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Q uiet L

ightning
sPARKLE
& bLINK
10
Q uiet L ightning
sPARKLE
& bLINK

as performed on
Nov 30 10
@ 111 Minna Gallery

© 2010 by Evan Karp + Rajshree Chauhan


978-0-557-84341-1

front + back artwork by matty byloos ::


mattybyloos.com
cover design by dawn andres :: dawnandres.com
edited by evan karp :: evankarp.com

Promotional rights only.

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


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For information:
http://qlightning.wordpress.com
lightning@evankarp.com
Q uiet Lightning

is

a monthly submission-based reading series

with 2 stipulations

you have to commit to the date to submit

you only get 3-8 min

submit

!
!
contents «

alia volz

n IGHTFISHING 8
first published in The First Line

bucky sinister

t HE g RAY s IDE o F t HE m OON


22

jonathan siegel

t HE s EVEN(teen) d EADY a MERICAN s INS 34

ian tuttle

d EATH v ALLEY (p ARTS 1-3) 42

ali liebegott

excerpt from c HA c HING! 48

kim addonizio

s TOLEN m OMENTS
58
b LUES f OR r OBERT j OHNSON 59
andrew o. dugas

excerpt from s LEEPWALKING i N p ARADISE 62

lauren becker

l AUGHTER 72
first published in Wigleaf

peg alford pursell

m AGPIES 76
first published in Emprise Review

charlie anders

a LAMEDA 80

charlie getter

t HE a PE p OEM 90

» guide to other bay area reading series + info 96


n IGHTFISHING
When my brother, Andy, went away to college, he
left me his fishing pole, a well-read copy of The
Wind in the Willows, and a stack of Playboys. “I
don’t know what you’re going to do with this,” he
laughed, holding the skinny yellow pole like a
baseball bat, “but I sure as hell don’t need it. You
could take it by Royal Pawn, see if you get five
bucks.”
Andy pointed the pole at the worn-out
paperback he’d given me. “Hang onto that book in
case you get Castorapple in fifth grade. Don’t make
Mom buy it again. It’s about some talking animals—
your kind of thing.”
Andy was nineteen and super tall. He could fly
right up to a hoop. He was getting paid to go to
school in Arizona. I was ten, the shortest kid in my
class.
Andy hung a big duffle bag over his shoulder.
He’d already taken his things out of our room and
put them on a rented truck. “And don’t let Mom
catch you with the chichi mags,” he said. “Don’t be
stupid, man.”
That was the last thing he said. The front door
of our apartment closed behind him. I couldn’t keep
from crying anymore. I chased him out the door and
down the hall.
“What’s the matter with you?” he said,
kneeling down to my height. “You’re getting
boogers in your mouth. Just chill out, don’t stress
Mom, and when you get some free time, come visit

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Alia Volz

me out there.” He kissed me on the forehead then


walked through the door under the EXIT sign. I held
my ear against the door and listened to his feet
thumping down the metal stairs.

It was July something, no school, ten million degrees


in Koreatown. Mom wouldn’t be home from the
hospital until 8:30. I squatted in the half-empty
room and fanned the Playboys out like a deck of
cards.
I opened to a lady in a Dodger’s hat holding a
baseball bat between her chichis and biting the
handle. On the next page, the same girl sat Indian-
style on a pitchers’ mound. I got the scissors and
glue out of the kitchen drawer and carefully cut her
out of the picture. Next, I chopped up some of her
friends and glued them back together as mutants.
They had chichis for heads and extra arms and legs.
The front door creaked. I jumped out of my
skin.
“Papito, you here?” said Mom. “Guess what,
the jefe’s wife had a baby girl today, so we got off
early.” I tried to bulldoze everything into the closet.
Mom planted her big white work shoes right in my
way.
Her mouth came down close to my eyes and
white ticked-off teeth flashed behind her lips. “Qué
carajos estás haciendo?” she demanded.
“Pornography in my house?” She smacked my head
sideways. “Did your brother give you these?”
She made me carry the whole stack—plus the


mutants—out of our apartment and down the stairs
at the back of the building. “God is punishing me, I
know it. I know I am not perfect, but I try to raise
good boys.” Mom always went on like this, when we
acted up.
A door banged above us. An old lady with a
shower cap on her head leaned over the rail.
“Shhhhh!” she said. “You disturb whole building!”
“See this cochino?” yelled Mom. “Ten years-
old, he wants to be a pervert!”
The old lady shook her head. “Throw him in
garbage,” she said. “Maybe teach lesson.” She went
back inside.
Twenty million hours later, we reached a red
door at the bottom. Mom poked my back with her
fingernail. I held the magazines between my arms
and chin and turned the handle. Heat blasted into
the stairwell.
We stepped into the passage separating our
building from the next one over. Here was the big
green dumpster, so I knew we were three floors
below my window. Mom made me throw all of the
Playboys into the trash.

I got grounded. No TV, no Need 4 Speed 2, nada. I


had to stay in my room for days. Mom worked, like
always, so she called the babysitter over to keep me
locked up. Rosalba was our downstairs neighbor. All
she ever did was yap on her cell. I could hear her
through my bedroom door.
I lay on my belly and flipped through the
paperback Andy had left me. It was marked-up with
hard-to-read notes. Andy had underlined some

« 10
Alia Volz

weird words: scrabbled, cellarage, loosestrife,


cressandwiches, dabchicks, weir. Mole. Mom had
moles on her skin. But they didn’t talk. This one
talked.
I opened the door partway and stuck my head
into the living room. “Ssss,” I said. “Ssss, Rosalba.”
“What’s up? I’m on the phone.” She held her
hand over the receiver.
“What’s a mole?”
“It’s like a pimple, but different. If you pop it,
you could get cancer.” She cackled and said into the
phone “Bitch, yes you can… Says Mrs. Kao, that’s
who.”
“What’s cellarage?” I said.
Rosalba lifted her painted-on eyebrows.
“You’re not even supposed to be out here. You need
to use the bathroom or something?”
“No.”
“Back in jail.”
I locked myself inside. There was nothing to
do, so I read through the part where Mole
discovered the River and met Water Rat and Toad
and Otter. He acted a fool and fell in, so Water Rat
had to save his ass. I read until the sweat on my
neck felt like slobber.
I opened the window and sounds from Wilshire
sloshed into the room. Tires screeched, somewhere
out of sight. A car door slammed.
“What the hell’s the matter with you?”
someone yelled.
“Kiss my ass!”

11 »
“Yeah screw you!”
A chopper passed overhead. Some neighbors
argued in a language I didn’t know. I leaned out into
the passage. I could see sunlight flash like a death
ray off the cars passing by.
The next-door building was taller than ours. I
didn’t know anybody who lived there. I turned over.
The crystal blue sky ran like a river above the
buildings. Pigeons knocked heads to look at me
from the rooftops. One jumped up and flapped down
to the dumpster for a trash snack.
I grabbed the fishing pole. The line was way
too short. I cut it and tied the hook to a super long
piece of kite string, which I threaded through the
loop at the tip of the pole. I kept the other end in my
hand, so I could feed the line out or pull it in.
I let the line out the window, all the way down
to the dumpster. I waved the pole slowly, until the
hook snagged.
I reeled in a take-out box dripping white sauce
and had to throw it back. Next try, I got a balled-up
diaper. I jerked the pole up and down until it fell off.

Wilshire was quiet, so I knew it was the


madrugada--the only time when no one yelled or
honked. No noise but the 101 shushing in the
distance. The smell of Mom’s café heating on the
stove tickled my nose. I slipped out of my room to
see if she’d let me have a sip, even though I was in
trouble.
She sat at the table. She looked tired, but
calm. She smiled when she saw me. She poured a
few drops of café into a tiny blue cup.

« 12
Alia Volz

“More, more,” I said.


“You should be asleep.” Mom stirred sugar in
with a tiny spoon. The first sip always made me
shiver. After that, it was sweet and smooth. I drank
slowly to make it last.
“Why can’t we go fishing ever?” I said, getting
to the point. I had been dreaming about it.
Mom wrinkled her nose. “Fishing?”
“At the river.”
“You want to go to the Los Angeles River? No
fish there.” She laughed like it was the funniest
thing she’d heard all day. “That water runs black.”
“We never even went,” I said.
Mom relaxed into a smile. I climbed into her
lap and she rested her chin on my head, the way we
used to sit back when she was fat and squishy and I
was small enough to hide there.
“I wish could take you to my river,” she said,
meaning the one where she grew up, in Cuba.
“During the summer, it always jumped its borders
and flooded parts of town, killing chickens and dogs
—or maybe a little boy if he was a travieso like you.
Sometimes the foam traveled as far as Cinco Pesos.
And on the banks was a forest of mango trees and
vines that looked like snakes, snakes that looked
like vines. You always had to watch where you
stepped.”
“Why can’t we go?”
“We can’t go back,” she said, “You know that
already.” Mom had left Bahía Honda on a boat
before Andy was born—way, way before I was born.

