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Q uiet L

ightning
sPARKLe
& bLINk
2.0
Q uiet L ightning
sPARKLe
& bLINk

as performed on
Jan 3 11
@ Public Works SF

© 2010 by Evan Karp + Rajshree Chauhan


978-0-557-99626-1

front + back art by casey cripe ::


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Q uiet Lightning
is

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contents «

Siamak Vossoughi
nATIONal pASTIMEs
8

Graham Gremore
hAPPy bIRTHDAy (sORRy yOu missed iT)
15

Jesús Castillo
from rEMAINs 21

Deborah Steinberg
sLAUGHTERHOUSe 25

Clive Matson
sONg #25 31
sONg #24 34

Michael Palmer
lITERATURe cLASs 39

Steven Gray
dON’t wRITe a word 41
mEMORy fOAm 43

Evan Karp
uNTITLEd 47

Chris Cole
wE aRe nOt mIGHTy bUt wE aRe
iMMORTAl 49
eVERYTHINg mEANs sO mUCh mORe
tHAn iT mEANs 51
fOURTEEn hills 53

Timothy Walker
tHe mANy tURNs oF nOSTALGIa55
Lauren Hamlin
cASe #0900 59

Josey Duncan
wHEn wE dRINk 67

Rajshree Chauhan
lOOk gOOd nAKEd 71

Dean Rader
hOw tO bUy a gUn iN hAVANa 77
sELf-pORTRAIt: bLIZZARd
80
wHAt this iS: 35 83
Paul Corman-Roberts
pANHANDLE’s eNd 85
closer 89

info + guide to other readings


92
nATIONAl pASTIMEs

It wasn't the game itself. I used to go


down to the baseball fields near my
house in the summers with my bat and
a few balls, usually in the mornings
when it was still cool and foggy. I
wasn't planning on trying out for any
team. I didn't even have a group of
friends to get together for a game later
in the day. But I liked the way the ball
flew off my bat when I hit it right, and I
was just trying to be a part of what was
around me.
Around me were baseball fields and
a town and America. I wasn't trying to
fit into an American story when I rode
my bike holding my bat in one hand, but
if I happened to fit into one on those
mornings, that was all right. It was one
way for my family to get to know
America and its stories. They would be
getting to know the part that had a boy
coming back home and tossing his bat
in the garage. And then later in the day
I would go back out to the fields and
watch the part that had men and
women who worked for different
companies play a joking, friendly game
against each other. I wouldn't know
what to think. On the one hand, it was a
bat and a ball and a field. On the other
hand, they were adults, not kids. I
wouldn't know what to think except that
I might as well feel as glad for them as I
8
Siamak Vossoughi —–––––––––––
did and as sorry for them as I did.
Either the world was very big or
very small. I would watch the American
men and women playing softball and
think it was both. They were definitely
part of a story, and it wasn't just an
American story. It was a human story. I
didn't think the light in the sky behind
them would look so beautiful if it wasn't
a human story.
And it would seem very funny that
somebody who was just getting to know
American stories would already feel
poetic and world-weary about them. I
looked forward to being out there on the
baseball field with them one day, and I
didn't think I could do it at all. "Hey
there Billy, he just wants to end this
game so he can have a beer
afterwards." I couldn't wait till I was the
one out there saying things like that and
I felt like I could wait forever too.
Well, I would walk home and
whatever it was that had felt so light
and breezy at the baseball fields would
be balanced out by something heavy
and if not dark then at least dark-tinted
in our house. I would lie down and
think, those were grown men and
women back there. Is that what I have
to look forward to or not? There was
something circular about it, being a kid
and wanting to be an adult, and then
being an adult and wanting to play a
kid's game. If there was something else
9
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
to be in America, I didn't know what it
was. I knew there were other things to
be in Iran. I knew a kid could already be
running from the police for selling
newspapers that the government didn't
like, and an adult could be going on
hunger strikes in prison for it. At school
I would hear stories about kids running
from the police for writing on a wall or
stealing cigarettes and how they would
be punished by their parents, and I
would think: My parents? My parents
are the absolute least of my problems.
My father was never going to
suggest that we take in a baseball
game, but part of that was that he did
not share one of the beliefs commonly
held, or at least suggested, at baseball
games: that the world was an easy
enough place to take in a baseball
game. He didn't mind going outside and
throwing the ball high in the air so I
could practice catching pop flies,
because that had a sense of wonder to
it. Look at that, he'd think or say, a ball
way up in the air like that. What great
things we are capable of in this world!
And afterwards he would look at me
and smile as if to say, that's not so bad
a thing to do when you're a kid.
It was a while later that I figured out
that he looked at me and smiled like
that because he had been a boy running
from the police for selling newspapers
the government didn't like. He was
10
Siamak Vossoughi —–––––––––––
seeing the ease of boyhood for the first
time. When I saw that, I thought, Okay,
I can't be who he was, but I can be great
at who I am, and so there was no pop fly
that was ever out of my reach. I would
sprint great distances to go after balls
that at first glance I had no chance of
catching, but at the last second I would
reach out my glove and there it would
be. I might as well try to be great at the
things a boy could do in America, I
thought. To get a relationship going
with the ball and the ground I would
have to cover and the sky that the ball
was set against. Those relationships
seemed to go past being American or
Iranian. My father would watch and I
would see him thinking - there's
something to this, it's not all just little
kid games. He is learning about
precision and accuracy and will, and
those are useful things to learn in life.
That's what it looked like he was
thinking at least.
And those things might find a place
for themselves on joking, friendly
baseball fields when I was a man like my
father, but it didn't feel like that was
what I was practicing for. I didn't have
the first thing against those things
coming out on those fields in general,
and sometimes I would see a man make
a great catch and I would think, there's
a guy after my own heart, but I liked the
way my father looked at baseball even
11
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
more than I liked the great catch, even
though he had no idea how the game
was played. He looked at it like he was
working towards a world where anybody
could play baseball if they wanted to.
He looked like he loved baseball
more than the men and women down at
the field, and I wanted to know about
that. I wanted to know about loving
something you didn't know anything
about. The truth was that those men
and women would be joking and
friendly, but in the next minute they
might be arguing and swearing too. It
was hard to love something the more
you got to know about it sometimes. A
ball and a bat and a field seemed like
something everybody agreed on, but it
was hard to keep that agreement going
and play the game too.
I pretty much figured I wouldn't
have something like that in America,
where I would love something that I was
very much a part of too, until I stood on
a pitcher's mound and pitched the ball
to American children, feeling a little bit
like my father, only with a knowledge of
how to pitch a ball too. I had America
enough in my body when I did my
windup, and so out there we could all
concentrate on being human. That
meant nobody laughing when a little kid
came up to the plate holding the bat
backwards and upside-down, or if they
did, laughing with love. If they laughed
12
Siamak Vossoughi —–––––––––––
with anything else, an Iranian man
would correct American children with a
look like his father had given him, and I
would see them pause for a second
because they knew that look was from
far away and yet the way I was holding
the ball was from right next door, and I
would say to myself the conclusion I
hoped they would reach: Yep, you can
be anything you want to be.
You better start today though
because it's the hardest thing there is,
and I would take my place on the
mound and realize that I had found a
place I had always been looking for, a
place that was light and breezy on its
surface and still made of the darkest
and heaviest principles underneath, and
the funny thing was how easily children
could move in a place like that. A toss
of a ball or a word about life might just
as easily come their way. And I would
notice that and think of how the one
thing I knew to be true was that nobody
knew how much room they had for
whatever came their way until it did.
Nobody in America knew how much they
were waiting for an Iranian man to tell
them what he knew of them, of life, and
possibly least of all of baseball, until he
told them. And then it would seem like
the most natural thing there was.
In the meantime I could make sure
that the children I was among could feel
like anybody could play baseball if they
13
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
wanted to, and that was a great feeling.
It was a great feeling to be a man who
knew the game telling them that the
most important thing about baseball
was whether or not anybody could play.
That was when I felt like I was passing
on baseball the way my father had
passed baseball on to me, and we would
have the whole story of baseball and a
father and son playing catch, all that
poetry stuff, we would have all that
alongside an Iranian story of how it's
either going to be all of us or none of us
and that's the way it's going to be, and
fortunately we didn't have any dictator
we were yelling that at like my father
had, just the world, just a world that
wasn't necessarily going to go along
with that once we left the game and
went out the schoolyard gate, but the
funny thing was that we knew baseball,
we knew the real baseball, and if
anybody ever told us any different, well,
they would be arguing with baseball,
that's all.

