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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 101
© 2019 Quiet Lightning

cover art © Connie Zheng

“There Has Always Been Drumming in Oakland” by Norma Smith

was first published in Civil Liberties United, 2019.
“Roots” by Abigail Licad
was first published in CHA: An Asian Literary Journal.
“Saranggola” by Abigail Licad
was first published in Crossed Cultures.
“Stef’s Request” by Abigail Licad was first published in Calyx.
“Intruders in Ms. Hansen-Knudsen’s Class” by Maddy Raskulinecz
was first published in Tin House Online.
“Crown of Iguanas” by Donna Laemmlen
was first published in Able Muse.
set in Absara

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su bmit @ qui e tl i g h tn i n g . o r g
curated by
Katie Tandy + July Westhale
featured artist
Connie Zheng |

Norma Smith There Has Always Been Drumming

in Oakland 1
David S. Maduli Pt. Reyes 7
Kate Hoyle Neighbor 9
Syche Phillips Maybe Inside
a Black Hole Is Better 11
Abigail Licad Roots 15
Saranggola 16
Stef’s Request 17
Julia Halprin Jackson Lipstick 19
Johnny Alvarez Footnotes 23
Glenn Ingersoll in which the book, awake at last,
revisits other readers 25
Linette Escobar Bailinho da Madeira 27
Maddy Raskulinecz Intruders in 31
Ms. Hansen-Knudsen’s Class 31
Donna Laemmlen Crown of Iguanas 35
Peter Bullen Out-of-Town 39
Christina Newhard Glock 41
Cassandra Dallett Your Beauty I’d Still See 43
Eric Darby He Always Wants Fries with That 47
C.E. Shue A Cast of Thousands 51
Kevin Dublin Be Smooth 55
Tenderloin 56
Argument 57
After Police Shoot 55 Bullets
at Willie McCoy 58
Each Night / An Elegy 59
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 -
ma Smith
There Ha ee n
Drumm s Always lBand*
ing in Oa k
There has always been drumming in Oakland.
There has always been church-song.
Since the early days when you could stand on the
back to the bay, before there was a bay, feel the surf
pulling and thrumming at your heart, before dawn.
When the bay was a delta, falling sharply
into the sea, before they connected
St. Francis to Marin with gold.
Before the mission, before the presidio.

Since people stood before dawn

among the poplars—that long stretch of alameda—
watching the eastern hillside, to sing the sun up
over the oaks,

* In the past few years, during a time of gentrification/push-out of families

and communities of color and poor people, newcomer gentrifiers have called
on local police force to confront and harass long-time community members
engaged in communal activities such as drumming circles, family barbecues
in public parks, or singing in churches on Sunday mornings.

there has been drumming in Oakland. There has been
The people believed back then,
as we do now, that the bright orbs—sun and moon—
were listening,
why wouldn’t they

Listen to their relations.

There has been barbeque in Oakland,
since mussels and wild onion, rabbit and tender deer
lay on the fire, ready
to be dropped into the acorn stew held
in dry-grass receptacles, ready to be
stirred into this rock-boiling water

to add flavor, simmering.

There has been song in Oakland.

And Oakland has been multilingual and multicultural

for tens of thousands of years, since people first began
to gather here to trade, a crossroads where the creeks
ran down to the bay, where steelhead and coho

2 N o r ma S mi t h
climbed up to spawn while
grizzly watched
their chance, hungry and irritable,
mumbling to each other.
There have always been

Complaints about the neighbors. We live next door.

Marry in. Bird and bear, turtle and wasp.
The locals let us know
what’s what if we can hear them:
There has always been song.

We have always moved to it,

each of us, as we —the two-leggeds, no fins, no
have moved here: ex-soldiers, land grabbers,
opportunist ranchers and our yanqui lawyers, a new
police force,

Alongside refugees from land-grabs,

from impoverishment and massacre elsewhere.
Workers crossing oceans or borders
to flee viciousness elsewhere
do the dirtiest work.

Norma Smi t h 3
While some come as tailors, to cover us
in denim—that warp-faced fabric
sewn in goldfields—some arrive later, to build
steel warships, wanting
an honest day’s work
for a day’s pay. And safety
for their families. Respect.

Fishers and sailors move here

to the canneries, processors, foundries,
factories. Adding mussels and wild onions
to cioppino, to mae un-tang. Gardeners arrive—
Lao, Mien, Hmong, Kanjobal, Mam, Ibo,
Ahmara, Punjabi, Sicilian —
cooks and politicians,

Mexican and Palestino panaderos, bring their own

recipes, their own steps. Their own ways.
The children become
office workers, teachers, librarians, historians. Police.
Physicists and medicine seekers.
Artists and other sex workers.

4 N o r ma S mi t h
We gather now against the drought, the fire, the storm,
assess the damage, organize
a promise: a living wage, a house,
some vision. There has been drumming.
There has been song. We find

A place that’s home. Where there has always been

song. Song has been here. Song has welcomed us.

Song draws a line

we can dance across, if we can hear
the drum.

If we can weave
this basket into something
that will hold.

