
ven Meloan

The Apartment
San Francisco, 1980s

She seemed like…such a normal girl…

I’d just moved to the City, and soon discovered Haight

Roommate Referral. They had whole notebooks
of prospective roommates  —  with self-ratings on:
cleanliness, noisiness, politics, religion, vegetarian/
vegan, drug use, sexual orientation.

I found a cool, high-ceilinged, two-bedroom, top-floor

flat just off the Panhandle. Valerie’s roommate had just
moved out with a boyfriend, and the notebook entry
said she was open to a guy roommate.

She was cute, in an arty SF way, but not really my type.

And I think she felt the same. She spent most nights
at her boyfriend Scotty’s place, so it actually worked
out great.

But then the landlord raised our rent…by a lot. Two

days later, Valerie announced that she was moving-in
with Scotty. I’d just started a great new job, but I was
still trying to save money. I loved the place, and she
was almost the perfect roommate — quiet, not-crazy,
and rarely around. I dreaded having to find someone
new, and suggested that maybe I could pay 70% of

the new rent, and she could stay and pay just 30%. She
looked at me suspiciously. “Why would you want to
do that?” she asked. I told her the truth — that it would
still help me out rent-wise, and I wouldn’t have to find
a new roommate. She didn’t seem entirely convinced,
but finally agreed.

A few days later, she and Scotty dropped by to pick-up

her mail. The new rental arrangement soon came-up.
“That was really nice of you,” he said, probing me with
intense eyes.

“I’m just glad it worked out,” I said matter-of-

factly, going through the counter-top stack of mail,
separating-out Valerie’s letters and mine.

She’d told me earlier that Scotty was an aspiring film

writer, and was working on a new script idea. For his day
job, he was a locksmith. She said that his story centered
around a young lock expert who secretly broke into
people’s homes, then made very subtle changes around
their houses. With each new intrusion, his character
would up the ante, seeing how long it would take
his victims to “get the message” — to recognize what
was being done, and then to finally react. “That’s the
beauty of it,” she’d explained. “It starts out with things
that are small and so subtle, a person might not even
notice, or might think they were imagining things, or
maybe even come to question their own sanity. The
important part,” she added, “is what that realization
does to someone, how they react, and when they
finally reach their breaking point.”

She seemed very into Scotty, so I agreed it was a good

30 S t e v e n Me l oan
idea. “I guess…write what you know!” I said.

The new rental dynamic worked out great, and I was

still able to save a decent amount. But after a month or
so, Valerie announced that she was moving-out with
Scotty after all. “I’m hardly ever here, anyway,” she

He came by that weekend to help. After many hours

of hauling, they finally headed out with the last load
of her stuff. Valerie handed me her key, with what
seemed like great ceremony. “Well…see you around,”
she smiled.

About a week later, I was going through a stack of mail

I’d let gather on the kitchen countertop — separating
out bills, personal letters, and throwaway ads. Near the
bottom, between two junk-mail flyers, I found a small
scrap of torn paper, with what looked like female
handwriting on it. “Hi, Steve!” it said. My mind raced,
replaying how long it might have been there, versus
when Valerie had moved out. I couldn’t say for sure,
tossed-out the note, and soon forgot all about it.

Around that same time, I’d started dating a new girl

in the neighborhood, and she eventually spent the
night. Before we finally settled-in, she got up to pee.
Crawling back under the covers, she said — “I never
figured you for the kind of guy that would put that
blue chemical stuff in your toilet.”

“Um, I’m not,” I said.

She looked back at me. “Well, go look.”

St e ve n Me loan 31
Sure enough, the bowl water was a deep electric
blue — and it hadn’t been that morning. I pulled-
off the porcelain top. There was a Ty-D-Bol device
hanging inside. I got back into bed, saying I had no
idea how it had gotten there.

“Couldn’t it be your landlord?” she asked.

“He lives out of state,” I said.

“Well…maybe it was there all along,” she suggested, “…it

ran-low, and then the last bit dribbled-out today.”

“The thing looks totally full,” I reported. She looked

back at me with worried eyes.

A few days later, I was going through a new stack of

mail on the counter top. I once again found a scrap
of paper between some ads. It was even smaller than
the first, with a single hand-drawn red heart on it. I
looked to the front door, and then checked the kitchen
cabinet for Valerie’s key. It was right where I’d stashed

I came home from work several nights later. Closing

the door, I suddenly realized that the whole apartment
smelled like the noxious model airplane glue of my
childhood. I went from room to room, trying to locate
the source. But it seemed to be everywhere — and so
powerful, it burned my eyes. I opened all the windows,
and then went out to dinner. When I came back, things
seemed better, so I shrugged it off, closed the windows,
got into bed, and soon fell asleep. But in the middle of
the night I woke-up and realized that the smell was

32 S t e v e n Me l oan
back, and really bad.

For the next several days I kept all the windows open
while I was at work, and then closed them when I got
back home — seeing whether the smell ever dissipated.
It didn’t. I asked my neighbors on either side whether
they’d noticed “a chemical smell,” or had perhaps been
doing repair work. They didn’t/hadn’t, and looked at
me strangely.