14
Siamak Vossoughi —–––––––––––
hAPPy bIRTHDAy (sORRy yOu mISSEd iT)

Shortly after I moved to L.A. I received a


phone call from my mother.
“Graham, you have to come back to
Minnesota next weekend. Your Great
Aunt Winifred is turning 100 and I’m
stuck planning the party.”
“Big fucking deal,” I replied. “People
turn 100 all the time. Anyway, I have
plans next weekend. Maude and I are
going to see Fantasia from American
Idol. Not to mention, Aunt Winifred
hates me.”
“That’s not true,” my mother
replied. “She doesn’t hate you.”
“Yes she does. She told me so last
Christmas at Grandma Mickey’s.
Remember?”
I reminded my mother about how I
was sitting next to my Great Aunt
Winifred at the dinner table when I
asked if she would like any more green
bean casserole. “Fuck off!” she barked.
Then she said she hated me.
“That was only because of her
medication,” my mother replied. “She’s
not on those pills anymore.”
“I don’t care,” I said. “I still think
she’s a nasty, old bitch.”
“You’re terrible,” my mother
replied. “You must get it from your
father.”
15
Graham Gremore —–––––––––––
“I’m just saying, Aunt Winifred is an
evil person. Remember when she called
Muriel a strumpet? I mean, who even
uses that word anymore?”
Muriel was an older cousin from my
mother’s side. Last Easter, she
announced to the family that she was
pregnant with twins. Aunt Winifred spat
at her from across the dinner table then
called her a “filthy, godless strumpet.”
Muriel burst into a quivering mass of
choking tears then locked herself in the
bathroom. The rest of us just sort of
looked around, confused because Muriel
had been married to a Swedish man
named Bjorn for the past six years. It
wasn’t like she got knocked up by some
random guy she met at a bar.
Afterwards, Aunt Winifred refused to
apologize, claiming that, even if Muriel
wasn’t a strumpet, she should have
known better than to announce her
pregnancy on Easter. “How dare she try
to steal Jesus’ thunder,” she preached.
My mother sighed heavily into the
receiver, signaling that she was done
having this conversation. “Look, I
understand that Aunt Winifred can be a
bit much, but I’ll be damned if I’m stuck
with her by myself,” she said. “If I have
to suffer, so do you. Now, the Professor
will pick you up next Saturday at the
airport. We’ll see you then.”
The ensuing Saturday, I met the
Professor at the Minneapolis airport. Just
16
Graham Gremore —–––––––––––
to clarify, the Professor is my father. We
call him this because he’s an academic,
and a very absent-minded one at that.
He’s always getting sidetracked. He’s
also very lazy. It makes for quite an
unsettling personality. Half the time
when he says he’ll be somewhere, he
has absolutely no intention of actually
showing up. The other half of the time,
he plain forgets.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
I asked when I found him waiting for me
by the baggage claim.
“I’m afraid I have what could
potentially be very devastating news,”
he said as we headed away from the
baggage carousel and towards his car,
which he had parked outside in front of
a fire hydrant. “Your Great Aunt
Winifred passed away early this
morning.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I
replied, annoyed. “So I could’ve seen
Fantasia after all.”
“There is something poetic about all
this,” the Professor continued. “On the
eve of her 100th birthday, she embarks
on her final journey. Offward she goes to
face the Great Unknown.”
“I guess. But I can’t say I’m all that
surprised. She looked like a walking
corpse, after all. And she smelled like
one too. So what’s going on with the
party?”
“Well, instead of a birthday party,
17
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
there’s going to be a funeral,” the
Professor said. He went on to explain
that my mother was having the caterers
she hired for the birthday party use the
food for the funeral reception instead.
And as for the birthday cake, the bakery
had already written “Happy Birthday” on
it. So my mother had them add “Sorry
You Missed It” in parenthesis
underneath.
“That’s morbid,” I replied. “Even for
me.”
“That cake cost $75. Times are
tough. We couldn’t just let it go to
waste.”
“How’d she die anyway?” I asked as
we neared the Professor’s rusted out
Volkswagon. A parking ticket was
tucked under the front windshield wiper,
but my father didn’t seem to notice it.
“She went peacefully in her sleep,”
he replied. “Then she crapped her
pants.”
“Are you serious?”
“Unless she crapped her pants and
then she died. I guess we’ll never
know.”
“That really happens? The whole
crapping your pants thing?”
The Professor shrugged. “It did to
your Great Aunt Winifred.”
We climbed into the car.
“She is so disgusting,” I said,
buckling my seat belt. “When I die, I’m
going to make sure to get a colonic
18
Graham Gremore —–––––––––––
beforehand. I will leave this world with
dignity, damn it.”
The Professor turned the keys in the
ignition and pulled out on to the street,
nearly sideswiping a shuttle van, and
causing the parking ticket tucked under
the windshield wiper to blow away. As I
watched the tiny piece of paper be
carried off by the breeze, I thought
about my Great Aunt Winifred. How, she
too, had been swept away so suddenly.
And how, like a lost parking ticket,
nobody would miss her.

19
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
20
Graham Gremore —–––––––––––
from rEMAINs

As for the question of what can’t be


retrieved from the tangles
of interaction. As for standing on a
drawbridge above a
dry riverbed overlooking downtown. I
mean the reasons we
hesitated to make contact while all the
ways we could fail or
succeed passed through us like rays
illuminating rooms only we
could see. Noticing a bird landing on a
wet branch aloud
as a means of buying ourselves some
time. As for the walk
back to the car. As for the heavy cages
that sat at the bottom of us
breaking. Getting caught in the sand
with our clothes off never
with the voices from the street making
their circles in the rain
crossed our minds. All the outcomes we
had kept in orbit started
coming down, one after one after one
in a hail.

21
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
as ready and able as conscious ghosts
and we let go. The ground
opens up to let our old bones hide.
Strangers rest their
gazes on us from time to time and then
they move on.
The willows in the park with the
artificial lake sway in
days in a life of houses
made to fade. The mind
opposing the
desperate kind of dance and the mind
dreaming in its patterns.
The alert young man in his room
dividing himself into canvases
and the young man waking up to find
drooping branches
moving over him. Some place where
you can’t see me. But I can’t
find it. Plain daylight shines on the
covers, the air in the room
showing its dust.

Sometimes we stand outside amazed


that we still get up to do
this each day. Even this doom of a god
that remains absent is a
way the world opens. We walk to the
town with our stack of papers
and our instruments slung over our
backs. Our sins tied up
22
Jesús Castillo —–––––––––––
in small leather pouches that we carry
on the inside of our jackets,
ready for the day when they will come
in handy. We practice
juggling three at a time. If only we had
infinity and a few more arms
to point to the receding answers. I don’t
know how many bottles
it takes me to get drunk now. We’ll
make do with reimagining
the image in our image, tracing the
bruises that’ll bring us home.