Norma Smi t h 5
vid S. Maduli

Pt. Reyes
19 hours, 19 minutes, right ascension
Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory, Cambridge,
Arecibo Radio Observatory, Puerto Rico

why did mom love lighthouses so much?

maybe the tangling of safety and danger the
intermittent promise of the beacon above
dusk waters lapping night’s coast,
faithfulness and blindness, candle on a
sandstone altar, the inseam of submerged
fault lines, loneliness washing into the sea,
loneliness washing back, vantage from
which the unknown looms, maybe she
imagined the ocean as the future, over time
it just looked like eternity, the endlessness
of a sea lion’s savanna and she never heard
death over the moon’s pacific insomnia
twisting sheets of whitewater on the ash
rock bed surrounding the point

fig. 6.7: Successive pulses from the first pulsar

discovered, CP 1919, are here superimposed
vertically. The pulses occur every 1.337
seconds. They are caused by a rapidly-
spinning neutron star. 7
Kate Hoyle

Neig hb or
In the morning
when I go to walk
to the corner market for milk
there’s a baby raccoon
crying at the door of the apartment building
like it can’t reach the keypad to get buzzed in
It wanders under the metal gate
and around the fence
a few feet in either direction
whines and returns to the door

We look at each other

Its eyes ask me questions
I do not answer
It fumbles with its young legs and small hands
The size of a one month old human infant
all alone

How strong in me
the impulse to save
something small
something animal
something I could hold in my arms
and be able to say

You are here

You are safe
You are held
he Phillips

a BlaM aybe Inside

ck Hole Is Better

A woman writes the code that manages to get the

first ever photo of a black hole. It looks like a blurry
spaghetti-o and for two days everyone is sharing the
photo and making Interstellar jokes and talking about
aliens and how This Is the Beginning of The End. You
look at the photo and think it’s cool to see, and then
for a few days you see a lot of online content hyping
the coder who helped make it happen, and then the
Mueller Report gets released and it kind of pushes the
black hole thing out of the news cycle. The news cycle
is getting shorter and shorter.

Your daughter’s sleeping is shit. She’s never been a

good sleeper in her life—and now she goes through
cycles where she’ll sleep all night long and you get used
to it, and then she’ll start waking up at night. Lately,
she’s been waking up at night. A lot. The first time it
happens in a night, you’ll stay calm and soothing, talk
gently to her, give her water or blankets or find the
unicorn she dropped. But then it seems like that’s all
you have to give, because when she calls for you, or
just starts crying again, less than 20 minutes later,
you feel your internal thermometer spike and you
don’t have that calm, soothing voice anymore. You
find yourself whispering punishments at her and

swearing that you’ll take away her favorite toys if she
doesn’t stop. making. noise. right. now. It never works,
and more often than not you find yourself up for
chunks of time in the middle of the night, looking at
Twitter even though you know that’s not helping. The
black hole photo doesn’t come up anymore… now it’s
all uproar about a transphobic book that’s come out,
and memes of this guy pretending to ride a miniature

On the fourth night, when the crying starts at 1:45,

you fight it for a moment, feel your body try to sink
into the mattress. You’re alarmed by how frequently
these days you consider what your life Could Have
Been Like, if you hadn’t gone the marriage/kids route,
and what you Might Be Doing Out There. You wonder
if other people think about the Path Not Taken as
often as you do. Then you throw the covers back and
put your glasses on and pad to your daughter’s room,
where she doesn’t seem to actually be awake.

You get back into bed and google the black hole. Your
husband asks what you’re looking at and you tell him.
“That thing scares me,” he says, without rolling towards
you. The phone screen reflects off the white wall
beyond his side of the bed. It’s probably keeping him
from falling back to sleep. You scroll. Your daughter
starts to whimper, and the whimper turns into choking

“Maybe inside a black hole is better,” you say, rolling

back out of bed again. The brightness from the picture
on your screen—even a picture of a blurry black hole—
has thrown off your night vision. You don’t need it to

12 S y c h e Ph i l l i ps
find your way into her bedroom and to the side of
her bed, but then your pupils still haven’t adjusted
and where her head should be on her pillow, all you
see is the fire-red outline of a black hole, 26,000 light-
years away from Earth. From inside comes the pitiful,
grating, debilitating sobs of a child who won’t stay
asleep, and can’t explain why.

You wonder if she would agree with you. If there’s a

way to send your entire family directly into the center
of the black hole. You wonder what you would find
there. If it would be calming. You take a deep breath
and summon up your most gentle voice, gentle touch.
You rub her back. You hope for the best. You picture
the darkness at the center of it all.

Sy ch e P h i lli ps 13
gail Licad

R o o ts
I grew the wrong direction in my mother’s womb
a breech baby torn out wailing from her sliced stomach
When I asked my father to name the leafless
grooves branching from my mother’s belly—
he taught me the word scar
It will rip open if you are bad and Mama will die once her
insides fall out
That was when I still believed in my father
and when I learned that my mother will surely die
Still I kept silent because I wanted them to think me
Then for days I waited for the scar to rip
I thought about all the ways I was
and knew myself bad
But worry kept me from weeping
It took years before I knew my father had lied
years before I learned I’d only myself to trust
and that badness or goodness had nothing
to do with living or dying
Only that a scar is a shadow of pain once felt
and shadows follow us everywhere 15
No brightly-colored crêpe paper unfurled for us then,
no plastic assembly kits in shapes of dragons or jet-planes
like the one Meynard’s overseas father brought back,
elegant and invincible, just old newspapers
saved for wrapping fish: Aquino’s stalwart face
folded diagonally half-overlooking movie star gossip,
cooked rice smushed for paste, some string,
and bits broken off from Ma’s walis tingting—
thinly tapered sticks bundled on the thick end
and made to sweep. My brother and I hiked up hills
where vegetable plots embroidered land,
raced to make wind catch and watched our masterwork
soar and soar, unfazed by flimsy trembles,
its clumsy sideways ascent to the sky.
Why the sticks did not break or the paper tear
never crossed our minds, or that the downcast
audience of clouds thought laughable
our saranggola’s chances for success:
good thing Meynard’s kite was on another piece of sky—
ours could then be as good as any poor thing.

16 Ab i ga i l l i c a d
Stef’s Request
The night before the surgery she hands me her Nikon
and asks me to photograph her naked hips and thighs—
the only parts of her body left unscarred by the accident.

In a trailer transporting horses from her mother’s farm,

her beautiful
twenty-two year-old body snatched by the collision’s
third-degree burns across seventy-percent of her skin, a
permanent redness,
part of her left ear lost, a slight limp, and bluer eyes.