My new girlfriend once again came to spend the night.

At the door, I told her about the glue situation. She
listened to my story with doubt… and a bit of fear
in her eyes. But once inside, she agreed that it was
real, and pretty bad. It was a cold and foggy night. I
explained that we should probably keep the bedside
window open in spite of the fog, to dampen-down the
fumes. I got us an extra blanket from the hall closet.
“I hope those fumes don’t damage my eggs,” she half-
joked, trying to lighten the mood.

She got up to pee in the middle of the night, and then

shook me awake. The toilet water was now green.

In the morning, she seemed preoccupied, gave me a

peck on the cheek, and then headed off to work. Later
that day, she called me at my office. “Look, I really
like you,” she said. “But there are just too many weird
things going on in your life… that you should probably
work-on.” Her voice trailed off. “So, I guess I’ll… talk
to you,” she said, finally. And then the line went dead.

A week later, an underground transformer vault

exploded outside my downtown office building,

St e ve n Me loan 33
blanketing the area in a mist of electrical oil. The
high-rise was soon evacuated by the fire department,
and we were all sent home.

On the dinner-hour news that night, PG&E reassured

the public that it was nothing to be concerned
about, and that they were investigating the cause of
the explosion. But a suspicious reporter had the oil
residue tested at a lab, and within hours determined
that it contained high levels of PCBs  — a known
carcinogen and neuro-toxin. On the late news that
night, I watched a klieg-lit scene outside my building,
with Haz-Mat men in space suits steam-cleaning the
cordoned-off area. The SF public health director, lab
report in hand, told an on-scene reporter that anyone
who had been within the vicinity of the building
should bag-up their clothing, and surrender it to the
city for testing and toxic disposal.

The building remained closed for several more days

until they could decontaminate the area. I bagged-up
my work clothes, and dropped them off at the public
health department. That night, while taking-off my
socks, I discovered that a layer of skin on the soles
of both feet was peeling-off — like sheets of plastic. I
wondered if it was from the PCBs.

Getting ready for bed, I opened all the windows to

air-out the glue fumes. On one windowpane, there
was a small rainbow colored butterfly sticker. It hadn’t
been there before. Then I went to pee, and the water
was now purple.

I turned-on the radio, lay there staring at the ceiling.

34 S t e v e n Me l oan
The station was playing, “Shock the Monkey.” I
wondered what else Scotty might have in store, how
far it would all go… and when the movie would end.

St e ve n Me loan 35
- SET 2 -

F ir e w o r k s

I wanted to meet you the day you left a two-star review

for The Bible on Amazon. The review was two years
old when I found it, and it took me nearly twenty-
seven minutes of internet stalking to find out you
lived in the Bay Area. There is a sound, a quiet settling,
that breathes when a web page opens, not only with
hard-sought information, but with heartbreakingly
convenient information as well. It’s almost as if the
last match in the book lights the last candle in the
universe after all the stars have burnt out.

When I met you—I lied at least fifteen times, so I could

meet you—you told me how you’ve lost the escape that
you left in your hands when you would cover your
eyes with them as a child. You told me you wanted
to rediscover object impermanence. I asked you what
you were running from. You told me there was a sound
you couldn’t forget. I asked you to exercise it.

It was a deep muscle thud, a dead weight showing

life, the last sound that gravity allowed. You made it
by colliding the thickest, deepest part of your skinny
forearms. If anyone taught a class in clapping, this
sound would commit the teacher to quitting.

“Not enough character development, not sure why

this isn’t categorized fantasy.” Your Bible review
was helpful to six people, and thirty-seven people
disapproved of it.

I just wanted to give you a copy of my book, I wanted

you to review it. I would have paid you in great
amounts of any currency. I don’t know how to ask
anymore. I don’t know how to ask you to review my
mostly foolish assumptions about how the human
condition reacts when struck like the ‘funny bone’ in
our elbows. Yet, that is the thing about self-fulfilling
prophecies: one has to follow through with them. I
haven’t followed through with anything else this year.

If I can get you to read and review my book, and you

can give it more than two stars on Amazon, then it will,
in your mind, in your incredibly beautiful car-crash-
synapse-lightning-storm-mind, outcry an institution
that has leveled civilizations, that has leveled time.

What is it going to take for you to forget that sound?

I asked you.