23
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
24
Jesús Castillo —–––––––––––
sLAUGHTERHOUSe

When you’re eight years old your


parents take you to the old
slaughterhouse ten miles outside town,
and your mother is gaunt as a skeleton
and collapses twice on the way and you
have to help your dad drag her through
the air, straining your child’s wings and
telling yourself you can do it even if you
don’t know why you’re going to the old
slaughterhouse (some ancient animal
instinct was telling you to flee) and
inside the smell makes you gag, under
the aluminum roof the heat percolates
and your body is a vat of fluids barely
contained by your skin, and there’s a
man you don’t want to see who comes
out of the shadows toward youyou back
up against your parents but they’re
backing away, panic shoots boiling lava
up your veins, It’ll be OK you think your
dad says but he’s crying, they’re leaving
the building and you’re running after
them but the man you can’t look at
catches you by the wings and lifts you
into the air and you flail your arms and
legs uselessly, you scream and scream
and scream until you puke as the man
holds your wings firmly, he’s unflustered
by your frantic thrashings, he doesn’t
care about the puke on the stained floor
or your screams or the blood now
25
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
pouring out of your nose, he throws you
onto your stomach on a metal table (the
metal was so hot it left burns on your
torso) and ties your struggling limbs one
by one to the legs of the table and a
long needle jabs into the base of your
spine and sends paralyzing pain down
every nerve in your body after which
you are completely numb, suspended in
the memory of pain, then there is
nothing until you wake up in pain and
screaming in your own bed and your
fever is so high you hardly recognize
your mother wiping your brow with a
cold cloth, you kick and punch at
anyone who comes near your tiny
diminished body wrapped in bloody
sheets, you wake several times into a
nightmare in which your back is on fire
and you know what’s happened you
know what’s gone and you scream and
scream and scream and you don’t
understand how they can be there
trying to soothe you when they did this
to you, gradually you’re forced to come
awake but it’s not like being awake
before it’s a state of gray it’s acute pain
that fades to dull pain that fades to lack,
it’s sitting mute at a table with food on it
refusing to eat while your parents choke
down what they can, it’s vowing to
never go outside again, never wanting
to see sky again, then one day getting
26
Deborah Steinberg —–––––––––––
brave enough to walk outside, if you
walked into that slaughterhouse you can
walk out a door, and the sunlight hurt,
and the trees hurt, and the voices of
children flying nearby hurt so much you
could hardly stand, and you taught
yourself to walk upright without falling
forward, you taught your legs how to
hold you all the time, your legs were so
tired they felt like they’d fall off, and
one night you packed a bag with your
few things, you walked out of your
parents’ house without saying goodbye,
you went to the house out on Old
Kemper Road where Jenny said some of
the other girls like you had gone, you
were welcomed into the circle around
the fire, Amanda helped you sew up the
back holes in your shirts, Jenny rubbed
oil into your scars, and you hid every
time your parents came, you squeezed
under your bed and up against the wall,
into the space too narrow for wings, you
hid there even when your parents came
to tell you they were going south, you
didn’t speak even when they cried and
you watched their shoes walk away and
then you lived with yourself after that,
you pushed that regret down into the
hollow place where the memory of flight
had been left to rot, and you ate in spite
of yourself, you ate the food that was
left mysteriously on the front porch for
27
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
the girls by members of the community
who believed in charity, and you found
yourself growing up in spite of yourself,
you cooked and sewed and gardened,
you helped make the house clean and
bright, you found yourself laughing from
the place in your abdomen you’d
thought was hollowed out, you helped
put up cheerful curtains in the windows,
you salvaged wood from the rotting
shed and crafted backs for the chairs,
you caught yourself singing as you
carved a piece of scrap wood into a
woman without wings, and then
somehow you were grown in spite of
your crippled body, and your body
wanted the way a woman’s body wants,
you suffered the sneers of young men
when you looked at them too long, you
spent a first night with the baker’s son
and he wouldn’t talk to you the next day
and oh your heart broke hard and you
cried into Jenny’s shoulder and all your
old bitterness filled you until you puked
out your third-floor window, and for days
you didn’t leave your bed but one
morning it was better, you knew then
that you were stronger than the baker’s
son, you discovered that the man in the
slaughterhouse had made you strong,
you walked more deliberately after that
and you went to the Saloon with the
other girls and you stared at the baker’s
28
Deborah Steinberg —–––––––––––
son until he had to look away, and you
held your back very straight, your arms
and legs were strong, and you laughed
in spite of what you lacked and would
always lack, you laughed in spite of
what you desired, and you smiled at the
guitarist in the mariachi band that came
to town, you smiled and didn’t look
away when he smiled back.

29
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
30
Deborah Steinberg —–––––––––––
sONg tWENTY-FOUr

A photo without an image.


A frame without a picture.
A wall without a hanging.
What happened?

Some trembling infiltrated


and reversed joy's wiring.
Electricity folds in on itself
and air turns inside out.

The madrone bends arms


across spotted skies
and matches a swell of thigh
I won't recognize.
I've joined the fearful.

I wake. I breakfast. I ride bus.


I go work. I talk friends. I watch movies.
I play ball. I no think.

Things in distinct cages stay


captured in adamant mesh and a file
cabinet
reasons not to bleed their borders.

Raw tin awaits a stamp mill.


Rushing water waits my brush's stilling
stroke.
Ideas wait my smart thought's killing
stroke.

31
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
We swim in an ocean of love,
you proclaim. How wet is it? What
temperature? Can my skin sense it?
Visible in what wavelength?
How buoyant?

A halo flashed between limbs


so fast I didn't see.

I market. I play 'lectrons.


I shop how town. I 'xercise.
I no feel. I tire. I sleep.

Romance the release of sex tension


only.
Big figures climb
into imagination when
you say
"All those babes play in my blood."
All these babes play in my blood.
Joints dislocate sprockets and scapula.
Skin rubs against engorged skin.
Devil calls to devil.

Put silver on the glass


and make it a mirror.
I won't be summoned.

Demon infants oogle such smooth skin


in their huge cribs spread under
everything,
delighted lose boundaries, vault
through each other, bounce off walls
32
Clive Matson —–––––––––––
and back through again.

Keep the mirror up, make it


show my made-up face.

Laughter resonates plexus to plexus


and I refuse to hear. Once I reached a
tender hand
toward love and twice
a boot came crushing. Now at first
touch
my phantom hand shrinks back
and I put all devotion into unshadowed
play of images.
I feel something for you
and the current running through my
fingers burns me.

Hay bales piled evenly in the barnyard


a truck horn splits the morning gray.
In a well-oiled water pump a worn seal
screeches.
The bluebird clips its wing
against my window.

Rubbing in the wind dry branches


don't echo your heartbeat.
Don't echo. Don't echo. Your heartbeat.

33
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
sONg tWENTy-fIVe

Don't you know you have to cry?


You have to
cry.
You have to cry out all those tears.
They numb your spirit, their sad
pressure
warps your cool,
their brine
leaches from the world its color.

Flowers cry. Buildings cry.


Rocks cry and trees cry.
Sky cries and millennium
mountains reduce to silt and sand.

Pull your mane across puffy, reddened


brows, wish you had hair
enough
to hide abraded nostrils and the wet!
Curl up in my arms and weep.

Weep, weep yellow chick in the rain,


wail drenched cat slinking like a half-
drowned rat.

You have to let those tears all out.


They crowd your
sockets,
tears will burst out corners' creeks, cut
grooves
through cheekbone ridges, flood
34
Clive Matson —–––––––––––
ravines
until alluvial fans enfat your jowls.

You have to cry out all the tears.

Talk of lovely geese and wind-combed


foxes trotting into forest green
but you cannot see the sky or trees
through teardrops! The windshield
roughed
with heavy dew and vision ruptured,
scattered
all convex pixels.