And now, ten years later, unable to turn her head to meet
the face
of a friend who calls her name or look up toward the sky,
she faces the scalpel-edge again to trade pain for pain:
plant skin grafts from her body’s unburned parts,
new striae of tissue to soften the leather below her jaw.

I try to get out of it—the nakedness

behind the nakedness, as I chased long-winded excuses
in my head, raised to believe in the female body shared
and in suffering silenced into prayer.

Abi ga i l li ca d 17
Who owns the body? Does sharing relinquish
or reinforce its ownership? Choose—I tell myself.
Relinquish, I decide.

But her blue eyes search until I reluctantly accept the

and ready it as she undresses. As her hand trembles, my
falls away like the silken drift of her robe to the floor.
Silently, she begins
to pose. On her stomach. On her side. Crosses and un-
crosses her legs.
Standing, she pushes against the wall. Arches her back.
Extends her long limbs. Thrusts her body toward the lens.

I map the contours of her flesh, the question mark of her

back’s profile, the meetings of inner folds her future
husband’s tongue
would trace. Into the night, we work like witnesses
bearing testimony,
before the carving of freshly hewn grooves onto her
body’s new geography,
which up close appear as a sky-view pictorial of mountain
peaks and desert.

18 Ab i ga i l l i c a d
Halprin Jacks
lia on
Lip sti c k
I didn’t know how to put on lipstick and Mum wasn’t
around to show me how, so I went down to the Internet
café, paid for my own booth, and Googled “lipstick,
how to put on.” That’s when Marco’s dad swiveled in
his chair and stared over my shoulder into the lens of
my webcam. I tried to avoid his eyes, but that made it
hard to get the lipstick right. While he was watching
I smeared my top lip. The color was so red, I felt that I
had been cut.

“Cuidado,” the man whispered, and puckered his mouth.

My shoulder felt very cold.

Gracie and Jessie say that when a man blows you a

kiss, it means you’re the one in power. When you get
a second take, they pick up on your electric current.
Everyone has one, but no one has one as strong as girls
like us, girls in our prime. I wanted to believe them but
this was before I had tits, when I’d wear two or three
jumpers to give the impression that there was power
there. Because that’s where it comes from, right? Then
they came in with vengeance, like they’d been waiting
until we’d left the country and there was no possible
way James Thomas, footballer of the century, would
ever see me again. Once they arrived it was only fair
to show the world that yes, I’ve got power, just you

It took me a few weeks to get used to piropos. That’s
what they call it when men whisper at you in the
street. They stare, they hiss like snakes. The first time
it happened I was walking Geoffrey home from school
and stopped to tie my shoe, my ass in the air in my skirt
that was shorter than I remembered. I heard this noise
like a balloon losing air. Sssssssss. It was the bald old
newspaper peddler. He had a hand deep in his pocket,
wriggling like he’d caught a fish. I grabbed Geoffrey,
pulled down my skirt and hightailed it out of there,
nearly running. By the time we got home I had tears
in my eyes but this unnerving, high step, excited and
terrified and thrilled because here it was, my power. It
had come at last.

Marco’s dad must have noticed this because he had

this edge, as if he didn’t want to fuck me so much as
fuck with me. By the time Marco returned from the
counter, his fists full of Principe cookies, his dad had
turned away. I turned off the webcam and opened
Facebook, closing it when I remembered my profile
picture. There we were, Gracie and Jessie and me,
standing on a boat in our skivvies, the night air black,
our faces pale and small.

On my last night in Bristol, the three of us snuck out

to my father’s boat in the harbor. They insisted that
older men were better, and if we wanted the right kind
of older man we’d find him on the docks. I didn’t want
to tell them what I knew about sailors so I agreed. We
stood over the water, aware of its cold depths. Gracie
went first, lifting her shirt overhead and chanting, “I
AM POWERFUL!” Jessie jumped out of her jeans and
sweater faster than a whippet. And then it was my turn.

20 J ul i a H a l p r i n J a c kson
“What are you waiting for?” Gracie yelled.

I perched on the edge, thinking of the times I’d hopped

from the bow with my brothers in broad daylight, in

“For fuck’s sake!” Gracie yelled. “Are you yellow or


I pulled down my leggings and flung first one jumper,

then the other, into the boat. I was unhooking my bra
when there it was: a blinding white light, glaring into
my abdomen.

“Jump!” Gracie yelled.

I leapt overboard in my underwear, bra sliding down

my shoulders as I descended into the icy water. I still
remember the rush, the ice-cream-to-the-brain chill
that started at my temple and ran down my spine,
igniting my nipples and streaming through to my toes.
She was right. I was an electric current.

We swam around the boat, where Jessie pulled us up.

We crouched, teeth chattering, shaking the water out
of our hair while the light circled again, two, three
times. It wasn’t the cops; we hadn’t gotten caught. It
was the lighthouse. Of course it was. Nobody gave two
shits about us, lost girls in the night.

Ju li a Ha lpri n Ja ckson 21
nny Alvare
Joh z

F o o t n o t es

I feel lost in the West and not in any sort of romantic,

John Wayne way. 1

I’m only alone in the desert when I want to be. I’m

mostly alone on the corner of steep rent and
intermittent employment. 2

Where I’m from, living 30 minutes from your family

is called distance. 3

I tried falling in love a few times. 4

I spend too much time on the toilet. 5

Every sock I own has holes in them. My favorite pair

of boots also have holes in them. Sometimes at
the end of a long day I’ll remove both and find
my whole foot caked in dirt. This makes me feel
dirty and lazy and unruly. 6

I often expect too much of my friends. 7

  I’m only half confident in that reference but I’m gonna stick with it.
  The utter lack of novelty here is not lost on me.
  I’m losing sight of them, but I want to believe they still see me.
  But mostly ended up on my back or knees.
  Not for the immediate reasons you might think, but yes, also for those
  This is not the only thing that makes me feel dirty and lazy and unruly.
  I am often disappointed.
My biggest fear is staying in the same place for long
enough that I become happy. 8

I lived in one house, in one town, for eighteen years.