Something louder, something more dangerous.

I don’t know what face you made when you opened

the box I mailed to your apartment in San Francisco.
I stayed up late on my roof the day it was delivered,
and I was disappointed when I didn’t see any illegal
fireworks coming from the Mission District but I
guess maybe somewhere else some other time.

Two months later you posted a review on Amazon for

my book, with three stars.

38 S e an Tay l or
Some nights I wish I hadn’t included my book in the
box of fireworks I sent to you, though some nights I
am also glad that I did.

I never regret sending the fireworks. I often wish I

wrote well enough to have never needed them.

Se an Tay lor 39
ra Hodder To
r ba oh
Ba S o M u c h in L o v e

No one else can love him like I do. We’ve been together
since college. We were both engineering majors—he
was civil, I was chemical. We got married right after
graduation. We both wanted to go to grad school. He
got into MIT, and I got into Purdue, but we wanted
to be together, so we moved to Cambridge. I got that
really great job with Heinz. We did a lot of research on
new ingredients. I really made a difference with that

Too bad we had to move around so much, Saudi Arabia,

Scotland, oh lots of places… but it was always the two
of us. We are so much in love.

Take last night. We had dinner at our favorite

restaurant. We ate our favorite meals and had a great
bottle of wine, a Napa Valley Cabernet. He’s so into
wines. We just chatted away like the old friends and
lovers that we are. I know he’ll call today.

I was so excited last night I couldn’t sleep. So I did

what I always do when I can’t sit still—I started
baking. Still at it. Don’t feel a bit sleepy. I’m making
prune-plum pies with the most scrumptious flaky
almond thyme crust. Made from scratch of course.
The house smells wonderful. Let’s see, how many

are there… number 11 in the oven. I should do one
more to make it an even dozen.

Someone’s at the door. Who could that be at this hour

of the morning? Couldn’t be him. He never gets up
this early.

Oh no? Officer, is something wrong?

I better sit down?

What? Dead?

I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I … I …

Oh, thank you, Officer. I do need a glass of water.

You’re sure it’s him? We just had dinner last night. A
romantic dinner for just the two of us. We’re so much
in love.

What…what… how did it happen?

Right outside the restaurant? Hit on the head? That’s

awful! Who would do such a thing? He must have
tried to fight off a robber. He would do that…

No. No, I didn’t see him get into his car. We drove
separately, you see.

We had the loveliest dinner. He was going to call today.

We were going to take a trip somewhere exotic. Just
the two of us. It was always just the two of us. We’re
so much in love.

42 B a r b a ra H o dde r Tooh e y
Who? Deanna?

Oh Jesus, Officer! There’s smoke! Get that pie out of

the oven! It’s burning! Use the potholders! Just set it
on top of the oven. That’s right. Oh, my beautiful pie. I
make them from scratch you know.

Oh, oh yes. What was this person’s name again?


SHE SAYS he was going to ask me to sign divorce

papers last night?

That’s impossible! I never heard of this person.

Pregnant? Getting married?

Don’t be ridiculous. He loves me. We’re going to Bali!

Oh yes, well. Not now, of course.

You have to find the person who did this, Officer. What
about her? She seems to have some sort of obsession
with my husband.

Well yes, there were papers filed. But that was a while
ago and it was all a mistake. We worked it out last
night. No divorce.

They scheduled a wedding? I don’t believe it!

Ask the waiter! There were no papers last night at the

restaurant. We had a lovely meal. We are so much in

Ba rba ra Hodde r Tooh e y 43

Wait a minute, don’t you have some video or
something? Don’t they have security cameras? Every
place has security cameras these days.

Oh, not parked in the lot. Oh yes, that little lane right
beside the restaurant. He didn’t like to use the lot. He
said it took too long to get your car from the valet… he
was always in a hurry.

Oh, the security camera has my car leaving a while

after my husband?

Well, I went to the Ladies’ Lounge before I left the

restaurant. I had a lot of wine you see. I hope you don’t
expect me to explain what goes on in the ladies lounge!

I was the last one to see him alive?

Search my house?

How about that other person? Are you searching her

house? That’s where you should be searching.

Someone will do that?


My house? Don’t you need a warrant?

Well, I think you should get one. I don’t have anything

to hide mind you, but I watch TV. I know how these
things work. I think we should just wait for you to get
a warrant.

44 B a r b a ra H o dde r Tooh e y
Of course, you can stay here and wait for it.

Have a seat, Officer. Would you like a piece of pie?

Ba rba ra Hodde r Tooh e y 45

esa Poore
r e L over Abece d a ri a n

All afternoon I’ve been trying to convince myself

that is not a dead hummingbird on the patio.