You cannot see until the tears are gone.


All gone.

What, you have no tears? You cannot


cry?
Thump your chest and test how dry.
Bruise knuckles on hard ice,
a crusty hunk
where cartilage meets at
plexus,
at elbows, knees, and pelvis
more frozen chunks!

How can you open arms to sun and


sky?
How can you dance?

Mom and Dad slow waltzed on hardpan


over uncried tears. Sister and brother
35
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lug
transparent cisterns. Lovers make up
faces
tears roasted out and ironed young.

And you, you have a glacier


dusted with twigs and throw rugs
and asphalt
roads.
You have to melt that ice.

Thaw that cold boulder from six months


old
and let it flood your cheek ravines!
Overflow the storm drains, wash out
gulches and culverts until your features
disa
ppear
and tears gouge erosion facades into
your bones.

Do you know how my skull feels


cupped in your hands while dual rivers
frame my face? How my nipples hum
when tears have damped the dimpled
skin?

Stand on river rock and shake in


orgasm wind.

Torso an empty ring of bone


the air blows through.

36
Clive Matson —–––––––––––
Sun warms ribs’ innersides.
Ropes swing through trees.
Here comes spring green.
Here comes high noon.
Here come storms.

Here come flash floods crashing


through my hollow chest.

Put on your rain hat! Grasp our hands


tear-lined palm to tear-lined palm.
Let's tromp
the sodden streets in sudden galoshes.

37
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38
Clive Matson —–––––––––––
lITERATURe cLASs

The teacher gave them reading


assignments:
poetry, short stories, novels.

The students could not get into it:


fidgeting in their chairs,
shooting spitwads,
testing the aerodynamics
of paper airplanes.

When they tried to read passages aloud


they could not finish—
they laughed at what they read:
“This guy’s SO weird,”
they said.

The teacher just laughed with them.


“Let’s stop for today,”
he said.
We’ll try this again
in 20-25 years.”

The teacher left the room.


The students ran outside
delirious with their imagined freedom.

Decades later
the students returned to the room.

The teacher was gone.


The books were still there,
39
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covered with dust and
the trails where the silverfish
had their life sustaining meals.

One by one
the students went to their desks
sat down,
blew the dust away,
opened the books,
and began to read.

Every word, every line, every sentence


stabbed them in the heart.
They read the words,
the lines of words,
over and over.
They almost bled to death.
Almost.

40
Michael Palmer —–––––––––––
dON’t wRITe a wORd

I had a lot of wine last night and did not


sleep much and now in the light of day I
am dumb as the moon, I am a heat
wave in the air. I have sand in my head
and my bones are not my own, I feel like
a strange man or a ghost of my old self,
but a ghost made of ash and stone. I
am so close to the earth in this state
you would think I was a monk in a zone.
I have no thoughts of the past, now is all
I know or can deal with, that’s how real
it is, this frame of mind, as if I don’t
have a name or need one. I’m not out
on a limb of words. I want to quit my
job and stare at things, lie in bed like a
girl who thinks of sex all the time, whose
skin and hair and eyes and blood are
the whole world and few thoughts get in
the way. It’s like she knows the mind is
small so what good is it, don’t use it,
when you lose it (which can take a lot of
wine) it leaves you on the ground like a
piece of old wood and how cool is that.
In such a low-down state it feels like I
have a huge cock and I don’t care if it
lies in the sun like a dog on its paws.
You are right at home in the world, you
breathe the air and what are the odds
there is no god out there in a black hole
of space where the stars burn gas all
night and time bends so you don’t know
41
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what time it is and since there is no god
you are free, you only have to look at
the facts of life and feel them to the
bone and own them as you take on the
weight of a rock. It puts you at ease, it
may come as a shock to some how close
they are to that state if they would not
ride the winds that move through their
head all the time. There are long trails
made of words that take you out of your
skin and leave you up in the air in no
man’s land, if you want to be at peace
and feel like you are part of the world
like the trees and hills and birds just
shut off your brain. Don’t write a word.
Put down your pen. Pick up a rock and
hold it. Find a clock and make it stop.
Your thoughts are a dream, wake up
and smell the tea. The last act ends
with the sound of one hand in the air.

42
Steven Gray —–––––––––––
mEMORy fOAm

We’re sleeping on a mattress made of


memory foam,
is that ephemeral or what. We wake up
in
the morning and remember who we
are, and who
we’re sleeping with. It cuts down on
the promiscuity
and amplifies the continuity
of your existence, making for a smooth
transition,
one day to the next. No one wants to
be
a jagged discontinual persona who is

haunted by amnesia. You can turn


your life
into a superhighway of coherency
with an illusion that you see forever,
but
you still are saddled with a brain. It’s
old as the hills
and just as wrinkled, losing track of
who you are
or what you did last week is common,
like a road
that disappears from view when it is
winding through the
mountains you are often out of touch
with the past.

43
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The memory foam remembers what the
contours of
your body look like, and I have a
sinking feeling,
like the body is absorbed into the
mattress
and you’re in a state of suspended
animation
as the world turns and eventually the
sun
comes up, and you are slowly re-
emerging from
a lack of definition. You were part of
the mattress
for a while and now you are
reconstituted.

What happened to the old one, it did


not remember
us and so I shot it full of holes, a case
of
mattress-cide, it ended up outside. I
live
in an apartment with my inside
information
where the memory is amorous, I’m
sleeping
with a horizontal woman and we sink
into ourselves when we are losing
consciousness,
a spiritual osmosis going on between
us.

44
Steven Gray —–––––––––––
A man and woman lying side by side
and breathing
with their eyes closed, they are being
blind-sided by
the visions in the brain, it never sleeps,
it is
a tumbleweed of visionary nerve-ends,
or a
sea slug with hermaphroditic
tendencies.
The woman’s hair is tangled as
Medusa, a
disheveled sleeping beauty who is
ready for a
close-up, I am gravitating to the
distant.

The dreams unfolding in the darkness


are revealing,
I am open to the unfamiliar, but I
lose track of the family in the process,
while
unconsciously she wallows in
familiarities,
it gives her confidence, a woman
grounded
in the family. In the morning we were
walking
by the harbor and a sailboat, it was
floating
on its own reflection which was falling
apart.

45
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46
Steven Gray —–––––––––––
47
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48
Evan Karp —–––––––––––
49
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
wE aRe nOt mIGHTy bUt wE aRe
iMMORTAl

i am who you are


before you thought about what that
might mean
when you could still be touched
without a question mark
when you didn't think
about the difference
between falling
and flying

it is always something in between


a face that we catch
out of the corner of our eye
or maybe in the corner of some room
something was in the drink
and somehow i was swallowed up

we disappear from sight


we disappear from ourselves
we are not mighty
but we are immortal
we were never here
and we never left
we pass at such great speed
but as the earth goes by
and the universe folds into itself
can we take a moment
to remember what we look like
and how we were caught up
in an instant city
50
Chris Cole —–––––––––––
by this inescapable presence
can we take the time to draw ourselves
and find out what the rush of blood
looks like
so that we may walk around with our
eyes closed
and still know what we are looking for