Since then I’ve lived in ten different apartments
and four different cities in six years. 9

I don’t feel well traveled. I feel irresponsible and

flighty. 10

Sometimes I want sex to be all about me. Sometimes I

want it to be all about them.11

I like being submissive but hate feeling used. 12

If you’ve never been humiliated before/during/after

sex I just don’t believe you have an interesting life. 13

I want to write more about my sex life. 14

I sometimes think I will always be psychologically

reckoning with my Catholic upbringing. 15

I sometimes think no matter how many people are

around me I’ll never feel surrounded. 16

  Sike! It’s actually my biggest desire. And yet, I keep on runnin’.
  Is that a cry for help? It might be a cry for help.
  I once begged my friends to send me money in the middle of a road trip I was
on by myself because I was going to run out of gas. They happily obliged. I bought
McDonald’s with the money instead.
  The hottest thing I’ve ever done is blow a guy and ask for nothing in return.
  I need to be taught how to not conflate the two.
  But I’m afraid my parents will never look at me the same.
  Yes, it gave me incredible writing material. Yes, I am grateful for that.
  I think Anne Frank said that better than me.

24 J o h nny A l va r e z
en n Ingerso
Gl l l
in w e at
last, i c h t h e book , aw a k
r e visits o t h e r r e a d e r s

I sleep. Yes, while on the shelf I sleep. Do I dream? I

dream. I remember my dreams.

There’s this one dream in which I’m lying open on

the bed and a beautiful drag queen is paging slowly
through my innermost pages. She leans close close
because she is myopic and vain and won’t put on her
glasses. Her eyelashes graze the paper as she blinks. No
no, I can’t allow her to think I am ticklish. For then,
what would she do to me? Such girls can be so cruel.
Her eyes are dark, so dark I wonder that my words
don’t get lost in them, blundering about in search of
the naked lightbulb in the dressing room of her soul.

There’s this dream in which a grandmother, having

survived all her children and all her grandchildren, is
sitting up in bed laughing at me. I feel ashamed. I want
to tell her that I am not funny. That nothing could be
funny in this world, least of all my thin excuses, my
wheedling for a thumbing (just one riffle, dearest
stranger, just one licked finger encouraging the
unsticking of page 49 from 50); nothing I say could
jerk a laugh from your belly, grandmother. Yet she
laughs. She laughs at my teardrops, each of which
wobbles at the end of a phrase.

There’s this dream in which I am a doorprize at a
spaghetti feed fundraiser. I’m jammed in a cardboard
box with novels by professors about professors and
twenty year old memoirs by twenty year olds. The
smell of tomato sauce is oddly intoxicating, as though
the waft of industrial basil and bulk garlic retinted
the Library Discard stamp a hallucinogenic vermilion.
I start to think I am being colonized by pasta spores.
I tell myself this is not a nightmare. Semolina flour
is not so unlike the wood pulp of which I am made.
Were my paper to be replaced with lasagna noodles I
would make a yummy main dish.

26 J o h nny A l va r e z
ette Escobar
B a il in h o d a M a d e i r a

They sing songs that call it a garden

but never come back
Under the quaint cobblestone
this island reverberates with trauma
“aquele buraco” they say
“that hole” they say
There’s a contemporary art museum
a mile from where my mom waited
for the hunger to pass
Bosch painted over in pastels
“A Madeira a um jardim”
We sing
Madeira is orchids, ferns, palms, waterfalls, levada
walks, parasails, toboggan rides, church bells,
roosters crowing, ginga, embroidery, Cristiano
But the pages of my family photo album
have stuck together 60 years
Madeira is child labor, Salazar, lizards, 5 kids in
one bed made of straw,

Madeira is aguardente, belts and entire families flung
to Venezuela,
South Africa, USA
It’s that note on the marriage certificate that my
grandfather didn’t know how to
sign his name
but when I sing about that island
Madeira is a festa, my Avo, the Cherryland neighbor-
hood of Hayward, California as seen from the
bed of a Ford pickup truck circa 1976
Go ahead and bring home honey cake and sweet wine
but don’t forget
In Madeira, if you give birth to 7 girls,
one certainly
is a witch

28 L i n e t t e Es c o b a r
- SET 2 -
dy Raskulin
ad ec
M z
M s. H Intruders in
a n s e n -K n u d se n ’s C l a s s

1. The Unborn

Ms. Hansen-Knudsen was the most beautiful woman

on earth, so her second-grade class was not surprised
when the two chicks emerged fuzzy and so plump,
and calm-seeming, and sunshine yellow: perfect. For
a time their little chirps floating out from the pouch
Ms. Hansen-Knudsen made in her blouse were enough
to put everyone in the class in an ecstatic trance, but
there was the problem of the third, unhatched egg. The
specter of stillbirth was so unwelcome in the bright and
clean classroom of young Ms. Hansen-Knudsen that a
few of the most gallant boys in the class conspired to
dispose of the unhatched egg without disturbing their
beautiful teacher. But it all went wrong for these boys,
and indeed for the whole class. Archie was caught with
his searching hands inside of the incubator, and Ms.
Hansen-Knudsen became, in her angelic way, upset.
This is only to say that she expressed disappointment,
and everyone felt the growing pains of the lesson they
were learning. But she also took away the incubator
and the two live chicks and the unhatched egg and
brought them to her home. The unhatched egg
was a different type of egg, which took longer to
hatch, and when it did hatch it was a duckling that

emerged. It was a filthy gray color, and standing next
to the two spherical tiny chicks it looked buffoonish
and slow-witted. But Ms. Hansen-Knudsen preferred
it on account of the feet. It had the most harmless,
charming webbed orange feet, whereas the chicks’
talons implied the spiky horrors they would grow into.
Ms. Hansen-Knudsen kept the duckling for a while
longer; the chicks, she fed to her cat.