Because if it is, I have to think about the prophylactic

decals in cellophane on the kitchen counter.

Citizen of flight, hovercraft, dive bomber, cut down

in your prime, due to my procrastination of chores.

Dangers abound in nature. The red-tailed hawk

or the late freeze offer a quick death.

Egregious as these dangers are, they don’t seem insidious

like a feeder too close to the glass.

Faking resolve, I tell myself these things are bound

to happen, now and again.

God knows I shouldn’t have tried to lure a

wild thing that close, but

How delighted I was to discover such fierce

assertiveness, bordering on aggression.

I remember I loved the complete lack of shame

or shyness about your long slender tongue,

Just hungry for the center of the sweetest flower
and how you flaunted your nimble wings.

Kitties imprisoned indoors need stimulation too,

I say, in an attempt to self-soothe.

Lithe felines become bored with felt mice. Your dance

really was for their entertainment.

Moreover, I planted trumpet vine and honeyed jasmine

for you. I haven’t had time for decals.

Now the old chestnut, good intentions cause more

destruction than most wars, comes to mind.

Ornithological mass graves under the hawthorn tree

must be dug open again tonight.

Perhaps another burial, another cairn of stones will

motivate me to relocate the crimson bottle.

Quarreling over the orange blossoms yesterday,

you and your emerald rival, both so alive,

Reminds me how uncertain all life is, whether for

bird or beast or man.

Souls may never reach their zenith. Many a man goes

to his grave with the song still in him.

Thoreau wrote that (or was it Holmes?), but probably

48 T e r e s a poor e
wasn’t thinking of hummingbirds when he did.

Undone now, I imagine your song, more click than

the day you left your mother’s nest.

Victorious wings beating the braided leaves and grass

and then the clean, clear air.

Why weren’t windows included in your early education,

along with which petals to plunder?

(Xanthous and blood-red nectar comfort the belly best.)

But the bigger question, which

Yawps barbarically, If I love Beauty why do I invite

it to my window, away from the safety of the

Zinnias, again and again, only to break its ruby throat?

Te re sa p oore 49
y Rosado

what it’s like

to bleed to death

It’s not as dramatic as you’d think. People on TV, you

see their eyes bulge in surprise. They gurgle and choke
until they can dramatically gasp last words into the
ears of the loved one who happened to show up just in
time to watch them die. That’s the depression dream,
isn’t it? To have your loved one show up just in time
to watch you die? Especially an estranged loved one;
the family member that fought you, the friend who
wronged you, the lover that at first made you feel like
you were bleeding to death, but now you know that’s
not true, as you are bleeding to death.

You’re not lying on metropolitan concrete with Blade

Runner Lighting and just the right amount of rain.

I was at the pharmacy. I was waiting in line to refill my

birth control, another month of freedom and a daily
reminder I called Baby Repellant.

I heard something like a something falling from the

top shelf of my closet, but louder, and farther away.
My apartment was under construction and I’d
become too desensitized to odd noises at all hours.
But then there were pops. Lots of them, piled up on
each other.

There were screams now. The heads of the people
in line with me were pointing every which way. I
remembered that wildlife documentary chapter about
flamingos, and how a flock of them would move
sideways together, heads pointing this way and that.

The pharmacist shouted, “GET ON THE GROUND!”.

Many did. I stumbled backwards into a display of
allergy medicine, which I realized I needed and had
a reminder on my phone to get in addition to birth
control. I caught myself and that’s when I saw a man,
no bigger than any man, pale face red and sweating.
He had what I believed is an automatic rifle, one
that would be able to fire off pops piled up on each
other. As swift as wiping a spill on a counter, he paints
a swatch of bullets into the pharmacy. A white hot
pain goes through me and this time I fall and take the
display of allergy medicine with me.

I’m on my side. It’s hard to breathe. I hear everything;

more pops, more screams, the circulated air, my mother,
my second grade teacher.

I seem to be blinking longer. I’m aware of my body

escaping me. I think of the time I slashed my thumb
while cutting a grapefruit and how much that bled
and how this was like that grossly magnified. I do
choke, but not in the movie star way.

I am staring into the eyes of a woman curled up under

one of the chairs along the pharmacy wall. She is
shaking, crying. I want to tell her it’s going to be okay,
but it’s as if my brain did that thing where your foot
falls asleep and you can’t get parts of your body to

52 G r e y R os a do
communicate with each other. I feel like sand, sinking
into the ground.

I am alone.