51
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
eVERYTHINg mEANs sO mUCh mORe
tHAn iT mEANs

i can't keep it together


these days
i'm cracked open
and whatever it is
that i've been trying to contain
just spills out
everywhere

it's hard to go
to the living rooms
and bars
everyone there just keeps filling each
others cup
even though they're already overflowing
spilling onto the carpet
leaking into the floorboards
flooding up the basements
where drunk writers
talk about what it means to write

but you can't write about meaning


you can only try to find meaning
in what you write

there are these colors


that come to me
and beg me to open them up
and look inside
"we are the present
you've been waiting for"
52
Chris Cole —–––––––––––
they say
but i run
as fast as i can
from what it means to mean something
by what it means to see you here
there
across the room
as imperfect ashtrays
try to measure
the weight of your words
in smoke
that leaks out the corners of your mouth
like arms
reaching up
towards heaven
hoping there will be someone
who will pull you up
right out of this room

and the light escapes


even as it searches for a way back in

53
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fOURTEEn hILLs

it was a hilltop
where we sat
until our butts got so cold
we had to stand

"we're higher
than most of the people in this city"
but only because we wanted to go to
the top
and knew
we belonged there

you said to evan and i


"this city seems so small"
and evan said
"but when you're inside of it
it goes on forever"

perfection doesn't rsvp


and it usually shows up with strangers
but it was only the three of us
last night
we knew
what there was to know about each
other
even if we had no idea
how we found out

after we wrote those words


across the skyline of our city
we went down the hill
54
Chris Cole —–––––––––––
to where forever was waiting
with its arms open wide

55
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
tHe mANy tURNs oF nOSTALGIa

Stuck in traffic on the 880, northbound,


somewhere between Union City
consumer wasteland and Hayward
industrial warehouse hell, a man in the
midst of a mid-(twenties)-life crisis is
forced to pause, mind-caught by the
lights of a Chuck-E-Cheese blooming red
and virile in the haze of an early
morning Bay Area December storm.
There is a hiccup to the pulse of his
daily river, brief breaks in the rhythm
and the time, seconds where he is
seeing those shutter flashes of a
younger sun. To what made him ache
with Nostalgia, there were these:

Glimpses of Baseball Diamond in the


last cheery echo of a late Iowa spring—
boys in uniform, in position—one
chewing absently on the worn leather of
a well used glove staring at the clouds,
listening for the crack of the bat, the
rush of wind in the moments before a
hero is made and the crowd goes wild—
the crowd a motley collection of
grandparents, friends and relatives,
cheering as if to say more than just
“win,” cheering in celebration of
innocence, of youth, of sunburned
cherub faces in need of bathing, of little
mouths chewing sloppily, bubble gum
56
Timothy Walker —–––––––––––
and sunflower seeds, each with a
brightly drawn stain of Gatorade as
mustache—the twinkle of apprehension
and joy in the eyes as the ball comes
flashing like a star plucked out of the
sky and hurled to earth, awaiting the
swing of some cosmic bat, splinter of
wood whose construction lends itself to
the furthering of lofty hopes and tightly
wound dreams;

ALSO!

Glimpses of Too Small Car with too


many bodies, legs and hands pressed
against another’s—each grasping cheap
cans with which to swill, to blindly seek
something other than inebriation,
something closer to their own personal
gods, their desires to soar, each to his
own personal mountain on his own swift
drafted swan breath from heaven—the
crisp of night in the frigid depths of
Midwestern December—the silhouette of
tree groves among the empty fields so
stark against the blue black white blaze
of far away stars—the cars inhabitants,
mere teenagers wearing masks of age
for the nights duration, practicing their
loud introductions to the world,
postulating ideas which undulate back
and forth in a thriving mass of exhaled
troubles, and inhaled epiphany, the
57
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
sparks of youth set to kindling by the
meeting of one another’s burning gaze,
by the share of coughs and sickness and
heartache, the celebration of which is
like the christening of a newborn, this
holding of a fresh spring meadow find
for all to see, “look, see there, the eyes,
they blinked” and all look down at their
swill and nod in this shared conspiracy
called raw, cruel and unadorned by
some, sweet, delicate and tender by
others—so are bonds formed by fire,
within an old off white honda civic in the
dead of night, Dark Side of The Moon
playing low in melancholic monotone
behind the sway of conversation—these
are the nights that they will wear like
tattoos, something to point proudly at
and laugh;

ALSO!

Glimpses of a Family Wound tight like


multi-colored thread in the loom—as a
porpoise pod, cohesive and neat upon
initial inspection, though secret chaoses
lie hid beyond the swish of fin and tail,
the giggle of snout and the sun
drenched isle somersaulting of solstice
sunsets—six in number, interchangeably
individual, each to each a link to the
world, sharing arteries in symbiotic
union, tumbling adolescents finding
58
Timothy Walker —–––––––––––
treasures and pain, inevitable share,
always that point, that sharing, and
again, Inevitability, the grooming of
oneself like the sibling or parent,
inextricable when so many mirrors are
held so close to one another—in
moments of familial doubt, so much can
be revealed if you just look harder at the
ugliness, stare into the devil’s face and
learn to count his teeth so you can size
a necklace on which to hang them.

And so there is a spinning world on


which the numbers dance, and all of us
who live above can clap our hands and
exclaim with glee, at least until the car
behind us, and the car behind that one,
begin to honk, and we put the car in
drive, and so doing, move onward to
where it might be that we are going.

59
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
cASe #0900

The Marcos’ live in a half-baked


community forty miles south of
Sacramento. The town sits like an
afterthought on the side of the highway,
a mile from the outlets. The subdivisions
are unfinished, two-story boxes double
as homes, trimmed with loud, primary
colors, probably to distract you from the
stubby driveways and dirt lawns.
McHovels, I call them.
My boss and I drove up from San
Francisco in a rented sedan that smelled
like flop sweat and quarter-pounders.
We were meeting with our newest
client, Carlotta. Her daughters had died
in an SUV rollover, the airbags had
failed, the seatbelts too. In front of the
house, scratched up Tonka trucks lined
the walkway like booby traps, and
cigarette butts poked out of spidermited
plants. Jason walked up the stairs in
front of me, kicking a toy train out of his
way and sending it skittering over the
edge
Carlotta was trashier then I
imagined. When she opened the door
the first thing I noticed was her chest. It
was a tangle of gold chains and pert
cleavage. Most prominent was an
almost cross-like pendant; a B and a T
intertwined and glittering with inset
60
Lauren Hamlin —–––––––––––
diamonds. She grabbed my hand in both
of hers and said, So nice to finally meet
you, in a way that was so unnaturally
formal and proud it licked me raw. Jason
said, what a lovely home. She beamed
and stuttered. Touched her hair.
The house was a pigsty; T.V. dinner
packages littered the counter, empty
grocery bags carpeted the floor, a half-
eaten can of cat food crusted over in the
sink. Packed in the tiny kitchen were
two middle-aged women with sunken,
bored eyes; a teenage boy eating beef
jerky; a man wearing an aquamarine
muscle shirt and copper bracelets.
Carlotta rattled off their names as we
walked by, not stopping, not really
introducing us so much as pointing out
important scenery.
The living room had the feel of a
makeshift shrine. Eight by eleven photos
of the twins in various stages of life
littered every surface of the room. The
girls were tall and lanky; they swam in
their leotards and their soccer uniforms
sagged, their eyes were bright and
eerie. The photos surrounded us
insistently and I pulled at my skirt,
yanked it down on my hips. She told us
to sit down at a table in the dining room
that was piled high with stacks of
magazines and papers, not an inch of
wood showing.
61
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Jason is the attorney but the case is
mine. I am a paralegal doing the work of
a first year associate. They bill me out at
half an associate’s rate and pay me a
heartbreaking fraction of that. I tell
myself it’s only temporary. I’m too
smart to be doing this work forever. Too
morally aware to be shoveling shit in
this gray area, day in and day out.
I do the work up on all the rollover
cases, for Carlotta’s just like the other
Plaintiffs. I get the police reports, make
sure they were wearing seat belts, make
sure no one was drinking. Match the
make, model and year of the vehicle
with known and successfully litigated
safety defects. I talk to the mothers on
the phone, wait out their crying jags,
Fed-Ex the HIPPA forms so we can get
the autopsy photos. All Jason does is
come to my cubicle, bend down and
whisper reminders of the night before in
his wife’s bed. All he does is distract me.
On his way out he doubles back, says
More pathos, call the mother, get
photos, I’m thinking…Prom. They were
hot little things no? So that’s exactly
what I do.
Rebecca and Tamara were their
names. Bex and Tammy.
I knew more about the case than
him. He was only there because in the
wake of grief people lash themselves
62
Lauren Hamlin —–––––––––––
gladly to arrogance and a charcoal suit.
But that’s the way it is and the sound of
my hackles rising always reminds me I
won’t be able to take this for very long.
I won’t be a middle-aged paralegal
attending the company Christmas party
like it’s the fucking Oscars, decked out
and drunk on bulk wine, my dress and
the unfamiliar feeling of equality
competing for shiniest illusion of the
night.