13 »
She only talked about it late at night, while I was
between dreams. It was my real place, even if I
hadn’t been there yet.
Mom’s body tensed. “Ya. Get back to bed. And
don’t think this means you can come out tomorrow,
Señor. I’m still mad at you.”
I couldn’t relax in bed. My sheets felt scratchy
and hot like wool blankets. I got onto my knees at
the window and positioned my pole for fishing.
The fat moon hung right above the gap, like it
was strung-up between the buildings. Flashlight
bright, it shone into the fishing hole. Something
glittered down there, like an eye. Like an eye
belonging to a cat or a rat or a fox. I wanted it,
whatever it was.
I swung the line past my prey then dragged
the hook along the ground. The sparkle didn’t
budge. After a few tries, I managed to hook and reel
it in carefully. It twinkled all the way up to my
window. I’d caught a shiny silver watch. It even
ticked.

Day two in jail. Just throw-backs, so far. I sat on the


windowsill, one foot on the carpet in my room and
the other one bumping against the concrete
outside. A half-eaten Chicken MacNugget swung at
the end of my line.
“Here fishy-fishy.” Four pigeons were tracking
the nugget. They lingered around the dumpster,
pecking at the ground, trying to act casual. “Y’all
don’t fool me,” I told them. “You want this.”
A pigeon flapped and dove from the top of the
dumpster. He knocked most of the nugget onto the

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Alia Volz

ground. Two birds ran for it and crashed into each


other.
There was barely anything left on the hook. I
started reeling it up. Suddenly, a fat grey bird
swooped from the roof and snaked the chicken,
hook and all. He carried it up past my room. I
thought that if I held on, he would take me up there
too. I swung both legs out of the window to make
lift-off easier. I closed my eyes, filled my lungs, and
clamped onto the pole.
The line tensed. The big bird leaned against it.
I ducked to slip out the window and felt my butt lift
off the sill. The hot air whooshed underneath and
floated me up, out of the gap. If I opened my eyes, I
would see the whole city thrown out around me—all
the buildings and cars made into small toys. Beyond
all that, the dark green woods and the River would
roll out to the sea.
I opened my eyes. The line dangled from the
end of the pole, busted. Stupid bird took my hook.

I stood between Rosalba and the TV. “I’m starving,”


I said.
“Fix yourself something.” Rosalba stretched
her neck to see around me. “You’re old enough.”
“But I need a hot meal. I’m still growing.”
She laughed. “You’re lucky it’s a commercial
right now.” She walked into the kitchen and opened
the refrigerator. “You want a quesadilla or grilled
cheese?”
“Quesadilla,” I said. She pulled out the

15 »
ingredients. At warp speed, I grabbed the watch and
fishing pole from my room. Under the cover of
crackling oil, I snuck out the front door.
I flew down the stairs, jumping the last four of
each flight, and hit the street. I was a convict on the
loose.
The cars chugged in place on Wilshire. I
weaved between fenders and crossed to the shady
side. The after-work crowd was out. I dodged
through a forest of suits and high heels. When I ran
past the upstairs lady, she flattened against the
wall.
“Slow down crazy boy!” she yelled.
I ran on—past the fish-stinky restaurant where
they kept crabs in a tank by the door and the three
fingernail shops that smelled like Mom’s remover;
past PK’s Liquor, Happy O Donut and the dirty
bookstore; past a bum with flags flapping all over
his shopping cart and sticking up from his hair; past
a fat lady wearing a skirt so short I could see her red
chones—right up to the Royal Pawn.
I rang the bell. The door buzzed and I pushed
inside. I was blind. Then I saw a hundred TV’s, all
piled-up on a shelf. There were mini TV’s, TV’s as
big as cars, a TV that was all red and one with a
busted-in screen.
“Fishing pole, three dollars,” said a rough
voice. I jumped. An old man sat behind a glass case
in the back of the shop. His round glasses flashed
like a cat’s eyes. “Not a big item in L.A.”
“No way I’m selling it.”
“I got a Viking hat for you. Special deal, five
dollars.”

« 16
Alia Volz

“I need a fishhook and some line,” I said.


“What are you catching?”
“Pigeons, mostly.”
The old man gimped over and looked closely
at my pole. He had brown, shiny skin and was
barely taller than me. White hairs grew in his
nostrils and next to his mouth. He smelled like the
caca air from under the sidewalks.
“You need strong line, 30-pound minimum.
Pigeon beaks are too sharp for regular line.” He lead
me to a shelf heaped with hammers, saw blades
and tools I couldn’t name. He took a box down from
the shelf and showed me the fishhooks.
“$5 variety, $10 variety, $200 variety.”
The change in my pocket added up to $0.76.
“You should stick with fish fishing,” he said.
“It’s easier on your gear, cheaper.”
“Know where I can fish fish?” I tried to use a
normal voice, but excitement made it high.
“Well it’s not far to the Los Angeles River. You
could take the bus. There’s a faster way, but that’s
not for everyone. Not for children.”
I held out the shiny silver watch. The old man
studied it. Now his voice became high and crackly.
He said, “I guess I can trade you some strong line
and a hook for this ratty old thing.”
“Take me to the river,” I said.
“Sure about that?”
I was. I jiggled the watch so it twinkled.
“Well come on then,” he said, snatching the
watch out of my hand.

17 »
Royal Pawn was much bigger than it seemed. We
passed rows of microwaves, DVD players, clocks,
guitars. The air grew cooler and smellier. It tasted
nasty in my throat.
We reached a green door marked CITY OF LOS
ANGELES, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS.
AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.
“Right through here,” said the old man. He
opened the door and shoved me through. “Have
fun,” he said, as the door clicked shut between us.
Everything turned black. I beat on the door
and yelled, but he didn’t answer. I heard water
dripping, farther down the tunnel. I followed the
sound, feeling my way along the wall.
My eyes slowly adjusted. The passage I was in
had a low ceiling and narrow concrete walls. Where
the concrete was busted overhead, I could see
metal pipes, like guts.
There were scratching sounds all around. I’d
seen rats the size of cats down by the dumpster.
There was nothing to do, but walk on.
Suddenly, everything shook and rumbled. I
screamed. It stopped. I heard a man’s voice that
seemed to come from above say, “Yo bring the
jackhammer over here, man! You’re in the goddamn
wrong spot. Jesus, we’re supposed to fix the street
not tear it up.”
“Aw shit, I don’t believe it,” said someone
else.
The voices came through a chunked-up hole
in the ceiling.
“Help!” I yelled. No answer. The shaking and

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Alia Volz

pounding started again, so I ran. I reached a dead-


end and had to choose which way to go. I picked the
tunnel that seemed to have more light.
Mom would be worried loca. Rosalba would
have called her by now. I smiled thinking of how she
would regret grounding me, but I was too scared to
have much fun. I was probably hundreds of miles
under the city. Maybe I’d be down here forever. I
started to cry, but it sounded like ten people crying,
so I shut up.
I walked on and on in the darkness. Hours
passed—or maybe days. Finally, I came to a metal
ladder and climbed into a higher tunnel. It was
brighter, circular and metal. There was a sharp
corner. Rounding this, I saw the opening. I had to
cover my eyes against the light.
I almost walked right off the edge of the pipe.
The Los Angeles River flashed below me, like a knife
in the sun. White water bubbled over the rocks.
Purple leaves as big as umbrellas swayed above the
grassy bank. A fish the size of my head leaped and
landed with a fat splash. I held the pole tight,
plugged my nose and jumped.
My feet hit the bottom hard and I fell butt-first
into the water. The splash caught me in the face
and soaked right through my clothes. It felt gritty
and smelled even worse than the tunnel.
I stood up, dripping, and wiped my eyes. I
stared around. My heart dove into my stomach.
There was no nice, clear water here! There were no
trees, no grass, no butterflies, toads, badgers,

19 »
boats. No fish, for sure. How could this be a river?
As far as I could see, it was a paper-bag-
colored trickle, not even knee deep. Clumped-up
cans and paper cups cluttered the mud. Trash all
over.
Where the riverbanks should have been,
concrete walls cut into the sky. Tags covered both
sides, up and down, saying: PHAT PHUCKER, MI13,
WASTELAND, CHATA Y EUGENE 4-EVER. Most of it
was too mixed-up to read.
I threw my pole spear-style up onto the bank
and scrambled out, using cracks in the wall for grip.
I sat on top with the sun pounding my back
and drew up my knees so I could hide my face
behind them.
The river I dreamed about probably didn’t
even exist—not in the real world. All I wanted was
somewhere sweet-smelling and cool and full of
living things. That was just a baby-ass fantasy.

« 20
t HE g RAY s IDE o F t HE m
OON
1
Dorothy walks into Rainbow Grocery
wearing her ruby red Doc Martens.

I'm looking for the good witch,


she yells out.

Everyone
raises her hand
or points to someone.

2
I watched The Wizard of Oz on a black and white TV
when I was young.
I had no idea Dorothy's world became color once
she landed in Oz.

It was long before people like us had VCRs.


Either you watched it when it came on once a year,
or you missed it.

3
At the age of fifteen,
I knew what Uzi fire sounded like,
but I had no idea what it was like to kiss a girl.

There was a weird window of time in the '80s


when the gangs were better armed than the cops.

« 22
Bucky Sinister

The fistfights stopped and the shootouts began.


Breakdancers traded in linoleum squares
for crack corners,
the windmills and headspins
gave way to jump-ins and drive-bys.