2. The Early Latecomer

On the first day back from winter break there was

an unremarkable amount of snow, and a two-hour
delay was called. Two-hour delays made everyone
feel wretched because they didn’t have the virtue to
be school days or the guts to be snow days; they were
days without moral character. And when the second-
graders of Ms. Hansen-Knudsen’s class arrived at last,
they learned that two-hour-delay-days were Trojan
horses for new and unexpected enemies.

Thomas was new to the county and he didn’t get

the alerts yet, so he didn’t know about the two-hour
delay and he came to school on time. So did Ms.
Hansen-Knudsen, who often came early to prepare
her classroom for its daylong sacking by her class. So
she took the opportunity to create an intimate bond
with the new student, who spent two hours helping
her with the sacred, opaque, adult tasks of teaching,
such as going into the copy room to make copies, and
preparing overhead slides.

32 M a ddy Ras k ul i ne cz
When the second-graders of Ms. Hansen-Knudsen’s
class were introduced to Thomas, they were open-
minded. But when Ms. Hansen-Knudsen told them
that she and Thomas had already spent the morning
getting to know one another, all their minds closed
at once, like so many exits from a room where a bad
thing is about to begin. They began to fantasize about
all the cruelties they would visit on this boy, who
was small, probably born late for their year. The girls
would lash out with physical insults and then retreat
into surliness. The boys would blame misbehaviors
on him, to turn Ms. Hansen-Knudsen sour. The girls
would spread rumors to their mothers, to be brought
up in serious adult places. The boys would invite him
to copy and then give him wrong answers. He would
atrophy, and fall into a depression, and his work
would suffer, and then instead of coming anywhere
with them he would be held back. And he would loom,
hulking, among the next second graders, his held-back
brain swelling inside the body of a third grader, like
the giant duckling, too huge to be believed. A humili-
ation, perhaps, but perhaps a miscalculation: for what
punishment couldn’t be borne for the sake of getting
Ms. Hansen-Knudsen all to himself for another year,
while the others were forced on?

3. The Unborn 2

They lived in terror of pregnancy and when it befell

her they blamed themselves, for stinking of fear. There
was no change in her shape yet when she told them
all and slotted a letter into each of their take-home

Ma ddy Rasku li ne cz 33
folders. Everything was going to change for the worse.
They wanted to hurt it, but it lived within the borders
of Ms. Hansen-Knudsen. They wanted to make her
stop liking it but it touched her from the inside.

They counted out the months and saw that when it

arrived, they would all be gone. It was the sickening
relief of learning, as they would in Earth Science,
that it will be a billion years before the Earth falls
into the sun and perishes, nothing we need to worry
about. What a relief, maybe, to die of something else
besides that. Was that right? Or had they been tricked
into craving the slow sludgy summer, away from her
shifting moods? They watched Ms. Hansen-Knudsen
spread the chalk dust around on the board. They were
as good as already incinerated, watching her palm pass
over her widening self.

34 M a ddy Ras k ul i ne cz
nna L emmlen
C r o wn o f Ig ua n a s

Socorro hadn’t intended to steal the iguana. She

only wanted a few of her things back, the camera her
cousin had sent her from Sonora, the cast-iron tortilla
pan from her sister, the vibrant orange and yellow
weavings from her trip to Chiapas. After three months
of marriage, she realized her husband was torpid and
callous and preferred cocooning in his hammock with
his prized reptile than in bed with her. She had been
right to abandon him, but she hadn’t meant to shame
him in that way.

When they had lived together, Socorro had cared for

his iguana, feeding it lettuce and radishes, stroking its
scaly head, and mopping its puddles of urine from the
linoleum. She had let it crawl up her arm and onto her
head more times than she could remember. On clear
days, she paraded it on a string along the country road
in front of their cottage or in the marketplace on the
edge of town. They had even ventured into the zocalo
for the Radish Festival and its elaborate carvings, but
the iguana had swiped the crown from the “Our Lady
of Solitude” sculpture and ripped it to shreds. That
had caused an embarrassing uproar.

If the iguana hadn’t leaped from the curtains and

onto her head when she snuck in to reclaim her
belongings, Socorro might not have acted out of

spite, wrapping her shawl around her head, around
the iguana, hiding it there, ruining her life. How many
were there now? Five? Six? She didn’t dare look in a
mirror, and no one was brave enough to count them
for her; they were all afraid of turning into iguanas

In the weeks after her thievery, the iguana had rooted in

her black curly hair and multiplied. Now the constant
swaying and jockeying for room on her head made her
so nauseous she hoped candied ginger from the market
would settle her stomach. As she set out for town,
the iguanas dug their toenails in deeper. They had
become so fat and comfortable, plucking cantaloupe
and watermelon from street vendors, snagging lettuce
from tacos and salads, she had difficulty holding her
head up, and her scalp itched like crazy.

Socorro had tried to train the iguanas to help her

with her chores. After all, she reasoned, if they were
going to impose themselves on her, they should at
least learn a useful skill. But that had been disastrous.
They couldn’t launder the clothes because their claws
ripped them to shreds. They couldn’t garden because
they ate all the vegetables; they couldn’t cook for the
same reason. Socorro had become a strict carnivore
because of them. They couldn’t sweep or dust or shop.
Within a month, they had become a pile of apathetic
lazybones, just like her husband.

It was late afternoon by the time Socorro reached the

marketplace. She scurried through the aisles as best
she could, searching near the tamarind, the chocolate,
the turmeric, but without one brave vendor to help

36 D onna L a e mml e n
her, her right hip and knee suddenly buckled from
the slippery weight and she dropped onto a bucket of
flour to rest.