We asked Carlotta about the accident,


cleared up a few questions that were
too upsetting to ask over the phone.
Were the girls drinking that night? Did
they have a history of partying? That
sort of thing. They weren’t driving, so
from a legal stand point the drinking
didn’t matter, but from a money
standpoint? It mattered. The case
wouldn’t go to trial anyway so it was all
about upping the settlement amount.
Virginal innocents played much better in
mediation than girls with a history of
shoplifting and amateur porn. These
questions had to be asked so we didn’t
get our asses handed to us in an airless
room by some fat, shiny, corporate
prick.
I moved uncomfortably in my seat
and realized that something beneath me
was crinkling. I took a newspaper
63
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clipping out from under me and
squinted at it, looked at Carlotta.
“Bex got third place in science fair
last year,” she said, pointing to the
photo, “she tested the effects of Red
Bull on fruit flies.”
“Can I take it with me?” I asked.
She gave me a puzzled look and I
told her it was for the economic expert;
for an analysis of projected lifetime
earnings. The confused look persisted so
I continued. These earnings help
determine the settlement amount. Loss
of earnings, loss of income, loss of
livelihood.
These are the words we use.
Dust hung in the light that sprayed
across the table in thin shards. We all
sat quietly in the sickening space where
a child’s life has been quantified in
terms of dollars.
Then, he saved me.
He took Carlotta’s hand and
covered it with his soft, boyish palm. His
face slackened earnestly and when he
reached across the table his shirt cuffs
pulled back to reveal a muscled
forearm. I’ve seen him do it before but
every time, I believe him. He squeezed
Carlotta’s hand gently and her knuckles
crunched together.
“I know this is hard. But, the right
thing is not always the easy thing.
64
Lauren Hamlin —–––––––––––
Getting all this information makes it
more likely they will settle. To admit
they were wrong.”
He said it with conviction, and I
knew he meant it. The car company
we’re suing has deep pockets, but they
also have a well-documented history of
fucking over the consumer. Selling
unsafe vehicles for bottom dollar to the
bottom rung. Just as there is a bit of
truth in every stereotype, there’s a bit
of righteousness in every ambulance
chaser.
Carlotta’s head bent down and she
began weeping softly. She looked as if
this had been happening a lot lately.
Now that her eyes were no longer on
him, Jason looked satisfied with himself.
That look turned quickly to boredom. I
removed the contract from my briefcase
and put it on the table in front of her.
“Of course you can take your time
with this, look it over, FedEx it back
whenever you like,” I said, “call me if
you have any questions.”
The room was sun-baked and dusty
and I could feel the sweat start to collect
behind my knees and between my
breasts. Jason had removed his hand
from Carlotta’s and began fiddling with
his collar. We looked at each other like,
let’s get the hell out of here.

65
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Out in the driveway, he threw his
leather bound folder into the backseat,
undid his tie.
“She was kind of hot, huh?” he said.
I took off my nylons. They were
itchy and practically soaked in sweat. I
propped my legs up on the dash and
turned the AC on high.
“For a forty-five year old?” he said,
pushing past my rolling eyes.
“Yeah, I guess if you’re into trashy,
sure.”
“I bet she’s dirty,” he said as he
backed the car out of the stubby
driveway, banging the muffler on the
curb.
“Did you see her licking her lips?”
he said, “It was either me or the
money.”
He flashed a hard-charging grin and
I smiled back and shook my head in faux
disgust.
“You’re sick,” I said.
“What do you think those people
were lurking around for, the weird
boyfriend? They’re horny for it.”
“Not everybody is mercenary,” I
said, rolling down my window,
wondering why I always found myself
saying things to him that I didn’t
believe.
“God you’re hot,” he said, “Naïve
and hot.”
66
Lauren Hamlin —–––––––––––
As we drove away from Carlotta’s
McHovel, I saw her standing in the
window. Her hand was pulled to her
chest, and she rubbed the necklace
between her thumb and forefinger,
looking hopeful and absent at the same
time. Without missing a beat Jason put
the car into gear, and reached between
my legs. I smiled at him, but what I
meant was no. No, not now, no. The
problem is, sometimes it’s hard to trust
the distinction between yes and no,
good and bad, right and wrong.
Sometimes instead, you’re flayed open
and all there is, is raw.

67
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wHEn wE dRINk
I embarked on my first bender because I
got dumped. Even when you know it’s
coming, when you’re nineteen—and
maybe, when you’re not—it sucks. After
pleading and crying and empty threats, I
called some friends, went to the
Greyhound station, got hit-on by a dude
on his way to a Job Corps forestry
program, and tearfully rode the bus to
Santa Cruz, where I wallowed in cheap
vodka, puked up cheap vodka, and
might have at some point eaten a
burrito. I stumbled through five misty,
hazy days before catching a ride home.
Splitting headache and trembling hands
aside, I felt much better than I had
before I left. I felt cleansed.
I embarked on my next bender for every
graduation, promotion, win, completion,
or triumph. Birthdays and weddings and
new apartments in San Francisco with
working fireplaces and picture windows
with crane-necked views of the Bay
Bridge and the bay (happy
housewarming).

When we tied the knot, we toasted with


guests and shots of Black Maple Hill
bourbon poured into square glasses
printed with our initials. I celebrated
with white and red wines, and club soda
spiked with vodka or bourbon, through
68
Josey Duncan —–––––––––––
the midnight reception, until almost
sunrise. We cheered and spilled and
sang and shattered glasses and
bendered because we were happy.
After a death, after the blood drains
from behind your eyes and the world
rushes past and is frozen at the same
time, there are drinks. Numbing the
exposed, while hugging the fresh pain
close. Memories and tears cascade
steady with each swig, the glass bottle
bottom a story’s end. Pour a little out on
the asphalt or the dirt.
Wit chases drinks. Now there is talking
to strangers who are no longer strange.
There is that song, that one song, and
that thing that happened one time that
you both think about a lot when your
minds wander, when you are alone. And
there is far, far less fidgeting, and arms
uncross and hands gesture loudly. If
you’ve panicked, you’ll know that
feeling of tight-chest and pressed-
against. And you’ll know that sweet
booze is the deepest breath.

When new love is found or fake love is


gone or decayed love falls away
completely and our raw, wet selves are
exposed, when we are lost or have
discovered exactly what we are looking
for—this is when we drink. When we
must drink.
69
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And sometimes there is nothing. There
is the morning. Or the sunset, or the
almost-sunrise. 12:34 or 5:13 or 7:06
and it is not-bright or too-bright or it is a
dim room or it is not a room at all. There
is an outside-your-fluttering-blinds
where it’s not hot, or it is raining and
there is thunder. Or it is one weird week
of sticky Portland in December snow. Or
there is fog, because it is San Francisco
and there is always fog. Blinking away
last night, or the last 10 hours of crisp-
eyed-awake, or your last-seen 10 am,
you press your neurons to spark and
feel the day or night ahead and still
there is nothing, except a bender.
There are always drinks. And after
drinks possibilities rise like after-rain
steam on sweaty sidewalks, from your
warming body in the dark or the sun or
the dim room with the blinking bright
numbers. And you are alone or you are
with someone who is so a part of you
that you are basically one, one alone, or
you are alone, alone, and don’t feel
alone. The sweetest smoke spilling from
the coldest fire that grows as you sip,
and then you swig, spilling.