Crack
turned the streets
into a pinball game of teenagers running for cover.
Glass broke and people screamed
like the city went on multiball mode.
You wouldn't always see who was shooting,
you just ran in the direction everyone else did.

I hid where I could,


behind cars and trash cans,
running into the subway when it was close.

I wanted out.
I wanted to leave Boston,
go back home to Arkansas
where my friends
were building hot rods one piece at a time,
and dating girls who liked fast cars and drank wine
coolers.

When you're a teenager,


it's easy to feel like you're going to die a virgin.
But during that time of my life,
I was really worried about the dying part.

23 »
4
I made it back to Arkansas.
I was shell-shocked
from years of street evangelism
and the violence that came with it.
None of it made sense anymore.

I quit the church for the trailer park.


Someone made me a Jack and Coke.
I looked in the red plastic cup
and saw a tornado.

5
I heard Dark Side of the Moon
for the first time on cassette.
Same goes for The Wall and
Wish You Were Here.

Later the first guy I knew with a CD player had a


copy of Animals,
and I heard that for the first time coming down from
an acid trip,
alone in his living room while he fucked his girlfriend
down the hall.

I couldn’t tell if it was their sounds


or the sounds on the album
or the sounds in my head
and I'm still not sure.

6
They say
if you put on a DVD of The Wizard of Oz and turn the

« 24
Bucky Sinister

sound down,
and put on a CD of Dark Side of the Moon at the
same time,
they totally sync up.

They say
that if you look in the trees in the enchanted forest,
you can see one of the stagehands
who hung himself from one of the prop trees.

They say
that Buddy Ebsen was supposed to be the tin man
but he was allergic to the makeup.

They say
if you tattoo your face
you automatically get a GA check.

They say
if you smoke heroin instead of shooting it
you won't get a habit

They say
live fast die young
leave a good looking corpse.

7
The tornado set me down in California,
a world of color compared to my monotone
childhood.

25 »
Jr. College was grad school for young drug addicts,
an accelerated program for learning multiple ways
of getting fucked up.

I balanced my time between cocaine, mushrooms,


LSD, and 100 proof vodka.
At the end of the semester I got my grades from the
school in the mail.
I had forgotten about that part,
the whole going-to-class thing.

I found poets
who shot dope in the bathrooms,
smoked speed in the alley,
and smoked pot like it was legal.

They were brilliant sometimes:


brokedown angels
beatdown revolutionaries
scarfaced prom queens
glass pipe prophets
quicktounged hustlers
slowmouthed drunks

When I heard a good poem


color came to my life briefly.

There were no camera phones


No Flip Minos
If it was happening
and you weren't there
you missed it.

« 26
Bucky Sinister

Fuck Dorothy for wanting to go home.


Why did she want to go back to her black and white
world?
What was she going back to?
She found the land of color and wanted out right
away.
The tornado was what saved me.

Laying in my bed
coming down off coke,
my heart beating like a bat's wing trapped inside
me,
the euphoria gone,
I comforted myself in the idea
that I was too far from home to go back.

8
Every summer,
the American Tornado dropped Dorothies into San
Francisco.
We were the unwashed and faded-gray version of
the Lollipop Guild,
greeting them upon arrival.

This is for the little girl


who would rather have a meth problem
than a weight problem.

This is for the little boy


who tattooed his face
so no one would touch him that way anymore.

27 »
This is for every little boy and girl
who stood between home and a tornado,
weighed the options,
and took a chance on the twister.

9
AIDs took the first friends I made,
in a synchronized fashion,
one after the other,
diving into nowhere like Busby Berkley swimmers.
From there it was a variety show of ODs, suicides,
and freak accidents

10
The lion wanted courage
The scarecrow wanted a brain
The tin man wanted a heart

Rachel wanted fake tits.


people gave her shit
like it was different from the tattoos
and the piercings everyone else got.

They were perfect.


The wizard knew what he was doing
when he slipped those in.

I never met a lion


but a met a kid with cat whiskers tattooed on his
face

I never met a scarecrow

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Bucky Sinister

but I met people who shot speed and talked


conspiracy all night

I never met a tin man


but I saw junkies frozen mid-walk in a statue nod

11
Fake Tit Haiku #1

I don't care they're fake


Whoever made them: brilliant!
Fake or not, awesome

Fake Tit Haiku #2

I loved your fake tits


fake or real they are still tits
who does not love tits?

Fake Tit Haiku #3

Silicone fakies
Saline packets too fancy
I'll take frozen pea bags

12
The room spun above me.
I was back in the tornado,
spun by the winds of whiskey and bad decisions.

Above me

29 »
I could see the bottom of the bottle through the
glass of the coffee table top.
All the bourbon that remained was one halo
mockingly over my head.

The store was about to close and I was out of liquor.

Too drunk to stand up


but not drunk enough
to stop giving a shit.

I lost my faith in whiskey right then,


the same way I stopped believing in God on that hot
night in Arkansas.
There would never be enough whiskey in the bottle
again.
A river wouldn't satisfy me.

I was no longer going anywhere or from anywhere.


It was just me and the swirl.

13
Rachel told me to leave the house

go somewhere and dry out.

I trusted her
I trusted those fake tits
They were at once,
a lie and the truth.
A perfect duality.

14

« 30
Bucky Sinister

The house fell on Rachel.


She caught strep throat,
it turned into a staph infection, and she was dead
three days later.

Rachel died two weeks after I left the punk house.


At her services,
pinhole-pupiled punks,
staggering drunks, and
bong-ripped mourners
stumbled past to give respects.

I held out for a while


went to my favorite bar
I said make it be tomorrow
and drank glass after glass of twister-drinks
one last time.

15
The first AA meeting I went to
I saw all these people from my past
you were there
and you were there
and you and you and you

16
Dorothy's sick
kicking dope by candlelight
in the squat.

Her arms

31 »
are a mess of in pick-marks
and homemade tattoos.
An abscess stands in the crook of her arm
like a leaning barn by the side of the road
she wants to get it checked out
but is afraid they'll amputate it.

She holds Toto close and cries,


I just want to get back to Kansas.

Cat-Whisker-Face looks up from his guitar.


Shit, girl, he says,
you're on the wrong side of Portrero Hill.

« 32
t HE s EVEN(teen) d EADLY a
MERICAN s INS
The SEARCH
Accumulation
The Incessant Gathering Of Information
The Gluttonous Hoarding Of Horrors & Elation
The Waiting
The Prayers
The Fruitless Expectations Of Reason

The Visions
Impregnated With Divisive Delusions
The Treasonous Road Of Virtue
Hell-bent To Send The Mind Astray From The Soul
The Physical World, The Body, The Manipulation
The Endurance Of Pain, Piercing, Fasting, Yoga,
The Sexual Stimulation

Sordid Mounds Of Alchemical Symbols


Mathematical Equations
Colors & Textures
Shapes & Sizes
Converging Rapacious All In Around Us
Yet Far Too Common As To Amaze Us
So Lulled The Beast That Has Become Us
And Watch The Wrath Come To Undo Us
Without Revolt, Not One Among Us

And Is This Not A Humongous Sin


To Let Trespass In Predawn Hours

« 34
Jonathan Siegel

Nightmares Within
Of Ne'r Fulfilling Response To Question
And Leave Too Much Unanswered Of Him
And Her
And You
Before The End?

So, Caught The Cat In Tongued Conundrum


Hmmm?

A Stalemate Silence, A Stillness Affliction


Opposing Factions Of Misdirection
Heads Determined For Insurrection
Yet Preoccupied With Stiff Erections
And Panting Pockets Of Invitation

Oh, We Want To Change The Status Quo


Release From Bondage The Discontent
But Selfless Acts Hold No Reward
And Greed Takes Aim With Blood Stained Sword

A Slave's Wages For A Savior's Work


So Time Must Pass As Lust Gains Worth
As Pills Are Popped & Surgeons Slice
The Paychecks Dwindle On Out Of Sight

The Poor Of Soul So Rich With Sex


In Simple Pleasure Do They Infect
The Minds Of Young Who Can't Protect
Themselves From Envy Of Big Breasts

35 »
And Males The Same Do Grow Insane
With Girth & Length In Dream To Gain
The Balding Wimp Has No Appeal
So Hit The Gym, The Mass With Zeal

Our Precious Time Is Spent Lifting


The Weight Of Inadequacy Off Our Shoulders
Civil Wars Of Fame & Beauty
Seems To Be Our Only Duty
No More The Noble Do We Pursue
So FOOLISH We Monkeys In Our Metropolitan Zoos
Who Groom All Day But Still Stink Of Shit
Our Urban Dwellers In Fancy Clothes
Breathe In Pollution Through Every Nose
They Know Not How To Roam The Plains
To Feed Off Land, To Grow Their Grains

The Heartland Folk, The Farmer's Daughter


All Participate With The Slaughter
Soon, No Longer To Be A-Live|stock
The Creature's Bred To Get Cold Clocked
And Chopped & Shipped & Cooked & Chewed
To Be Swallowed Down Without A Clue
On Just Who’s Blood The Hands, On Just Who
The True Butcher Be
The Fish, Fowl, Cow, In Frozen Assembly
Shopping Carts Don't Have Hearts
And Price Tags Conveniently Absolve The Shame
Of Affluent Families, Who Pass The Buck
To Cashiers Who Shed No Tears
When Peddling Flesh