The iguanas didn’t mind waiting. They enjoyed looking

at the colorful piñatas that twirled in the air and
listening to the parakeets that sang from their cages.
They bounced to the rhythm of mariachis playing their
trumpets. They turned a basket of toasted grasshoppers
into shambles as it passed by. Two of them worked
together to steal a whole mango, and they all relished
the mess they made eating it.

When Socorro rested so long she couldn’t carry

them anymore, the iguanas were finally forced to do
something. After intense deliberation, they scavenged
a hemp rope from a cobblestone gutter and tied it
around Socorro’s neck. They weren’t worried about
parading her through the market or creeping along the
jutted country road towards home. And they certainly
weren’t worried about feeding themselves; they had
consumed plenty of food in the marketplace. But they
were worried about feeding her. They didn’t know the
first thing about meat.

Donna La e mmle n 37
er Bullen

O u t- o f- T o w n
I exit the hotel, which I like to do. I like to return to
the hotel as much as I like to exit it.

Sometimes I return much later on. Generally not over,

say, twelve hours later.

I could push it to thirteen or fourteen hours, but I’d

have to have met someone who makes me forget about
my affection for the hotel desk staff. Occasionally I
do meet a person who has that effect on me, and I am
always surprised. “God,” I say, “you are making me
forget the hotel desk staff.”

Right now my Lyft driver is waiting outside the hotel

for me. I join him. He tells me he is from Rumania
and that his english is minimal. We sit in the car for a
minute together. I find this moment very tender, I like
sitting there with him. It’s raining and we can both
hear the raindrops hitting the car windows. We are
in Portland, a city in America. I feel like I am always
coming to America; if my Rumanian were up to snuff,
that’s what I’d tell him. But I don’t speak a word of
Rumanian which makes me wonder what I’ve done
with my life that had me neglect to become fluent
in his native tongue.

Then perhaps to reassure me, or to reassure himself,

or to reassure both of us, he says he “understands me
a little”. It makes me want to cry, as so many things do
these days.

But to be understood a little, isn’t that lovely?

We settle into each other, a couple of foreigners—

he starts the car.

40 Pe t e r B ul l e n
a Newh
r istin ar
Ch d
for my father

Today’s newsfeed. Stone in the lower

closet. Bullets nest in carpet like
heavy-backed beetles, or
seventeen-year cicadas, hibernating, uprising.
My father has a gun—his own frame so slight,
spider-hands hold the impending loss,

they fasten his seat belt as he drives

off the lot. Argument by bullet
points—thank you, no thank you,
and I ask, what dropped phone calls come with
such gunmanship? What dark-threaded
missives lie
heavy on his pillow at night, alone? He says

he can’t remember, he says there are

no bullets, he says you never know the
government’s position
in relation to where you sleep, he says come
and get it or stop calling this house you
know where I live.

sa ndra Dalle
C as tt
Y o ur Beauty
I’d Still See
I guess what I’m saying is,
I thought I’d grown out of
trying to make you laugh.
You got that half lid scowl
even when joking
like you might/could flash
makes your smile my challenge,
all teeth & glory.

We hold the dark side

of each other’s mirrors.
You’ve blocked out
or pretend to
the naked stumble to cover myself
after you broke & entered
choking me out.
Handcuffs & amusement parks,
miniature golf.

You were the only piece of normal
in all my adolescence
and you were anything but.

Tonight, Cha Cha died.

Charles, who we went to Great America with
& Scandia, who wore glasses,
his father drove a Muni bus.

He was your best friend then

like with your moms you act untouched by this loss.
Drugs, you say off handed.

I want to hold you

I want to tell you.
I’m glad you got out
of public housing,
the gauntlet we walked through to King’s corner store.
How your Mother made me buy her super-size tampons
felt like all the brothers in there was looking like
who this white girl & why she need some super-size?
You didn’t want me walking down there
there was nothing u could do
when they harassed me.

44 C assan dra D a l l e t t
I never told you how this ugly dude with a curl
spit on me
‘cause I asked him not to touch me.
I knew you’d told me so,
before we broke up.
I remember how you jumped on cars
to escape off-leash pits,
How you recall your friend dumping dime bags
on the way to second grade.
We can laugh about it now,
‘cause our kids couldn’t imagine
walking alone, through a neighborhood like that.
You got out of there,
but did you get there out of you?
It’s good material for rhymes
but some things left behind
rapped tight and viscous inside.

Your sister’s best friend, says, her brother,

your other childhood friend, molested her
before he killed her Grandmother
with a hammer.
I ask you, after all these years, if he did it.
I never even asked, you reply.

Cassandra Da lle t t 45
That’s how you move through the world—
giving no fucks.
How you duck your tall-self
in adoring rooms and sop up praise.
How much time you swear you need alone.
I wear your reproach, your betrayal,
there are no synonyms for masochist.
but plenty for survive.
Never expected to see the blast furnace in your eyes.
unchanged from that boy
in his room of Prince posters.
That boy whose teenage stomach I worshipped.
& middle aged I still do.
I like you juicy & fatted up
underneath me.
Impossible conundrum.

Drew a map from Fulton street,

built your armor out of
anger & ambition.

Have to have it your way

all the damned time.

46 C assan dra D a l l e t t
Eric Darby
He Alway
s Wants Fries
with That
We now tip a drop of gasoline into the Fryolator every
morning. We had been trying, desperately, to recreate
McDonald’s fries’ subtle zing; instead we found the
secret that freed us. Nothing was sacred after the
gasoline. Our White House ID’s read “Kitchen Staff”,
but we’re improvisers, collagists, the President’s
least-qualified chemists, maybe. Today he moans,
“Two Baconators and extra-salty fries,” to his newest
assistant, and she rushes the order to us like it’s a
launch code.