70
Josey Duncan —–––––––––––
lOOk gOOd nAKEd

Naked *smile and wink… I could tell you


about a hot 4th of July when I was 17,
when I walked into a grocery store and
ran into guys from school – accidentally
forgetting I had left my shirt unbuttoned
down to my jeans – my breasts and
nipples barely covered by the flimsy pink
and white lace… I was trying to stay cool
earlier, in that summer heat trapped in
the valley. I was drying my hair before
leaving the house and simply forgot.
Oops!

Naked *naughty… I could tell you about


my trip to Cabo when I was 29. Someone
had put a magazine clipping above the
peephole in my room. It read, “Look Good
Naked.” So, I did. For the rest of the trip, I
walked around that room, I slept in the
cool sheets… every time I was in that
room, I was naked. Looking back, there
was probably a hidden camera, streaming
me over the internet somewhere.

Or what about the time I, fresh from the


shower, dressed in front of my windows…
the windows in my room open up onto a
hillside of brush and trees – not a soul to
be seen… usually… not until that morning.
I finished dressing and looked up to see
guys trimming the trees up on that hill…
71
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
grinning. I felt they owed me some money
for that!

Naked

The word implies vulnerability. None of


these stories leaves me open. I mean,
you’re listenin’ to a gal who doesn’t have
very many inhibitions sober. Black bra
contest? Hold on *checking. Right on!

What I should tell you about… When I was


in high school, I was never asked out.
When I was in college, I was never asked
out. It wasn’t until I was 24 when he asked
me out. Dear Lord, his smile. His eyes, the
look in his eyes when he looked at me.
The way he would cradle the back of my
neck as he kissed my forehead. The way
he’d pull me to him, his hands on the
small of my back or on both hips, pulling
my body against the firmness of his. He
was beautiful that one. Crème caramel
skin, rugged and smooth at the same
time. He was shaving his blonde head
before it was cool, downy and ticklish on
my palm when it grew. I mean, you could
see every tiny muscle in his back – a
swimmer’s back, a gymnast’s back. The
echo of him, the memory of him *sigh

We went on a road trip that December


between Christmas and New Year’s. From
72
Rajshree Chauhan —–––––––––
down in Joshua Tree, up into Northern
California, into Oregon, into Washington,
into BC. Eating, sleeping, playing games,
camping near the beach. With him was
the only time I’ve ever made love – we
didn’t just fuck each other. It wasn’t that
pure raw sex, which is good in its own
right. The look on his face when he
cupped, kissed and sucked on my nipples,
the fascination he had with tasting my
insides, with rolling my skin and muscles
under his palms and fingers. He drank me
with his body. Hungry, waiting, desiring.
Senses heightened, breaths held. The
spark of the first touch… it wasn’t enough,
never enough. It left me wanting more. I
wanted to crawl into him, to be a part of
him… Don’t breathe… Not yet… … Here…
Ah, yeah… breathe

On the drive back, on a stretch of highway


between Oregon and California… There
was rain that night. The roads were slick.
He had the window open for a hot minute
to stave off the sleepiness. We both saw
something in the road. I’m still not sure
what it was. A deer? A coyote? I don’t
know… When we hit the hillside, we lost
control and flipped… he had his seatbelt
on… How did he end up outside the car?
What happened?

I knew there was blood streaming down


73
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
my face, I knew I had hit my head… I saw
him lying in the road. I didn’t matter
anymore. I half crawled over to him, my
hands and legs feeling thick and heavy,
unable to follow through with my
commands. Making my way with the
cacophony of the rain raucous in my ears,
on my skin, in the confusion… Or, was it
the blood rush? Feeling the wet rocks in
the roadway dig into my hands, imprinting
them, muddying them, I had to get him
out off the road.

He was on his back, his lashes touching


his cheeks. The rain pooling at the inner
corner of his eyes. The rain sliding down
the planes of his face… There was too
much rain, I couldn’t tell if he was
breathing… But I had to move him. I
tried… I tried… He was too heavy. I pulled
his arms, and sat him up. His sweatshirt
was soaked. Already? Was it water? Or?...
I leaned my body behind his, his beautiful
back against my chest, his head lolling,
his body heavier without the spark of his
smile. I moved him a little, pulling him
backward. I couldn’t do this alone. Where
was the adrenaline? Was that his blood or
mine mixing and dripping with the rain
onto him? It had to be mine. Why couldn’t
I move you? Why did the seatbelt snap?
How did the seatbelt snap? Why?

74
Rajshree Chauhan —–––––––––
The next car, the lights blinding me… I
thought it was slowing down. I thought
help had come. I put him down to wave
my arms, to plead for help. I ran out in
front of him to protect him. The car
swerved around me too fast… spun out…
crushed his skull, crushed his smile… I
watched it happen even as time stopped.
That last moment…

He was gone. Forever gone. He was the


love of my life... Infinity pain. Clouds of
infinity pain… I fell through them. There
was no one to catch me.

Now… Now, I stand before you naked…

75
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76
Rajshree Chauhan —–––––––––
hOw tO bUy a gUn iN hAVANa

First, never say the word gun.


Or pistolero or buy.

Talk instead about platanos. And smile.


You’ll know the bodega;

it’s the one in Los Sitios with the wooden


parrot clipped to the wire on

the left side of the door. When the wind


springs up off the sidewalk,

the parrot bobs slightly, banging its


crimson
head against the building’s wooden
slats.

Go inside. On the far wall above the


shelves
of candles and tilty stacks of shirts,

you’ll see the blackboard. It’s the


same in every store: an inventory

of frijoles negros, arroz, and leche de


coco,
menued in white chalk. You will

scan the inventory for platanos, hoping


they are in stock. You never know.

77
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
You will have brought with you
a pouch of powdered milk. Inside

will be powdered milk and eight hundred


fifty Euros. No dollars. No sterling.

The pouch will be glued shut. No tape. No


staples. You will, as you do with

your wife, your children, your boss, barter.


There is no baby formula in Cuba;

no cow’s milk. You will hand over


the pouch and ask for platanos.

It is said that at a similar bodega in


Vedado,
you look the man behind the counter

in the eye. But here, you are supposed to


settle on
the framed photo of the Catedral

de San Cristobal nailed to the wall above


the shirts. The woman will place the

platanos in a plastic bag. You will take


them.
You will not say thank you.

No one knows the precise chain of events,


not even you, because, as you are
told,
78
Dean Rader —–––––––––
you turn away. You will walk over to the
shelves
next to the old Coke cooler and ruffle

through Frisbees, pantyhose, and


postcards of
Che playing golf in Army fatigues.

By the time you are finished, your bag of


platanos will feel heavy. At that point,

you walk out of the store, and out


of Los Sitios, and make your way to

the Malecón, and you gaze at the lovers


lounging
on the wall and you stop

for mango ice, and you ask yourself,


as you have done with everything

meaningful in your life, what happens


now?