We Sloth Like Creatures No Longer Hunt

« 36
Jonathan Siegel

We Cut Coupons & Prepare Boxed Lunch


We Hunch Over Computers
And Talk On Phones
We Drive Our Cars
And Listen To "The Stones"
Or "Bach" Or "Jay Z"
On iPod Shuffle, We're Lay Z
Boys & Girls Pretending To Be Adults
Pretending That We’re Entitled To Some Respect
Because We've Been Through Some "things"
And Understand Loss Too Well

Well Whoop-Dee-FFFuckin'-Doo!
The Same For Me, The Same For You
We All Have Pain, We All Know Strife
We All Know What It's Like To Go Through Life
So Spare The Speech, Give Up The Preach
And Stop Digging For Oil, On Somebody Else’s Beach

Freedom
Is A Commodity
Traded In The Market Of American Propaganda
A Monopolization Of A Fictitious Product
The Democratic Ideal Has Fallen Victim To Pride
And Through Caricature Emboldens The Other Side
Who Ironically Have There Point & Pointless Views
Because We All Know It Tis “The Victor”
Who Will, Eventually, Choose
Which History Will Be Told, What Story Will Unfold
Which Papers Will Be Sold To The Highest Bidder
And It Leaves A Bitter Taste In The Mouth

37 »
As We Ingest Lie After Lie After Lie
And Keep Telling Ourselves
“It’s OK It’s OK It’s OK
JESUS Told Us To Do It”

[1] “What’s A Few 100, 000 Broken Skulls,


And Tortured & Photographed Muslim’s Got To Do
With
It?
My Baby Needs A New Pair Of Shoes
And Range Rovers Don’t Run On Diplomacy”

AND
[ 2] “My Designer Jeans Won’t Make Themselves!
And If You Think I’m Gonna Risk Chipping A Nail
Doing Hard Labor, You’re Outta Ya Mind, Honey
I’m Sure… Some… Children Welcome The
Opportunity
To Work Long Hours For A Half A Bowl Of Rice”

AND
[3] “Ooooooieeeeee!!!
Is That Gucci?
Shiiitt… I Want That!!!
Who Cares If It’s Fenced, Who Cares If Someone Had
To Pay
With Their Innocence
& Sense Of Fairness, At Gunpoint
That Jacket Is Going For $60 On eBay
And I’ll Be Damn If I’m Gonna Pass THAT Up!”

[4]“As Long As I Thank GOD At The


Oscar/Grammy/Golden Globe Podium

« 38
Jonathan Siegel

After The Football/Basketball/Baseball/Hockey GAME


After The NASCAR Race, After
Caber Tossing/Curling/Alligator Wrestling/Log Rolling
&
Competitive Dance
After Every Conceivable Ridiculous Accolade I Can
Acquire,
I’ll Be Fine
After All…
That’s What God Does, Right?
He/She/It/Question Mark
Spends Their Time Makin’ Sure I Win Prizes &
Ostentatious Awards
That I Get More Than My Fair Share Of Celebrity!"
& Hookers & Diamonds & Illegitimate Children

Where Is The Truth?


What Is The Goal?
Where Are We Going?
Can We Begin To Agree On Anything?
Can We Put Down Our Guns Long Enough
To Hear What Peace Really Sounds Like?
Are We Strong Enough To Admit A Modicum Of Fault,
At All?
Can We Possibly See Why Some People Might Hate
Us?
Can We Repair The Damage We’ve Done To
Ourselves
So That The World May, Once Again, Look At Us With
Fresh Eyes?

39 »
Maybe We’ve Just Gone Through Our Mid-Life Crisis
As
A Country, And
Acted Out A Little With Our Fast Cars, & Even Faster
Guys & Dolls?
Showboated Around A Little Too Much Our
Extremely Itchy Trigger-Fingers?
Reached The Pinnacle Of Our Childish Ways
And That It’s, NOW, Time
To Put The Cowboy Hats & Holsters Aside And
Start Behaving With A Bit More…
Couth?

Maybe Wednesday Is A Brighter Day?


Maybe The Sun Will
Come Out Tomorrow?
Maybe Washington HAS Gotten It Right This Time?
Maybe We’ll Be…
Just Fine?

* takes deep breath *


Then Again…

« 40
d EATH v ALLEY (p ARTS 1-3)
1
To Death Valley! To North America’s tattered gash!
To strewn boulders and cloud-stirring peaks. To
palms and sand dunes and beds without lakes. To
gouged canyons and steady inclines, waterless
plateaus and abandoned castles. To highways and
tourists and spiders and scorpions. To the sun, blank
as a wall. To oases bristling with nudists and RV
antennae. To teakettles and washboards, telescopes
and payphones. To flash floods and disconnect. To
visions clear of cataracts. To dreams. To
hallucinations. To Death Valley, my dusty muse, my
hot exhaling oracle. Death Valley, I’m coming!
Death Valley, here I come!

You cannot hold a negative in your head.


Otherwise I would tell you
Death Valley is the opposite of a pear.
The opposite of inside flesh,
Tender, amniotic.
Death Valley is not those things
But now those things are what you think of.
So take that pear,
Bite into its coolness,
Let your teeth slip
Through its milky meat
Soft as a sheaf of petals
And hold it,

« 42
Ian Tuttle

Hold it on your tongue,


Press it against your gums
And notice that your mouth is dry as talc.
The pear is sawdust, and papier mâché
Its resin stings, bitter as burnt bread
In your throat the invented pear is stuck
You choke on cinders and slivers,
scratchy as fishbones,
You breathe in ash,
caking mud within the tissues of your lungs.

Death Valley is the opposite of a pear.


Can you understand that?

Death Valley is a bell without a clapper


You step inside it
Your heartbeats make it ring.
It is a resonant shell,
A definition of an absence,
The low point of a hemisphere.

Death Valley has no currency


But time
Which is the currency of life
And time there perpetually hyper-inflates
So it takes two handcarts full of hours
To do one thing
To think one thought
To utter a single simple word.

“Birth,” for instance, would take forever.

43 »
Moving slow enough to seem dead still.

Death Valley is the opposite of love


Which is nothing.
Nothing is the opposite of love
Therefore Death Valley is nothing
Therefore nothing is Death Valley
If you love Death Valley, then it is nothing that you
love
And nothing loves you back.

But you cannot hold


A negative in your heart.

In Death Valley there is a ghost town called Darwin.


It is an origin of sorts, where miners came to take
out silver, to withdraw old lead. Darwin was once a
mining town, now it’s mainly ghosts. Old lean-tos
hang on sun-stricken frames. The road has gone to
seed and that’s a tough place to go in a desert, in a
place with so few seeds. Rabbits run amid rusted
out chasses, and the wind peels shingles from
rooftops like paper labels from empty bottles.

But sharing quarters with these ghosts are about


fifty residents, legal and otherwise. Poets,
musicians, retired lifeguards, escape artists of many
kinds. David Reese is none of these; he was born
there, fair and square, has called Darwin “home” his
entire life.

« 44
Ian Tuttle

Talk to him and you’ll hear his slur, you’ll see his
stubby fingers. You’ll watch him sway, stout-bodied
and grizzled, and wonder what it takes to erode a
man like that.

The yard around his trailer is a rock hound’s mother


lode. Old ores, sample cores, gemstones and
geodes and crystalline scraps are arrayed on tables
cobbled together from marble slabs. The man’s
obsessed.

In his yard, among the gems and faded Natural Ice


Beer cans there’s a stone the size of an industrial
dryer that looks like it’s made of compacted skin.
Veined with orange and red and white, and lustrous
in the morning sun, it’s set upon its own big blanket.

“Marbled Agate,” David says. “Found it a thousand


feet up a hillside, embedded in a seam of black
Basalt.”

It’s a dramatic stone, magnetic as a runway model.

“Guy in China purchased it from me, I’m finishing it


for him now.”

“How’d you get it here?”

“See that wire frame trailer out front? The one with
the winch? But first I had to free it from the
mountain! And roll it down a thousand feet!”

45 »
He tilts his Nascar Number 5 hat, adjusts the brim.

“So how’d you get it from the mountain?”

Dakota legend had it that by planting seeds in the


thinnest crack, a man could split the earth. Picture
the water, wetting dark seeds. Picture strenuous
roots fingering down between the black Basalt and
the moon-colored Agate. Picture those roots
growing fat against the stone’s hard shoulder. After
six weeks of scrambling up and down the thousand
foot slope, watering can in hand, David extracted
the stone with a pry-bar and tumbled it to the
trailer.

Now, here on his patio, the Agate seems like a


whale taken from the sea. It’s a mighty stone, from
a massive mountain. How is it possible that such
little things as carrot seeds could loose it from its
place?

And how many big things do we let go of, like


dreams, and plans, and wild howling hopes? How
many times have the little things taken root, and
swollen, and crowded the big things out?