Gre y Rosa do 53
nny Alvare
Joh z

W r o n g O n es

The things she did not know, Dolores felt they would
suffocate her one day.
Whether a pillow over the sleeping lips, or a plume of
noxious gas, out like a quick dirty light she’d go.
The basin of her ignorance, nay, her hollowed head,
carved from the inside out like some molten
jack-o-lantern; sure as sun, would it not concave
in the heat?
A frayed transaction leaves expired crumbs ‘cross the
threadbare bones and no broom for the sweeping.
The time together and the time alone, it collides
in a mighty maelstrom.
Tearing what’s between asunder and pulling out the
What remains, that sweet, frustrating Missouri mare.
Ride her over and under, over and under, over and
Don’t be mad when the finish line is actually the
It’s a pretty funny trick, miles covered in a loop,
only to return to the same swamp. It welcomes
you back with a burp and a belch.

Give it a kiss and say thanks and go to bed.

The things he wanted and could not have, Turner

knew would leave his soul smoking sullen black.
Creature dust and sparkle doom.
A swinging pendulum heart, grey as ice, slushy deep-
winter Illinois ice.
A crumbling façade that never asks what you want
for breakfast.
A knitted quilt square, it begs to fit center right. But
purple looks bad with brown.
Backseat blowjob behind parade town sounds, a
splash of semen on this preacher’s boy.
His cherub’s face, luminescent in the moonstruck.
Bite down hard and taste the gold.
The heart of his mother, my mother, not his mother,
it aches at the very thought. Maybe they’ll go
back and make webs with their spittle. Maybe
he’ll explain away the touch of a man, exchange
it for the touch of a woman.
Maybe she’ll nod her head yes before she jams her
thumb in his eye socket.
Maybe she’ll pray for rain as she drowns him.
Maybe she’ll tuck his body by the river so he
remembers to stay hydrated.

The things she could not find, Maggie heard them

56 J o h n n y Al va r e z
waiting under her bed.
Disgusting, slimy things, she invited them to join the
They didn’t like the pillows and decided to stay home.
She bought new pillows, left the others upside down
in trash cans. Waving goodbye to her California
Filthy wine is the right kind, leaving trembling lips a
warm red kiss. The stomach ache heading toward
new life. New life heading away from certainty.
Certain was not the word for soured milk.
Penetrated, permeated, promised.
This sounds like something her brother might do, if
he were alive.
She pinches her bellybutton, measuring where it will
be in months.
Wonders if the moths in the closet wait eagerly for
fresh oxygen to bathe in. The termites in the
cupboard, dancing to the brand-new heartbeat.
The spiders in the ceiling, salivating for new skin
to tickle.
How big will brother grow before he’s ready to come

The things he had to give, Amrit believed could

sweeten the most poisoned of vein.
Murderous mind, overgrown heart. Flying-kite smile.

Joh nny Al va re z 57
That promising bulge, electric and blood orange.
Ass fat as Florida flies.
Belied by crooked limbs that never move forward or
backward, just side-to-side.
The outside kids sneer through screens, cackle
through cracks, tumble across thresholds. Bawdy
words meet broken bones, wanting to push those
limbs further. Out of place, dislocated joy.
Tears taste of salted caramel, dairy-free cream.
Almond brittle and backyard burials.
The rat didn’t mean that much to him anyway. Except
that it’s the only one that stayed. And that its
percolating whiskers reminded him how we
move through the air as we should.
A demonstrative diamond, ashen with hate.
What more to say?
He growls, I’m worthy of love.

They growl, we’re worthy of love.

58 J o h n n y Al va r e z

A Seri s o f
Small Apoecalypses

Wake up to a crack of sun

on Sunday
wrist stamped twice & smeared

in the shower, no matter how hard

you scrub, you’re stained.

Watch your pretty

friend try
on wedding dresses while everyone

ohhhhs & ahhhhs & wonder

what cut of girl you are.

The things you love are

laced up
sharp & sometimes yellow

not interested in finding happy or forever

after, just slicing open the chest cavity.

Watch a heartbeat,
a chest rise
and fall. You think only of the day,

of the second that ends. You have
time to watch it play out, cinematic.

(or did you ever know?)
to be a girl meant sit

pretty & ohhh & ahhh. Not a firework

exploding in an open field, a whole park on fire.

You loved once,

you did,
threw your heels over your head

swoon to the tune of the lead

violinist in Ocean Avenue, the blast of it through
Best Buy speakers

in the truck of his Honda. Did it ever really leave

Watch this.
You’re spinning to a series of small apocalypses

to mean—I love you—and

they believe it, cheer for a shower curtain call.

60 S a ge C ur t i s
g y Schimmelm
P eg an
Mojave Moon

I shudder to think of a coffin

deep beneath a tombstone etched
with my essential earthly achievements:
Born, Died, Loving Wife and Mother
A Teacher and Little-known Writer.