79
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
sELf pORTRAIt: bLIZZARd

Dropping from the sky


like flakes of soap,
big heavy chunks
like frozen leaves
or pieces of poems.
Dropping like wings of small birds
like thick onion skins
that freeze their own tears,
like bits of alabaster flesh
searching for bone,
like sugar cubes or lily petals,
like clumps of feathers or dandelions:
crumbs of white bread:
the dust of clouds:

Snow falls because it cannot rise,


cannot bend its knees,
spread its wings.
It has no arms and cannot
climb the thin threads
it leaves streaming from the sky.
The more it falls, the more
it remembers its absence of rising.
To descend is not to ascend.
And not to ascend is to fall.
And to fall is to lose.

Snow is tired of losing.


Snow wants to watch TV on Sunday.
It wants to hibernate in the
winter, wear glasses
80
Dean Rader —–––––––––
And put on a tie.
Snow wants to learn to tell time.
Snow wants to eat Bar-B-Q ribs,
and listen to Elgar,
It wants to kiss a man or a woman.
Snow wants to wonder about God.

It so happens that
Snow wants to be rain:
it wants to dance on leaves
in the green of spring.
Snow wants be made love in,
sliding down buildings or bodies.

It wants to plunge on alfalfa and


corn stalks, it wants to sound like a slap.
But snow also wants to feel like the ocean.
Snow is ready for water.
Snow wants to keep flowing.

But April retreats like a distant shorline,


leaving Snow to dream
of Rangoon, San Tropez, Antigua,
where it can take off its fuzzy coat
and return to the source of its making.

But, snow wakes to its work,


diving down on linens
left out on the line,
landing on underwear and tanktops,
where it melts into big
dirty drops salty as tears.

81
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
wHAt tHIS iS: 35

1. This is the vase for the flowers you’re


holding
2. This is the sign on the wall that I’m
gone
3. This is your chance to create a
distraction
4. This is the answer to 7 across
5. This is the heaven we can’t reimagine
6. This is the hammer this is the chain
7. This is not at all what you asked for
8. This is the way we do things in Russia
9. This is something quite different from
that
10. This is my body that lies down in
darkness
11. This is the word spoken aloud
12. This is not what I thought would
happen
13. This is the heart and this is the
heart
14. This is the part of the poem you
wanted
15. This is my hand it’s touching your
elbow
16. This is the language we all have to
use
17. This is the same thing we did in the
morning
18. This is the question I won’t ever
ask
19. This is the place you can take me
82
Dean Rader —–––––––––
for coffee
20. This is the dog that misses his tail
21. This is for keeps it can’t be
returned
22. This is my penance for all of my
_______
23. This is perhaps the craziest line
24. This is forever, that is for now
25. This is the tree I planted in Cypress
26. This is the place on your thigh that
I’ll kiss
27. This is the one I’ve been talking
about
28. This is the light that is absent of
shadow
29. This is all I can do for you now
30. This is the lie that I’ll tell you
tomorrow
31. This is the heart and this is the
heart
32. This is the reason we choose to
believe
33. This is the word we know never to
say
34. This is not over it’s hardly begun

83
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pANHANDLE’s eNd

I hear good old-fashioned SF sound


feedback pouring out of a tiny amp
down the hill. Sketch, the self-described
potaholic decked out in the classic
seventies denim uniform, is doing the
hippy flail down by the guitar player and
his old lady who are older but stunningly
beautiful people. The guitar player
backs a grindy riff with a mean
reggae/blues howl:

Minstrel sing beware o’ Vanity Fair


Poet cry don’cha heed the siren o’
the sea
And the sin of the wicked city.

This turns out to be the guy’s only lyric


but he bites down on the vocal really
well and noodles the fuzzy sound in
luscious tones.
So then this poncho with hair gone
the color of an old mop comes bobbing
up the hill, and stops by our femora
cove, just above Needle Lake. His name
is James or Jamie or some shit like that
and we instantly recognize each other
as equals beneath the sun. We desire
conversation because we see that shine
in each other so clearly, but it is utterly
useless. He can’t verbally communicate
84
Paul Corman-Roberts —–––––––––––
the distance he’s traveled to reach her,
but looking into his steel gray eyes the
answer comes so clearly.
Baja?
I don’t know. Is it that far? It
seems longer rather than farther.
I see the thousand miles in his
pupils; I see Cabo and a thousand
million handouts and nights on warm
beaches and not so warm nights
underneath a levy or a broken bus stop
or whatever holds up till someone
comes to run you off. He doesn’t do
acid anymore. He doesn’t need to, he’s
tripping all the time now; life next to the
ocean will do that to a wanderer. Can
he see my coyotes in the Mojave? The
shades and wraiths haunting the Valley
of Fire...(?)
...Oh yes. His smile sees all, clearly
and right through me.
D and John watch the whole time;
they hear our conversation as “yeah,
you know man, ‘cause it’s all like, like
just totally so fuckin’ wow ever, you
know man.” They laugh at us the whole
time. But all I hear is beckoning.
You could do it too you know. It’s
all just one big beach between here and
Chile, and the Incan ruins...you could
go. You’re smart enough, you’re strong
enough to start out on that journey right
now and leave these sorry bitches
85
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
behind right now and isn’t that what you
really want, isn’t that all any of us who
end on this frontier want?
Macchu Picchu fades and the
drawings of the High Plateau’s become
the shadows of the wrinkles in poncho’s
face. The sun is low and gold/orange
through the Eucalyptus and Oak trees.
Now I’m looking at a malnourished man,
an old man not much older than me,
and a smoky voice, having hooked up a
freebie from Diana’s American Spirits,
asks if I know where to get something to
eat.
“The Krishna Temple is something
like, three blocks down Haight and
another four blocks up. They’ll feed
you, y’know, up to a certain time. I
think you still have a couple hours or
so.”
He gets that wry knowing look that
comes so easy to those with premature
crow’s feet.
“Yeah, it won’t be the first time I’ve
done some chanting. I can get off on it
too, but at the end of the second day
they start wantin’ you to hang around
y’know?”
Yeah, I know. “That’s the price ain’t
it? There’s always the introductory
offer. There are a thousand ways to turn
Bohemian in this town, each with the
same market value as the entrance to
86
Paul Corman-Roberts —–––––––––––
any monastery of your choosing. Entire
lives are bound in tightly wound
strategies; entire histories are displayed
in tightly wound stances. You have a
stance now that projects the exact same
thing in ways that some of us can see
and others of us cannot see.”
Now he laughs at me.
“I think that’s a plan. Thanks Migs,
you’ve helped me out a lot.” And off he
goes.
D and John are staring at me;
stoopid acid grins pasted to their glazed
mugs. John starts pealing out guffaws.
“Miggy, you’re a fuckin’ freak!”
“I told you he was the real deal,” D
chides. I have no choice but to grin
back at them sheepishly. I tell them I
think I have ESP.

87
—––––––––––– sPARKLE & bLINK
cLOSEr

Yeah, I’m the closer.


Wait
don’t go

please.

I know you’re tired.


I know you didn’t come for
my self-absorbed catharsis.
I know
there’s a lover you need
to get back to now
However real
or unreal they may be
But you waited this long
we may as well finish our ritual.
Just one more
minute I swear.

I know what you’re thinking.


You’re thinking that I’m just the kind of
poem
to be hanging out till the last title
just the kind of poem who’s lost and
looking for a free ride

Who am I kidding?
of course I’m that kind of poem
but the thing about the closer is

I heard you tonight


88
Paul Corman-Roberts —–––––––––––
saw you burn bright
& you know I’m blessed
to feel your embers’
occasional burst
into dangerous spark
that threatens to become flame
for better or worse;

blessed to smear the stain


of your ashes
in the old lachrymological
scratch across my third eye
all of which you have given
longingly
willingly
soulfully
to the conflagration
whose dousing we now bear witness to.

And where are you going now?


Is it the place you most want to go?

Carry this ember back


into the dark with you
so your chosen creatures
will know you when
you return home to them.

89
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