Luckily, we’ve re-invented Baconators several times

before so we have a plan. Eugene with his Sorbonne
sneer grabs a plank of straight-grained Pennsylvania
maple and begins sanding it over the aged heirloom
beef. Emily wistfully discards her croissant recipes
and turns on the industrial bun oven. I head to the
janitor’s room. Mrs. Obama left me her favorite seeds
but her gardens were plowed under, so I’m farming
in a clandestine mop closet, growing water-starved
heirloom tomatoes that yearn towards the keyhole’s
light. I can torture an Early Girl or a Brandywine into
an oozy imposter of any GMO “tomato” he expects.
And he probably picks out all the vegetables
anyway—I don’t ask.

Secret Service plays along every meal, sending a black
SUV on a decoy trip. While they’re publicly ordering
nuggets and pretending their ear pieces are connected
to anything, we’re scrambling like third graders in a
cooking reality show, but the TV trope is reversed. The
leader of the Free World demands a specific sack of
“food” made with seventy eight cents-worth of crap,
and we have twenty minutes to re-create it using
the finest, American-sourced produce that taxes can
buy. And we succeed, every day. Two immigrants and
a lesbian anarchist craft it, stuff it in a bag, and he
snorks it down.

Once, America elected a guy named Barack Hussein

Obama and he asked us for a torfurky and we made a
goddamn torfuky and it was pretty good. This should
be no different—we have a job to do. Eugene is cutting
out square patties, Emily is adding more sugar to the
batter, and I am mixing 4.1 grams of latex house paint
into the aioli. When I’m done, it will look and taste
like a mayonnaise that can survive a nuclear blast, God
help us and Chairman Kim. Outside the kitchen, the
Twitterverse explodes over collusion, another white
kid smears his pimply face with black shoe polish, and
the stock market wheezes upwards, but we ignore it
all. I use really good house paint.

Twelve minutes are left on the clock, so I drop the

hand-cut Kennebec fries into the Fryolator. Of course
the gasoline burned off hours ago. We know that. The
detergents and the fuel injector cleansing additives
probably did too. But that top-of-the-morning ritual
reminds us: we are free. The worst imaginable customer
forces us into the complete, American freedom to

48 Eric Darby
cook with no rules. And we love it. In the bleak days
of his first January, I almost quit. Plate after plate of
roast lamb and snow-white cod was returned cold and
untouched. I had offers in Toronto and Johannesburg.
You should see the waitresses in Mykonos! But searing
fresh ahi? That bored me ten years ago. Nobody on
Mykonos would challenge me to re-create the McRib.
I’m loving it.

The Secret Service does test the decoy meals they buy
from actual franchises. They’ve found nineteen kinds
of poison so far. Most are pesticides and are perfectly
normal, but there’s been anthrax too. Somebody’s
trying to get him. Maybe it’s the Ukrainians or Ellen
or that 400 pound guy who hacked the elections.
Who knows? But we swore to do our jobs and take
no chances, not even with the packaging. The Navy’s
Stationery Department has forged every franchise’s
wraps and bags on recycled paper using vegetable-
based inks. They deliver us the goods in double-keyed
cases, ready to go. That’s the real Deep State—a
printing press in Alexandria hammering out anthrax-
free Burger King crowns. Some nights, they say, he
wears the crown to bed while Hannity hate-whispers
him to sleep.

The decoy Cadillac has returned, so we have only a few

seconds. Eugene brushes grapeseed oil on the bag to
simulate grease stains. I print and staple a receipt to
the top, and Emily punches it a couple times to get
that authentic fry spillover. Before Secret Service
knocks on the door, the three of us hold hands and say
a solemn grace. Dear Heavenly Father, etc. etc. None
of us are religious and we’re sure our customer isn’t

Eri c Da rby 49
either, but it’s in the official conduct manual so we
do this too. And truly, it is a miracle that we have this
opportunity to serve our country. Amen, amen, amen.
Turn off the Fryolator and let’s go home.

50 Eric Darby
C.E. Shue

a c a st o f th o u sa n d s

When I was young, I used to look at a picture of my

grandfather in one of our family albums. It was a
weathered black and white print that showed a slender
Chinese man from the waist up, as if the photographer
was sitting on a low chair, or a child’s chair.

My gung-gung, Hop Hsi, was tall, with smooth skin

and slicked-back black hair. He wore wire framed
glasses, which obscured his eyes, but which were said
to be a deep brown. In the photo he is wearing a dark-
colored jacket, maybe also brown. The coat is loose,
which gives him the look of an Asian scarecrow.

“Your Gung-Gung wanted to be a film star,” my father

once told me, “He even had a part in a big movie, The
Good Earth.”

“He was one of a cast of thousands,” my mother said,

rolling her eyes.

I knew what she meant. The Good Earth was the kind
of movie where hundreds of hard-suffering peasants
toiled in the fields under the hot sun—no names, no
lines to say, and no credit. The main Asian characters
were almost always played by white actors in those
days—a practice that would continue for decades.

What could have possessed my grandfather to dream
of being a star? The Chinese called America Gum San,
Gold Mountain. Did he land at Angel Island with
images of untold wealth dancing in his head? Did he
even know that Hollywood’s Dream Factory existed as
he made his way down the coast of California to Los

My gung-gung certainly didn’t look like the teen idols

I had crushes on when I was young—the smooth
skinned boy with feathery brown hair in a show
about seven brothers looking for their brides. Or the
blue-eyed singer who played the heartthrob son of a
traveling musical family.

At any rate, Gung-Gung’s show biz ambitions left him

with a lot of time on his hands, time that he spent
roaming around Los Angeles doing odd jobs. One of
these jobs was selling fish heads that he got for free
from boats at the Long Beach pier to the poorer
denizens of Chinatown who used them to make soups
and stews—food that needed to stretch a small amount
a long way.

“Your grandfather wanted to make a fortune and go

back to China and live like a king,” my father told me.