How dreary to wait in a graveyard

for karmic reassignment
or the call of the seventh trumpet
surrounded by bones
and worm-chewed flesh
a newcomer to starlit soirees
hosted by restless apparitions
of departed neighbors and friends.
Imagine the boredom as nights on end
they debate God’s intentions
mull over memories
bemoan their sins and regrets.

No, release my soul to the desert.

Let me soar like an angel enchanted
by that ancient Mojave moon.
I’ll commune with coyotes
jack rabbits, geckos
iguanas and Joshua trees.
I’ll sway to the drumbeat

of Shoshone shamans
dance with the spirits
of Serranos, Cahuillas
Gram Parsons and
moon drunk peyote-stoned hippies.

It’s not that I’m itching to ditch this town

but we cross only once
that mysterious, inevitable threshold.
If I must take death’s arm,
why not let it lead me
to exotic other worlds
where I can speak a new tongue
sing unfamiliar songs and
meet some fascinating new people?

62 P e g g y S c h i mme lm an
e Le Mont Wil
dr s on
K nif e

You grabbed an X-Acto knife

from my brother’s drafting table,
extinguished the light,
and approached me in the dark.
I reclined on my bed.
My body tingled in anticipation
of your attack.
Somehow I knew you wouldn’t harm me.
When other guys teased you
about your aversion to girls,
their taunts sounded familiar,
because they had said similar things about me.
Blind Man’s Bluff, your arms waved
in front of you, like the antennae of a roach,
until one of them struck my foot.
Excitement aroused my groin.
Groping, your hand crept past my toes,
tickling them.
You squeezed my shin and brushed my thigh,
avoiding my inner thigh.
Your fingers prodded my ribs
and then plunged the knife’s blunt end into my side.
I gasped in mock terror and mutual ecstasy
as you stabbed the handle into me again and again.
Our bodies radiated warmth.
This is the closest we’ve been together.

Did you pretend you had to kill me?
Did I pretend I deserved to die?
Must we always mask our desires
with violence—real or simulated—
the only language our culture permits men
who want to remain men and not other?
Must we always play the roles
of Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse?
Zip! You throw a brick at my head and
Pow! I fall forward, seeing hearts of love.
The light turned on.
My brother/your friend stood in the doorway,
his hand on the switch,
his eyes, his mouth wide open.
Caught in a compromising position
with you practically on top of me,
I did the only thing I could think of—
I yelled, “Get your hands off my thigh!”
You catapulted from my bed
and dropped the knife.
Shaking your head, you sputtered,
“They weren’t on your thigh.”
I twisted your words into a weapon
sharper than any blade.
I slashed you.
“Oh, yeah. I know what you were reaching for.”
We stared at each other
and then at my brother/your friend,
wondering who he was going to believe.
His face said he believed neither one of us.
But what if he hadn’t barged in on us?
Would your hand creep up my chest
and plunge Cupid’s arrow into my heart?
What if you held no knife

64 An dr e L e Mon t Wi lson
and we could only prick each other
with what we had between our legs?
What if there were no darkness
and we could gaze into each other’s eyes
and know the truth of our desires?

Andre Le Mont Wi lson 65

irav in
A Bi r t h St o r y

I was 40 weeks pregnant and glued to twitter. My

thumbs were tapping out dry numbers of dead babies
killed in Israeli strikes, in between sips of nettle tea
from the comfort of my air-conditioned home in Jaffa.
An hour’s drive down the Mediterranean, nearly 100
people were killed in four days in Gaza, many of them
women and children. In one of these strikes, Israeli
pilots killed four children who were playing on the
beach in what was later called a “tragic mistake.”

During my pregnancy, I read some of the seminal books

on natural, active childbirth by Janet Balaskas and Ina
May Gaskin. They were all about rejecting the fears
and doubts that Western culture instills in women
about our birthing abilities; about trusting your body,
surrounding yourself with soothing elements, and
avoiding any unnecessary interventions. In her 1976
book, Spiritual Midwifery, Gaskin writes, “When
a child is born, the entire Universe has to shift and
make room. Another entity capable of free will, and
therefore capable of becoming God, has been born.”
This was clearly written in the backwater of America,
not the trenches of Israel and Palestine, I thought to
myself. Although in both places, God and free will
are in serious question.

Rockets were being fired at our neighborhood every
day, sometimes a few times a day. Usually one in the
morning, and one in the afternoon. I tried to time
them and find the patterns, just like the contractions
I was anticipating. Drawn-out crescendos of sirens
followed by a staccato: boom! The whole house shook,
an old Arab house owned by Jews and split into two
apartments. The rockets weren’t landing, but being
intercepted in midair by missiles, thanks to US-funded
Israeli technology. Instead of heading for cover, people
would stop on the street to watch the spectacle in the
sky. We were victims and victimizers yet untouchable.
I was resentful my birth experience would be shrouded
in noise and news of deaths, but I knew my punctured
dreams of sublime and orgasmic rushes (what Gaskin
calls contractions) were pure privilege. I tweeted:
“NOW: Sirens in Tel Aviv, followed by several loud
booms. Israel is pounding the Strip. No end in sight.”