« 46
from the novel c HA-c HING!
My jerk-face boss called everyone and every thing,
“You. Fucking. Faggot.”
The faggot could be his brother, a pen, or the
price a vendor quoted him. My job was to sit alone
in a windowless room and catch the rainfall of faxes
he dropped through a hole cut in the wall that
separated my office from his. The faxes were pages
of numerical codes for semi-conductors and their
prices. I entered their codes and prices into a
prehistoric computer where only an archaic green
cursor flashed despondently. My desk was covered
in stacks of these faxes, thick like phone books, and
all day I’d move through them. Whatever I didn’t
finish by day’s end would be thrown out, my work
obsolete because the price for semi-conductors
changed daily.
I started to keep a list of how many times I
heard my boss say, “You Fucking Faggot” and filled
a pad with tiny hash marks. The only good thing
about my job was I had my very own ashtray and
could smoke in my windowless office. I pretended to
be Nawal El Saadawi, or any prison memoirist for
that matter, and penned my ground-breaking poem
called, “How Data Entry Can Make You an Alcoholic”
while chain-smoking, scrawling down the details of
my grim existence as a data entry clerk.
The only other good thing that happened at
this job was once a week a sales rep would bring a
pink box of donuts to our office, and I’d sneak into
the break room after a trip to the bathroom, hunch

« 48
Ali Liebegott

over the box and cram as many donuts as possible


into my mouth.
We had an insane bookkeeper that wore only
nylon sweat suits so whenever she walked you’d
hear the swooshing sound of two plastic bags
rubbing together. On Fridays her husband came to
get her and he wore the exact same sweat suit as
her, except it was the men’s version, and both of
their sweat suits seemed ironed, with creases down
the front of each leg. They were in a same sweat
suit relationship. The bookkeeper split her time
between going out of her way to pay the company’s
bills late and writing fraudulent complaint letters to
the squeaky dog toy company, where she bought
toys for her white Yorkie with omnipresent eye
boogers. She confided in me that every few years
she wrote the dog toy company demanding
compensation for her dog that had almost choked to
death on one of their faulty toys. In a few weeks
she’d receive a huge cardboard box of new dog toys
from the company. She was adamant none of the
company’s bills get paid before the due date so she
threw out all the pre-printed envelopes enclosed
with each bill that had bar codes to allow the post
office to process the payment speedily. Instead, she
placed each check in a plain envelope with a hand
written address.
*
Oh, my sad life in Yonkers! My days spent doing
data entry and my nights and weekends spent as a
clerk at a pet supply store, teaching my sixteen-

49 »
year-old coworkers how to count back change.
Rorschach was a puppy and after each
workday, I’d take her to the park for extended
walks. Her legs were growing faster than her body
and she was starting to look like one of those jacked
up pick up trucks. One night when we were out for
our last walk of the night, a man stepped suddenly
out from the shadows and blocked the path in front
of us. It’s hard to know if he was going to attack but
she barked twice firmly, warning him. Even though
she was still a puppy, the man turned quickly away,
afraid, and walked in the other direction. I
understood more deeply after that night why my
female friends wanted to borrow Rorschach
whenever they went running at night.
*
A person gets sick of being robbed or attacked, just
like they get sick of anything else. Right before I
moved to New York, I had the terrible luck of being
in two restaurant robberies in the same month and
having some kids throw a beer bottle at my head as
I walked down the street holding hands with my
girlfriend.
*
I’d lived in Yonkers a few months when some girls
I’d been arrested with in San Francisco invited me to
a potluck. I was so happy to go into the city and out
of my house where I was starting to find out why my
room only cost $300. The lease-holder was an
unemployed mooch who increased the price of all
the rooms in the house until her part of the rent was
covered. I think her small room off the kitchen with
only a curtain for a door was originally a pantry that

« 50
Ali Liebegott

she’d converted into a den in which to smoke


cigarettes and watch sports all day. When I went
into the kitchen to make one of my many bowls of
oatmeal for the day I’d hear her cheering for or
against a team through the curtain. I tried to avoid
her because she’d always ask me for rides or to lend
her money so she could go to 7-11 and buy a packet
of Tang. Her best friend also lived in our house,
across the hall from me, where she kept ten million
rabbits in cages. She worked at a bank and dated a
bunch of non-committal men who all seemed to
have the same shellacked hair. She was always
reading self-help books about non-committal men.
One day her car broke down and she devised a plan
to go to a Saturn Dealership on a rainy night with
the lease-holder and slip in their parking lot. She
was convinced she could get a free car out of it.
The night I decided to go to the potluck, I felt
guilty leaving Rorschach at home after working all
day but I desperately needed to have some kind of
social experience and was excited to attend my
friends’ potluck. Because I didn’t want to make an
oatmeal casserole, I decided to bring a six-dollar
bottle of wine, even though I wasn’t drinking. It was
dark when I arrived at their apartment and I felt
slightly intimidated being in the Lower East Side
among all the tall apartment buildings. There was a
gate on the street with an intercom and doorbell
and I rang their doorbell from the street and waited
to be buzzed into the lobby. The first gate opened
and then the door to the lobby. As soon as I pushed

51 »
into the apartment building I had the feeling
someone was behind me. When I turned around a
short junkie was pointing a knife at my stomach.
“Give me your money or I’m going to stab
you,” the junkie said.
“Money?” I said incredulously.
I had three dollars in my pocket and a brown
bag with a six-dollar bottle of wine.
I heard myself repeat, “Money?”
Talk about picking the wrong person to rob.
The last three months of going on dates with guys
from the dog park and eating thirty-cent rolls from
the supermarket flipped through my brain. I could
help the junkie get elected President more easily
than give him money. He stepped closer and
touched the point of the knife blade to my stomach.
“Give me your money or I’m going to stab
you,” he said, this time his voice quieter.
Despite all this, something told me he was an
amateur by the way he held the knife flimsily like
the edge of a Frisbee. My adrenaline turned to
outrage when I realized I’d found myself in the
middle of another robbery, and I wrapped my
fingers around the neck of the wine bottle and
began to swing it at his head.
You can kill a person by hitting them in the
head with a bottle. You can smash their skull. And
even though I was fed up with being robbed, sub-
consciously I knew I didn’t want to hurt him.
Everything happened so quickly yet in memory it’s
covered in a haze of slow motion. Did the bottle slip
out of the bag? Or did I intentionally miss his head
and smash it into the tile wall behind him? I think

« 52
Ali Liebegott

before I even started swinging the bottle I wanted to


try and scare him away instead of hurting him. I can
still remember how the fluorescent lights gleamed
in that lobby and reflected on the white tile wall.
The dark red wine ran down the bright walls and the
junkie’s face was frozen for a second after the bottle
smashed into the wall behind him. He scampered
away like the stranger who’d stepped out of the
shadows a few weeks before that Rorschach had
protected me from. When he left my hands were
shaking from the amount of adrenaline pumping
through me. I looked at the wine spilled all over the
floor. It was bad math. I’d chosen to give up my six-
dollar bottle of wine instead of the three dollars in
my pocket. I started up the four flights of stairs
towards my friends’ apartment, the adrenaline so
thick inside me, my knees shook on each step.
I rang the doorbell and waited empty handed
and still shaking for the door to open. My friend was
on her knees in the kitchen, her head cocked inside
the broiler to check on the giant simmering pan of
paella when the door opened and the rest of the
kitchen was filled with people laughing and chain-
smoking and drinking wine, oblivious to the fact that
just moments before I had a knife pointed at my
gut. Rorschach was oblivious too, at home asleep
with her tiny puppy paws, flicking in her dreams,
and her pink lips quivering as she barked.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hi,” everyone said.
The vibe in the room was amazing. Like the

53 »
liveliness of a party in a movie. I didn’t want to be
histrionic and ruin the party, but my knees were still
shaking in fear.
“How are you?” everyone said.
I said it casually, “I just got held up by
knifepoint in the lobby.”
“What????” they screamed.
“I swung a bottle at some junkie’s head.”
Then some people ran downstairs to see if he
was still there while someone sat me down in a
kitchen chair and someone handed me a cigarette
after cigarette.
In the lobby, the junkie was long gone of
course, and the only thing that remained was the
bright tile wall streaked with red wine, and the
brown paper bag and shattered glass lying in a
puddle on the ground. After awhile, the party turned
back into a party and I tried to listen to their stories
and jokes, but I felt so fragile. Everyone kept
offering me wine, but I refused.
“I’m not drinking,” I said.
The whole night at the party no one could
believe I lived in Yonkers.
“You have to get out of there,” my jail friends
said. “You can stay in our spare room until you find
a place.”
“I know of a temporary job until you find a
permanent one,” one girl said.
After the party, they escorted me to my truck,
I locked the doors and drove back to Yonkers. When
I got home I was still shaken from being held up and
I walked Rorschach, terrified of every shadow. As we
walked around the neighborhood, I tried to

« 54
Ali Liebegott

remember if any of us had cleaned up the broken


glass in the lobby.

55 »
« 56
s TOLEN m OMENTS
What happened, happened once. So now it’s best
in memory—an orange he sliced: the skin
unbroken, then the knife, the chilled wedge
lifted to my mouth, his mouth, the thin
membrane between us, the exquisite orange,
tongue, orange, my nakedness and his,
the way he pushed me up against the fridge—
Now I get to feel his hands again, the kiss
that didn’t last, but sent some neural twin
flashing wildly through the cortex. Love’s
merciless, the way it travels in
and keeps emitting light. Beside the stove
we ate an orange. And there were purple flowers
on the table. And we still had hours.