But before Gung-Gung could return to his homeland

in triumph, he was arrested for another one of his
money-making schemes—selling opium. “He got
it from Japanese gangsters,” my father explained,
describing how the sharp-suited dealers would sit
in his family’s kitchen to deliver the sticky-looking
substance to my grandfather, their gleaming pistols

52 C . E . S h ue
barely hidden in their coat pockets. After the men left,
my grandfather would divide up the opium and sell it
in individual packets to people on his fish route.

“Somebody must have tipped off the cops,” Daddy

said. “Because they came after my parents had left the
house for the day.” Then he recounted how a crew
of uniformed officers burst through their back door,
which my father’s little sister had accidentally left
unlocked. As Dad and his terrified siblings watched
from the doorway, the police found the drugs hidden
in a bag of rice in the cupboard.

At the time, my popo told them that their father was

away on “business.” I imagine she thought a small lie
would protect her children. After all, once Hop Hsi
was home, everything would be fine, and the kids
would never have to know that their father had been
in jail.

But my gung-gung never made it home. A few months

into his sentence, he contracted tuberculosis in his
stuffy cell, and a little while after that, he died. My
father never saw his father again. I never met my gung-
gung. My father was twelve years old.

“I waited at the bus stop after school for weeks,” my

dad told me as we gazed at the only picture of Hop Hsi
we would ever have, “hoping that would be the day my
father came home.”

C.E. Sh u e 53
in Dublin

Be Sm o oth
Be easy. No—Be smooth enough that you don’t have to
be as hard as a four year old saying hydrangeas, is what
he’d say. Said it as slick as an ice cube sliding on itself
or as a puck coasting toward goal. Maybe that’s what
made him a Boston weed man, or maybe being a weed
man made him say it, but either way I’m sure he’d be
happier in California. He said his cousin told him that
once, but warned him it was hot as fresh tar. Though,
he would never leave his daughter, so it didn’t matter,
but he loved it cold. Or rather, he loved bundling up,
or was it he just loved shopping for clothes. In other
words, he was a fashionista or ghetto fashionisto if
there were such things. There are such things. Last we
spoke, he had bought four hundred dollar sunglasses
just because he liked the new brand Rascal—or was it
he liked the new brand Rascal because they charged
$400 for sunglasses? Last I saw him was at the beach.
His brown skin glistening with purple orange sunset,
sand, and smile. He said, be smooth—backed heel first
into the ocean.


A tarantula crawls in a terrarium.

Betta fish brushes against aquarium;
Ball python sheds dead skin inside his tank
and pushes it outside of the husk.
A Black man walks, in torn shoes, the length
of Turk Street from Market to Van Ness,
then can’t turn south or continue west
may only sit or turn away from the sunset.

56 K e v i n Dub l i n
Today, a police officer will kill a Black man.
He will shoot him as easily as mistaking a lover’s

There is no court of law for intention. It fails every

This morning, while I pulled my sock just past
the heel of my foot in the middle of an argument
about privilege, I called you by my ex-wife’s name.
I was rushed. It wasn’t because of you. I meant to say,

I drew the curtain open.

The sun stood up to the window, obscuring
your features. You are unarmed and that name is a

The officer will look into dying brown eyes

and be unable to explain.

Ke vi n Du bli n 57
After Police Shoot 55 Bullets at
Willie McCoy

Whole body turned over—

half prayer towards Mecca,
half body performance art.
For a moment, he still
believes he’s sleeping.
For a moment, his nose itches.

58 K e v i n Dub l i n
Each Night / An Elegy

for Sauritha Blackwell (7/23/1933 – 11/27/2017)

Lover, when lying on our backs in bed

and when no other parts of our bodies touch,
don’t mind my foot hooking around your ankle.

I’m grounding to fetch silence beneath cacophony:

scratch of ocean waves against beach
from white noise machine
and breeze’s sneak through window
weathering tape. I love isolating it—

your breathing: the long and heavy inhale,

exhale which never seems to end, tides
tied to another inhale. Each night,

distant honks drown out by hum of lamps dropping

streetlight. Incandescent buzz becoming Embarcadero
on-ramp woosh. A Honda Civic’s push into wind
exiting the drift from behind a semi truck
turns into the waves of my sleep playlist on low.
Finally, I can focus on your heartbeat.
With each faint thump, I know my heart pumps
more slowly, muscles unflex from their work and loosen.

Ke vi n Du bli n 59
It’s like the brain does a plank above the body—
starts arranging the day and traces memory:
the surface of my gums raised from heavy flossing,
location of a clothing receipt misplaced in that space
as I remember the photo I came across today.

My mother’s aunt and I in our only photo together.

You took it. You met her the way you could never meet
my mother—alive, though cancerous. She smiled.

Being alive, she grinned with that curve of upper lip

always bent in, ready to say grace. I’m so grateful
she taught me to believe I was handsome by simply
saying it.
Even after that seventh grade fight with busted lip
from the bully who kept calling me green and pulling
my shirt.
Dear auntie, your smile was the same after a well-sung
after some well-worded advice and a rhetorical, huh?
How many ways can we grow through the power of

I was listening. Intently, moved by you

like a tractor trailer’s tires on the highway—
where have you gone? My last memory of you: asking
if I could visit while you lie in hospice
as I exited a BART train in a city 3,000 miles away.

Now I’m on the margin of sleep, noticing my lover’s

foot twitch.

60 K e v i n Dub l i n
I’m breathing more slowly, and my heartbeat matches
For the few more seconds I’m awake, we keep the
same time.

I wonder if we all simply move in the same direction:

the man from today with a mullet filling his gas tank,
the galaxy tumbling through intergalactic way,
the universe rotating—rotating and expanding,
aunt Sauritha closing her eyes for the final time.

We can’t stop moving. Any of us. We have traveled

from some universal atoms throughout time and space
to end up here and human, until we make it to the
next place.

Ke vi n Du bli n 61
ber 15, 2019 -
- septem

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