My birth story is entrenched in the 50-day Israel-

Gaza war of summer 2014. When people ask me
about my birth, I don’t know if to answer as a mother
or a journalist. I went into active labor the same
night that Israel deployed ground troops into the
32-mile long coastal strip, one of the most densely-
populated places on earth that Israel controls from
the outside—like an incubator. We had been home up
until the contractions were under three minutes apart,
wondering if when we drove to the hospital, there
would be a siren and we’d have to get out and take
cover by the side of the road as I—and everyone else
around me—contracted. The TVs were in plain view as
women waited to enter the delivery rooms, reporting
the number of soldiers—mostly teenagers—dead and

68 Ma i rav Z o n s z e i n
the number going in, as if it was inevitable. At that
point I was too busy wriggling about and releasing my
jaw and pelvic muscles to tweet. It was just as cliché as
it sounds: I was ushering in new life as those around
me were ushered to their death. The common theme:
blood. Lev and I first met in the midst of all this. Lev
means heart in Hebrew, the physical organ that pumps
life, and the rich, obscure emotional center that can
drain you. I was genuinely happy. He was almost 10
pounds and the nurses were impressed I managed to
get him out vaginally. I accepted their praises.

In a small safe room inside the hospital lined by rows

of chairs, like the massage chairs in nail salons, new
mothers with engorged breasts and bleeding vaginas
were guided on effective latching techniques. The
lactation consultant wore sandals and glasses and had
an American accent. She told us to relax and guide the
nipple to the roof of the baby’s mouth. You couldn’t
hear the sirens in that room, which was both calming
and unnerving. An opacity to the outside world.  I
wondered how on earth women in Gaza were relaxing
their pelvic muscles in this vicious tension. They had
no warning sirens, no shelters and no US-funded Iron
Dome. Just the force of their nature.

The first few times Lev was sucking but the milk wasn’t
flowing out right. I commiserated with the woman to
my left about our initially sore nipples. When I finally
got the hang of it, and felt confident enough to free
up one hand, leaving just one to support his round
warmth, I checked the news, and then tweeted: “Entire
Gaza family killed in air strike as Palestinian death toll
reaches 940, the majority civilians.”

Ma i rav Zonsze i n 69
na Donovan

R e t r o s p e c ti v e

My friend Veronica is a gifted and prolific writer.

When she started working on her first romance novel,
she occasionally shared with me some of the tricks of
the trade that she learned from fellow romance writers.

One of the tropes—or literary devices—made us

giggle: secret baby.

Secret baby was fun to say; it had a certain ring to

it. Secret baby was a common theme in romance
novels because an unexpected pregnancy had a way
of bringing two people together—allowing them
to recognize their humanity and giving them an
opportunity for growth. It created drama and moved
the plot forward.

The more I thought about it, the more I knew that

secret baby was a theme in romance novels because it
was a theme in human history.

I was a secret baby.


A few weeks after I graduated from Brown in 1990,

I drove across the country.

There was no job waiting for me, but I had a place to
stay in San Francisco for the summer. As a graduation
gift, my mother had bought me a used Acura Integra.
Moving twenty-six hundred miles away was a funny
way of saying thank you, but I don’t think anyone was

To say that my mother and I had a complicated

relationship—or that I came from a dysfunctional
family—would be an understatement. She was known
to call me a whore on occasion, and to throw my things
out the window onto the lawn in a sudden rage.

Her family had a history of addiction, sexual abuse

and violence that spanned multiple generations. Also,
I was adopted—like my older brother—but we’d only
talked about adoption once, when we were doing
family trees in elementary school. Like many things in
our family, it was a taboo topic.

I was moving to San Francisco to start over.

The night before I left, I checked the attic for any last
items I might want to bring with me: black and white
photography paper, cookbooks, journals. I wasn’t sure
when I’d be back.

In an ordinary-looking box, I came across my birth

certificate for the first time.

The name next to Mother was vigorously blacked out

with magic marker.

What wasn’t blacked out was the name of the hospital

72 D i an a D o n ovan
where I was born, St. Elizabeth’s. It was just a few
miles away, next to the magazine where I’d had my
internship the summer before.

What also wasn’t blacked out was Age of Mother: 21.

The hospital and the age 21 made her real to me—

three-dimensional—for the first time.

She was just like me, this woman who gave me up. I
was 21 on the day that I was staring at this piece of

I put the birth certificate back where I found it, closed

the box and came down from the attic. I set out for the
West Coast in the morning—without saying a word.