« 58
Kim Addonizio

b LUES f OR r OBERT j
OHNSON
Give me a pint of whiskey with a broken seal
Give me one more hour with a broken feel
I can’t sleep again and a black dog’s on my trail

You’re singing hell hound, crossroad, love in vain


You’re singing, and the black sky is playing rain
You’re stomping your feet, shaking the windowpane

I put my palm to the glass to get the cold


I drink the memories that scald
Drink to the loves that failed and failed

Look down into the river, I can see you there


Looking down into the blue light of a woman’s hair
Saying to her Baby, dark gon’ catch me here

You’re buried in Mississippi under a stone


You’re buried and still singing under the ground
And the blues fell mama's child, tore me all upside
down

59 »
« 60
s LEEPWALKING i N
from the novel
p ARADISE
For the first few years that Tommy lived on Cole
Street, Blind Johnny Ray never hit him up for spare
change. It didn't matter that his favorite bench was
just two doors down from Tommy's place, or that
Tommy passed him, sitting there, at least twice a
day.
Tommy began to wonder if it were him.
Johnny always seemed to be chatting with
other neighborhood folks, smiling and laughing, his
teeth flashing in the San Francisco sunlight. In his
trademark sheepskin coat, he lounged upon that
bench like a mountain man making a guest
appearance on the Tonight Show, a silver-maned
Grizzly Adams with dark glasses and cane.
And if anyone offered him coins or doggy-bag
leftovers, he didn't seem to mind.
But he never asked Tommy for anything, not
even a quarter.

Things changed around Tommy's third Christmas in


the neighborhood.
One windy Saturday, Johnny was making a
scene outside the Postal Chase, the local mailbox
and shipping store. With a metal newspaper box as
a workbench, he was trying to box up and wrap
some toys, red and blue Power Ranger action
figures still in their plastic and cardboard packaging.
He'd be managing just fine, his fingers feeling

« 62
Andrew O. Dugas

along the edges of the box and folding over the


burlap, but the tape dispenser kept falling and the
wind pulled at the paper until he had to stop and
redo everything.
After a few rounds of this, the paper was
crumpled almost beyond use and tangles of tape
clung to Johnny's sleeves. He was hurling curses like
thunderbolts, causing all the café goers and holiday
shoppers to cross the street to avoid the yelling
crazy. Tommy was prepared to do the same, but his
girl said awww and pursed her lips in a way that
made him dizzy.
So he stepped up, going over to Johnny and
offering to help. It only took Tommy a couple of
minutes and he even paid for the shipping to
Albuquerque, much to his girl's delight. Then they
went back to his apartment, stopping for a bottle of
wine at Alpha Market.
A few days later, Tommy passed Johnny on his
bench and ventured a hello. This time Johnny
answered and Tommy felt a warm rush of surprise.
Johnny invited him to sit and Tommy joined him.
“Hey, thanks a lot for your help. With the
presents for my boys, I mean.” Johnny told him
about his two sons and how, no matter what, he
sent them Christmas presents every year. “My wife
threw my ass out and I can't be with them on
account of I'm a derelict and all.”
His dedication seemed very sweet, but just by
piecing together certain details, Tommy figured his
kids must have been fully grown by then, college

63 »
age at least. He wondered what they thought of all
the action figures arriving like clockwork year after
year. Of course, it was more likely that his wife had
long since moved and the toys were piling up in the
Albuquerque Post Office. Johnny didn't exactly have
a return address.
“No problem, Johnny,” he told him. “No
problem at all.”
The next year, right after Thanksgiving,
Johnny stopped Tommy on the corner and, touching
his wrist as lightly as a butterfly, asked if he could
help him wrap and send the presents again.
“And maybe write out the card for me? Since
you're a bona fide journalist and all.”
Tommy laughed and said yes, the same way
he said yes every year after that.

Tommy didn't know it at the time, but that first


experience outside the Postal Chase had
automatically qualified him for platinum
membership in the Blind Johnny Ray Benevolence
Society, an ever-shifting group of Cole Valley locals
that looked out for him. They thought about Blind
Johnny when they sifted through the spare change
on their bureaus and wondered about his shoe size
when they cleaned out the closet. They set aside
containers of leftover chicken and rice when
cleaning up after dinner.
This generosity did not extend to all the bums
in the neighborhood. Tommy was surprised to find
that, despite its hippie heritage, Cole Valley was not
particularly civic-minded when it came to the
homeless. Yet everyone treated Johnny like just

« 64
Andrew O. Dugas

another neighbor. There was something about his


gentle manner that, even if he was clearly
inebriated, elicited kindness instead of revulsion.
They just didn't see him as a homeless
person.
Johnny began “accepting” Tommy's help.
Technically, Tommy observed, Johnny never
panhandled. He didn't stand on a corner asking
random strangers for spare change, and he didn't
lean against a wall with a paper cup extended for
offerings. Rather, he would wait until he
encountered someone he knew and accept any help
offered. Whatever it was or wasn't, Tommy never
felt like he'd been panhandled.
A few times, though, Johnny did reach out.
After a bad night at The Dog, Tommy came
home exhausted. As he passed Johnny, the blind
man mumbled something.
“What did you say, Johnny?”
Johnny's head dipped forward. “Nothing.”
“No, what's up?” Tommy came around and sat
down.
“Can you help me?” Johnny seemed
embarrassed. “I'm hungry.”
He hadn't eaten since the day before, so they
walked down to Haight Street where Tommy bought
him a burrito. They sat in the little park by the Metro
tunnel on Carl Street. As Johnny ate, Tommy
collected the scraps of foil wrapping and crunched
them into a silver ball. The night was quiet and the
sky full of pink fog.

65 »
The occasional mercy burrito was about as far
as Tommy's financial generosity stretched. Being a
struggling hedonist with no real job, he had little to
offer, cash-wise. He tried to make up for it in other
ways, with leftovers or little gifts. Tommy
supplemented his meager newspaper paycheck with
catering gigs, so he often brought home leftovers.
Mini-quiche hors d'ouvres and slab-ends of brisket.
But the most memorable thing he ever gave
Johnny wasn't food but an improbable Playboy
magazine in Braille that he'd found in Aardvark
Books. Two dollars. It was just a thick sheaf of
brown burlap riddled with punched out dots and the
famous bunny logo stamped on the cover in black
ink.
“Can you read Braille, Johnny?”
“Sure, man, whatcha got?”
Tommy handed it to him and waited as his
fingers danced across the cover. Then Johnny
chuckled and solemnly promised to only read the
articles.

Then came the winter that El Niño blew through


town like a giant gray industrial mop, dumping
endless rain and scouring the trees and power lines.
Falling branches punched four million dollars worth
of holes in the Conservatory of Flowers, a Victorian
confection of white frosted glass in Golden Gate
Park.
One night, he found Johnny soaked and
huddled in a basement doorway. Tommy brought
him back to his building, thinking he could stay in
the garage. The landlord, Baba Ram Paul, had an

« 66
Andrew O. Dugas

old microbus up on blocks and it would not be the


first time one of the tenants had used it as an ad
hoc guest room.
After getting him clean and dry, he gave
Johnny some old sleeping bags and told him he
could come up the back way to use the bathroom
off the sun porch. Tommy's roommates weren't
crazy about the arrangement, but he shamed them
into compliance.
This scheme lasted three days, ending the
morning that Johnny emerged from the van,
stretching and growling like a bear. He didn't notice
Katherine, the financial analyst from the second
floor, putting out her recycling. She screamed and
tripped up the back stairs, ripping open her shin
along the way.
Baba Ram Paul arrived before the cops and
instinctively knocked on Tommy's door first. Tommy
recognized the sound of his bony knuckles against
the glass.
“You know anything about somebody living in
the garage?” He was a skinny old ponytail hippie
who always wore paint-splattered overalls with lots
of pockets and loops for tools.
He was not happy when Tommy told him that
he was actually responsible.
“He has to go, man. I'm sorry. You know I
don't mind about the van, but Katherine is too
freaked out. I thought she was going to burst a
blood vessel, she was crying so much.”
“I'm sorry, Ram Paul. I'll take care of it.”

67 »
Tommy knew that not so many years before, Baba
Ram Paul would've let Johnny ride it out, as long as
someone vouched for him.
But times had changed. The city had changed.
The New Economy was driving rents into the
stratosphere, and Cole Valley had quiet tree-lined
streets and charming shops and cafes. People like
Katherine or William the Lawyer on the third floor
were happy to pay a premium to live there. Every
time someone like Tommy moved out, Baba Ram
Paul did a quick remodel and moved in the
Katherines and the Williams at three times the rent.
There was no room for the Johnnies in the new
equation. Not even in the garage.
At least Johnny had gotten through the worst
of the storm. Tommy bought him some coffee at
Spinelli's and apologized for the way things had
gone down.
Johnny clapped him on the shoulder. “No
worries, Tommy. You probably saved my life, man.”
Tommy went to work and that was the last
time he saw Johnny.

By then, Tommy's life was changing too. He hadn't


met Carlotta just yet, but he was already trying to
get out of journalism and into writing that actually
paid a living wage. He was getting too old to be
working three jobs. He'd been writing press releases
and Web site content for some non-profits on a
volunteer basis, and was getting referrals for paying
assignments.
Less than a year later, Tommy gave notice on
the Cole Street apartment so he could move into

« 68
Andrew O. Dugas

Carlotta's place near Dolores Park in the Mission.


Throughout the packing and garage sales and
dropping boxes off at Goodwill on Haight Street,
he'd held onto the old sleeping bags that Johnny
had used during the storm. He wanted Johnny to
have them.
But Johnny was gone.
Mike at the Tassajara Cafe had heard that
he'd bummed a ride down to LA and then headed
east, into the desert. Probably trying to get back to
Albuquerque, Tommy guessed. After loading the
final box into his car, Tommy drove around the
neighborhood and the edges of Golden Gate and
Buena Vista Parks, just in case, but there was no
sign of him.
In the end, he left the sleeping bags on
Johnny's bench. Winter was still ahead and someone
would be able to use them. Tommy made a silent
prayer for Johnny's well-being, then put the car in
gear and drove out of Cole Valley.

69 »
« 70
l AUGHTER
Daniel shows me his new apartment. Its empty
rooms and drapeless windows. He smiles with teeth
only, offering me cheer in this bare cheerlessness. I
know Daniel better than that. Our mutual friends
accept his offer of superficial contentment.
Relieved, they look forward to his housewarming
party.

We look out his large windows at the industrial area


that surrounds his new home. In the loft across the
way we see a naked man sitting in front of two
computers. One has a very large monitor that
seems to not be in use. On a smaller laptop, he
appears to view online profiles. In my story of him,
the man is trying to decide whether to chat with
other men or whether he’s just too tired. In general
or from the relentless newness of fucking strangers.
He clips his fingernails as he decides.

Daniel stands beside me. Close. We laugh and make


a bet about whether the man will have company.
Daniel is visibly relieved to discover distraction for
after I leave. I watch with the curiosity of an
outsider. The man across the way is television to
me. To Daniel, the man might be a lifeline – a
human being who displays his own separateness by

« 72
Lauren Becker

sitting naked in front of an uncovered window. I can


tell that Daniel wants to touch me.

Earlier in the evening, at Sailors’, we drank Maker’s


neat and Daniel offered, partly joking, to have sex
with me if I ever wanted. He doesn’t want that now.
Even if I wanted it, he is too overwhelmed by the
realness of having left his house keys in the hands
of the wife he never wanted to marry, that he
married because he should, and that he couldn’t
protect from the pills she gave herself from stolen
prescription pads.

His restless eyes and hands tell me that he doesn’t


welcome this freedom. I know him; his smile belies
the fact that he wants to be held and assured that it
will get better. I can’t do that for him this time. I
wish I could.

We pretend he does not want that. We pretend he is


not lonely and that neither of us is damaged. I need
to leave this sad place where Daniel will sleep
tonight for the first time. I need to be home in case
the source of my own misery comes back. I know he
won’t. We laugh and refuse to acknowledge his or
mine. We can’t help each other tonight.

73 »
He walks me to my car. We laugh at small things –
the old woman flirting with him at the bar, his naked
neighbor, my near-fall when my boot catches the
sidewalk. We hug for more than a moment. He is 6
and a half feet, solid. I concentrate very hard on
transferring some comfort to him. We stick to our
quiet agreement. I step back. I need to conserve
what is left for myself. For when I return to my
house, filled with furniture, filled with things.

We are still laughing as I get into my car. He will call


me tomorrow. I will help him choose a coffee table.
He closes my door. I watch for only a second and
leave.

« 74
m AGPIES
He had an older sister whose face reminded Lydia of
a cartoon magpie from her childhood. Now that
Lydia thought of it, she realized that the cartoon
had featured two birds, twins. How fitting, she
thought. He was enmeshed with his sister in a way
just this side of pathological. The family had always
pushed the myth—he'd insisted it was a myth—of
the two siblings as practically twins; they were just
that close, claimed the mother.
Lydia had seen photographs of the two in
Halloween costumes, dressed up as Raggedy Ann
and Andy. How humiliating, she'd thought, to have
to have been Raggedy Andy. She'd stared at the
boy in the photos and tried to discern something
behind the lipstick-enhanced red smile.
The sister's appearance costumed as Raggedy
Ann was an improvement; she actually looked like a
little girl you could love. When Lydia first met the
sister, she was struck by how unappealing she was,
her flat face, sharp nose, and thin lips, something
Lydia hadn't expected from the talk of her. He and
his mother, for example, had often referred to her
fondly as a "pixie."
Now Lydia listened to him speak on the phone
to his sister, occasional words of comfort he slipped
in. His sister evidently was going on and on. Her
litanies of problems. One of her usual modes of
operation; the other was to give a lengthy list of all
that she'd recently purchased or was about to,
including a few expensive trips for variety's sake.

« 76
Peg Alford Pursell

Once he'd put his sister on speakerphone and


parodied her as she ranted, which might have made
Lydia choke with laughter if she hadn't been so
repulsed by the nattering voice.
Lydia looked up the quote on the Internet first
to be sure, then copied it down on a little pad and
set it before him. "We exaggerate misfortune and
happiness alike. We are never as bad off or as
happy as we say we are. –Honore de Balzac." He
gave her a little frown and turned away.
Oh, so that's how he wanted to play it! Lydia
felt her face flush red. Her fingers trembled as she
returned to the Internet, her favorite homewares
website, where she typed in "sheets." She looked for
sets with the highest threadcounts. This time she
would get the ones she wanted; screw cost!
Oh, what am I doing? she thought, after a
moment. She pushed the laptop away and went to
the kitchen for a glass of water.
Behind her, she heard him, despite his
lowered voice, say, "Shut up, shut up, shut up." The
words were a tortured whisper. It sounded like he
was crying now. There was a small click, then the
silence extended.
Lydia waited, waited for him to call her to him.
She sipped the cool water, watching out the kitchen
window a tiny gray bird hop across the porch, its
slow progress across the wide floorboards. It could
fly if it wanted.

77 »
« 78
a LAMEDA
A week after Mary moved out, she called to find out
when Audrey was moving out too. Because Mary's
name was on the lease—because they'd been giddy
in love and thrilled to be living together—and now
the landlord needed to start showing the place.
Audrey had no intention of staying in the
apartment, even if she could have afforded to. The
space was too giant for one person by herself, and
impossible to share with someone you weren't
dating. The privacy-destroying donut layout had
contributed to the failure of Audrey and Mary.
The lease was just the latest in a long chain of
promises Audrey and Mary had wrecked, starting
with "We'll only eat candy we make ourselves," the
first week they were dating.
With Mary's hand-crafted Nordic furniture
gone, and her herbal tea and floral sachets no
longer lacing the air, the apartment's dust
suffocated Audrey. The house slanted more and
more, as if the creatures burrowing under the
baseboards were getting braver without Mary there
to alarm them.
Whenever Audrey went online to look at
roommate listings, she kept finding herself on the
collared slave sites and bondage personals sites
instead. Women transfigured into objects that
weren’t even person-shaped any more, like human
flower arrangements, and every woman's eyes wide
and bright. Ball-gags made their nostrils flare, and
they looked twice as alive as everybody Audrey

« 80
Charlie Anders

knew.
Mary was so vanilla, she went epileptic if
Audrey even mentioned spankings. But now Audrey
was free to explore, and this was the only thing that
felt like a future she hadn't already seen. Audrey
would sit down to research apartments at six, and
then she'd look up from a breath-play tutorial, to
realize it was midnight and she hadn't even had
dinner.
That was how Audrey found Master Doug and
Lady Bee, and everything fell right into place.
"I've found the perfect living situation,"
Audrey told Mary when she called to check on her
progress. "I'll be moved in a couple days." Audrey
told Mary all about Master Doug and Lady Bee, who
were looking for a live-in French Maid, sex slave and
part-time nanny. "I get free room and board, as long
as I submit totally," Audrey said.
Audrey should have known Mary wouldn't
understand. "Maybe you should, I don't know, go to
a munch or an etiquette class or something first. I
like etiquette. Etiquette is always a good start to
anything." This was just like Mary: always trying to
hold Audrey back, always wanting to constrain her
horizons, and people who strand people in donut-
shaped houses full of plaster dust shouldn't give
advice. When Audrey explained this, Mary hung up.
Sure, it was an atypical arrangement, but that
just meant Audrey was a pioneer. Somebody had to
have been the first person to invent heterosexual
monogamy, scores of centuries ago, and that

81 »
person probably got no end of shit for it. What do
you mean, you're not just in-breeding with the
clanleader like everyone else? What kind of perv are
you?
Master Doug and Lady Bee lived in Alameda,
in one of those cul-de-sacs with a sidewalk that's all
ramp and no curb, for kids on tricycles. Their house
had a main floor, a loft that was the master
bedroom, and a basement. Audrey would sleep in
the basement, or else chained at the foot of their
bed. She showed up with a little U-Haul full of boxes,
and Lady Bee frowned.
"We didn't think you would have so much
stuff." Lady Bee had an acrylic French manicure, a
really pointy nose with a little piercing, a lime-green
halter top and capri jeans. Her voice sounded
huskier than it had on the phone. "I hope we can fit
it all in your hutch." She showed Audrey where they
were going to put her: a converted storage area
that Master Doug had tried to turn into a rec room
at some point. He'd gotten as far as carpeting the
walls and floor, and putting a strip of black light
along one ceiling edge.
Lady Bee asked Audrey what she'd be doing
during her days, and she explained about her job at
the Literacy Foundation. She was spearheading a
project to evaluate how cultural assumptions
hamper most literacy programs from addressing the
needs of non-white target populations. Lady Bee
nodded. "Just as long as you're home in time to
make dinner."
They had one maid uniform, which had come
from a Halloween store, hanging in their front