Summer turned to fall and then to winter. I had a job

waiting tables at a bar and grill in the Marina, and I was
taking a black and white photography class. One day I
came across a Dear Abby column in the San Francisco
Chronicle—the print version of the newspaper.

I don’t remember the exact details, but I think it was

a letter from a birth mother trying to track down
the child she had given up. What I remember most
was discovering the International Soundex Reunion
Registry—a non-profit that matched up children given
up for adoption with their birth mothers and other
relatives. They didn’t go looking for people who didn’t
want to be found. But if two parties contacted them
with the same information, they would make a match.

Di ana Donovan 73
I registered with the information I had, including the
name of the hospital. And then I waited.

About a year later, I was working for a mail order

catalog as a customer support rep. I sat in a cubicle all
day and took phone orders for overpriced gifts.

One day a co-worker transferred a call.

“Are you sitting down, Diana?” the woman asked.

I was.

“You’re going to want to get a piece of paper,” she said.

“I’m calling from the International Soundex Reunion
Registry. We found a match for you: your birth mother.
Her name is Anne Morrison. She lives in West Roxbury,

For a moment, it felt like time stopped. “This doesn’t

happen very often, you know,” she said. “We’re excited
for you.”

She gave me my birth mother’s phone number and

said she was expecting to hear from me that evening.

I hung up the phone. It felt like the beginning of



That night, my birth mother and I talked for hours.

A few months later, we met in person. It turned out

74 D i an a D o n ovan
that her house was only a fifteen-minute drive from
my dad’s (my adopted dad, that is). Anne was an art
teacher, married, with a seventeen-year old son.

We drank tea, looked at photos, peered at one another

for resemblances. She was smaller than me, more
fragile. But I looked almost exactly like her sister Mary
Ellen. We talked about how much we both loved black
and white photography. And cooking. And France. I
loved the colors she used to paint the different rooms
in her house.

We took a long walk. She told me about her pregnancy,

how Catholic Charities had sent her to live in a
convent with some nuns in Canada, and then how she
had come back to Boston and worked cleaning houses
before giving birth. It sounded lonely.

I knew my birth father was married and had kids. She

wouldn’t tell me anything else. His name. Where he
lived. How long they were together. How many times
they had unprotected sex. (Just kidding, I didn’t ask
her that.)

And I didn’t ask why they didn’t keep me.

Anne and I stayed in touch by writing letters back and

forth. Sometimes we would share black and white
photos. In one of these letters, she finally told me his
name: Patrick Joseph Mullowney. I read his name over
and over, trying to make it mean something. Patrick
Joseph Mullowney.

When she admitted that she never told him she was

Di ana Donovan 75
pregnant, I tried not to judge.

It was 1968. People were doing crazy things. Going

to Canada without saying goodbye to your boyfriend
wasn’t that big a deal, all things considered. Well, yes
and no.

Soon after, she mailed me an eight-millimeter film reel.

I borrowed a projector so I could watch it on my living
room wall.

I turned it on and watched a grainy black-and-white

film of a couple of college students in the Sixties. They
filmed it in Boston. She was in school at BU. He went
to Harvard.

In the film, he was smoking a cigarette, making funny

faces. She waved shyly at the camera. There was no

I watched it over and over—probably twenty or thirty

times. I was thrilled that they were such hippies (my
own parents being conservative Republicans and
members of the oldest country club in the United

My birth parents looked happy—like college students

who might have loved each other—who might
have even stayed together if things had turned out


One day, Anne wrote to say she finally met Patrick for

76 D i an a D o n ovan
lunch to tell him about me. She said he got angry and
stormed out of the restaurant. She said he didn’t even
want to know my name.

I was crushed.

A few months later, I got a letter from him saying he

was coming to San Francisco. He had changed his
mind about meeting me, and Anne had given him my
contact info.

He gave me an exact date and time when he was

planning to show up and take me out to dinner. I tried
not to freak out.

When the day and time arrived, and he was 20 minutes

late, I poured myself a glass of wine.

When he was 40 minutes late, I poured myself another


An hour late, but who’s keeping track?

When the doorbell finally rang, I opened the door.

There he was—standing on my Welcome mat in a blue
blazer—holding out a stuffed bear wearing a T-shirt
with a lobster on it (the kind of bear they’d sell at an
airport gift shop).

I took the bear. I gave this man—Patrick—an awkward


It would take me many years to figure out how one

secret baby could help the three of us recognize our

Di ana Donovan 77
shared humanity and give us all an opportunity for

But there would be time for all that.

First, we’d start with dinner.

78 D i an a D o n ovan
- july 1, 2019 -

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