« 82
Charlie Anders

closet. Fishnet stockings, lacey collar, lacey cuffs,


garter, cap. "You won't wear this on weekends when
the kids are here, of course," Lady Bee said. Master
Doug had custody of his kids every other weekend.
Audrey wanted to put on her uniform right
away, and start her new life. She had a whole fancy
curtsey in mind. But first she had to get all the
boxes out of the U-Haul and into her hutch, where
they left no room for a human. And then she had to
drive back to the U-Haul place before it closed.
After Audrey waited an hour for Master Doug
to come and get her at the U-Haul office, she
started to wonder if he'd forgotten about her. They
told her she had to wait outside, then locked the
doors and turned out the lights. Weird guys started
coming up to Audrey and asking if she'd like to go
somewhere. She called Master Doug a few times
and he didn't pick up. The only light came from a
street light that sputtered like a violet wand, and
Audrey shivered and fidgeted in her T-shirt and
shorts. She was lost.
Just when Audrey started to think about
calling Mary and begging for a rescue, Master Doug
swung into the driveway in his big pick-up truck. He
waved Audrey into the shotgun seat. Master Doug
instantly commanded Audrey's loyalty, with his
craggy face and weirdly soft hands. He had a
clanleader's eyebrows, bushy and untamed. His
voice sounded high and clear, like a clarinet. "Did
you shave your pubes?" Audrey said she had, and
Master Doug nodded.

83 »
They didn't talk the rest of the way back to
Master Doug's place, and then finally Audrey was
ready to take off her street clothes, to shed all of
the cares, all the neediness, she'd been carrying
around all this time. Audrey thought maybe there
would be a ritual or something, but it was just like
changing into another outfit.
The maid's uniform was too small in the hips
and too big in the chest, and the high-heeled shoes
pinched Audrey's feet. She couldn't see a mirror, so
she was stuck with her mental self-image: gawky,
wobbly, worse than naked. She waited for the
humiliation to start feeling sexy. Any minute now.
Lady Bee barely glanced Audrey over before
putting her to work. Shrimp needed peeling, peas
had to soak, whiskey sours weren't going to blender
themselves. Audrey turned off all her doubting
voices, pushed all of it into the work. The work
would make sense of everything, if she only opened
herself up to it. The stove was one of those antique
World War II ones, with the burners that can turn
into a frying surface. It had decades of grease
stains, which Audrey spent an hour or two trying to
lift, until her fingers throbbed.
Master Doug and Lady Bee hardly spoke to
Audrey, except to give her directions. By the time
she'd finished cooking and cleaning, she was too
exhausted to take a whipping, and her whiskey
sours were too good to let her masters give one.
Audrey slept in her nook, in a tiny space she carved
out between all of her boxes, with an old quilt and a
pillow.
After a couple days, Audrey washed the wrong

« 84
Charlie Anders

thing in the wrong temperature water, and Master


Doug put her over his knee and spanked her while
she stared at a patch of floor, which she'd already
cleaned three times, but somebody had spilled
some turpentine there a long time ago and you
can't ever get that out. And a few days later, they
flogged her. Audrey wondered if they would ever
demand her sexual services. But that was their
decision, not hers, and she tried not to presume.
After a few more days, Lady Bee glanced at
Audrey and said something about hygiene. Master
Doug said yeah, and told Audrey to bend over the
bathtub rim. The porcelain stung her stomach with
cold, and she stared into the tub's Clorox glare.
Master Doug slid a nozzle into Audrey's rear, with a
clown's nose bulb on one end. If he let go, it started
sliding out, towards the floor. So he held on.
The water inside Audrey felt like a cramp, like
she'd been greedy in the face of unwholesome food.
She wanted the waters to carry away all her silent
rebellions, all her doubts, all her regrets about her
life choices—Yes! Scour me clean, remove all my
unslavelike daydreams, make me pure!—but it was
just a worsening cramp, which stayed even after the
water and everything else inside of her were long
gone.
Master Doug's two children arrived on a Friday
afternoon, and for two days Audrey washed and
folded and drove Steve and Mitzi to the mall and
grilled their cheese and got the hell out of the way
of the screen when they were playing Halo, and

85 »
begged and bribed them to get to bed because if
Steve and Mitzi stayed up past their bedtime, it
would be Audrey who got punished.
Sunday afternoon, Audrey watched Steve and
Mitzi climb into the back of their mother's Yaris, and
then she went back indoors to change back into her
maid's uniform, which she'd washed and set aside.
Except she couldn't bear to put on the shoes again,
her feet already pulsated from standing up all
weekend. So she put on plimsoles over her fishnets,
and stepped out into late-afternoon blindness.
She wondered what Mary was doing now. Was
Mary reading in bed? Was Mary at the Vegan co-op,
sampling a cube of cantaloupe on a toothpick, all
cool and tart, crisp and then fragile in her mouth?
Did Mary wonder about her ex, or was Audrey too
sore a subject to think about? Audrey prayed Mary
would speak to her again one day.
Audrey left the cul-de-sac, plimsoles slapping,
and kept walking, onto the big two-lane street. Lady
Bee was calling her name, but Audrey kept walking
and didn't look back. She walked past the Magic
Wok and the Tire & Auto Centers, out along the
parkway, Oakland shimmering gray across the
harbor. The breeze made her maid skirt flutter. The
Sunday evening shoppers kept checking out her
maid uniform, and one guy at the Tire & Auto
Center tried to wolf whistle but choked on it. Audrey
walked almost to the Naval Base, arms spreadeagle,
like they were tied to a cross or bedposts, like
Audrey was surrendering at last.

« 86
Charlie Anders

87 »
Charlie Getter

t HE a PE p OEM
all of the apes, who live in the tree
want to be me, want to be me
all the apes want to be
charming Charlie

I swing from the branches


I sing to the shes
I eat my fine ape food
I scratch at my fleas

no other ape can be like me


charming you see
charming like me

all the apes want to be charming Charlie

every night in the dark


I leap to the ground
I walk on the concrete
I make my good sound

I “oo oo” much better than any around


I “oo oo” by litre
I “oo oo” by pound

“OO OO!” I shout


on my chest I pound
as I dance around

89 »
around to my sound

and all of the apes who live in the tree


are jealous of me, with greenest envy
the apes are all jealous
with ape jealousy

but that doesn’t bother a charmer like me


whom all of the people come to see

some come alone, while others in threes


to see little me
charming ol’ me

some visit just once to look in the cage


some drop by a few times per calendar page
but my favorites appear,
day after day
to hear me say “oo oo”
to watch me at play

and they talk to me through the metal divide


they offer me questions for me to decide
the ape who’s inside, whose tongue isn’t tied

I “oo oo” for yes &


I “oo oo” for no
and I “oo oo” for answers that I just don’t know

they nod when I answer, nod fast and nod slow


to a sage in bananas, an ape in the know

I was dispensing wisdom on equinox day

« 90
Charlie Getter

when out of my vision I heard someone say,

“that ape is wise and look at his size


he seems much more thoughtful
than those plain human guys!”

I pushed back the leaves and


my eyes touched to me
the first vision of she who more
charming than me

could pull out my heart and make it go thump


who saw in an ape more than hair and a rump
who delights the sight like a bird first in flight
who triggers my senses and makes me feel right

as the dark descended on my tiny enclosure


I felt in my heart that she would come closer
to me! to me!
I felt in my glee that a human could see
how ape love could be

in the chilly twilight, I put she-apes to flight


and stood by my bars, eyes strained in the light

and there she stood with her skirt and her eyes
so i reached out and ‘oo oo’d” quite charming-wise!

She climbed to the bars and I went up to she


and she kissed my ape face and she stroked my ape
knee

91 »
but the bars intervene
as they always do
when a human and ape
fall in love at the zoo

free! free!
come and see me!
when the day sees the end of my captivity!

when charming we’ll swing


through the trees you and me
and we’ll build a big ape human family!

when the dew starts to glisten


and the sky turns to light
I’ll ponder the reasons and hopes for my plight

but now all you’ll see are the apes in the tree
and if one is quite charming
the charmer is me

we don’t choose if we soar in the heavens above


we can’t choose to be eagle
or choose to be dove

we can’t choose to be human


and wear a big hat
and drive a red car
and live in a flat

we are what we are and that’s quite fine I guess


when we count how we’re bless’d,

« 92
Charlie Getter

there’s more, more than less

so come, come, come and see me


come see the ape they call charming Charlie

of all of the apes who live in the tree


the charming-est he, is me! you see?

all the apes want to be charming you see


all the apes want to be charming Charlie!

93 »
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