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sparkle + blink 3.6 © 2012 Quiet Lightning ISBN 978-1-105-69609-1 artwork © Agneta Falk edited by Evan Karp evankarp.com book design by j. brandon loberg set in Absara Promotional rights only. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission from individual authors. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the internet or any other means without the permission of the author(s) is illegal. Your support is crucial and appreciated.
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curated by Nicole
McFeely & Evan Karp Falk
featured artist Agneta Isak LIndenauer Max ToMLInson der WILLIaMs
Everything Leads Out by the Trees The Road is Long and Old But the Only Way Home
Even the President of the United States Sometimes Stands Naked 19
kaTherIne hogan nIcoLe henares
The Eucharist For Lisa July 12, 2002 Dark Night of the Creative Soul The Language Earthly Delights Notes from the Fun Factory from WARMUP Poppy Tracks Did She? True Love Dandelions on Market Street What We Would Reclaim
21 23 24 25 27 29 33 43 49 51 55 59 61
doug cordeLL ToM coMITTa rose Theresa Booker
naTe Waggoner sandra WassILLIe
sor • spon
ed in part by •
A 501(c)3, the primary objective and purpose of Quiet Lightning is to foster a community based on literary expression and to provide an arena for said expression. QL produces a monthly, submissionbased reading series on the first Monday of every month, of which these books (sparkle + blink) are verbatim transcripts. Formed as a nonprofit in July 2011, the board of QL is currently: Meghan Thornton secretary Josey Duncan public relations Nicole McFeely outreach Brandon Loberg design Kristen Kramer treasurer Chris Cole vice treasurer Charles Kruger chairman Evan Karp founder + president If you live in the Bay Area and are interested in helping—on any level—please send us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lead, led, read, read, seed, said, I begin what’s begun. How can I? I can start again what has already been started and do. No nothing. Ever what was Is what is. I began it. It began me so I was started, and from there I just kept on going, No past, no problem ever was but a moment which opened up into the next which opened up into the next so No need for dismay, despair, “dissolution of that” is what is coming next so that what is coming next can come. the worst becomes the best, becomes another thing and another thing… And another thing, nothing is apart. Everything is a part. So open the eyes widen the view to the everywhere and let the loosed moment fly away So, unhinged, you are flinging wide your self as a door To let in and let out that which is coming and that
which is going and rest on the openness, the emptiness, as the softest bed of protection and repose. In the midst of the hurtling universe is quiet space you can rest your head on. Do not be afraid if you cannot see it. Do not be afraid if you do. It is not there. It is here. Now it is no longer here. It was there long ago and only a second has past. I thought how can I go on? How can I decide what to do? What will become of me? What is worthwhile when everything ultimately disappears? And then I thought Everything good is worthwhile. Anything that is good is worth doing because it advances the world. The bloom of a flower in the corner of a garden enriches suns far away, sparkles universes into joy, creates a smile of kindness in the gardener who picks it and gives it to an old woman walking by who looks back in surprise and gratitude. How long had it been since someone had given her a flower? A gesture. A gesture of God in the fleshiness of body,
in the trunkiness of tree, the liquid lotion of water motioning, in the streaks of clouds, purple and pink, orange and turquoise as the sun goes down when, opening a bottle of wine together, we stop from today’s work to sit at the dinner table and look out the window before it disappears and the grainy greys of dusk take over. Accomplishment even though there is more to do and the satisfaction of the taste of the wine mix in the mouth and the heart. It was a good day you say. And I think to myself, yes, It was a good day after all… On the other hand, at another time, when it is so bad that every frightening fear falls away when the strain of being frightened snaps out, we fall asleep, or we forget for a moment, or we collapse from the pain. The body has its ways, momentary lapses in the midst of anything when too much of anything becomes the furthest reach outstretched in agony which cannot grasp what the drowning man grabs at and there is a falling, a drowning, a death… Then… even grief dies in time, dulls. The body is a healer like time itself is or it is death
I sa k LI nde nau e r
comes, the limit against whatever cancer called out in tiny shrieks, A gasp, or a moan. The uhh of defeat or in peace the last outward breath, ex hale, the body loses, once uttered, the spirit loosed, frees the prisoner as the chains drop away into the ethereal and there he wins… And death shall have no dominion… Think: This will get me somewhere. When it is a hard time. When it is easy. This is happening to take me toward what is next. Fluid or baby step, even excruciating, backward slide down the mountain, the skin is scraped raw, the body battered, the legs, hips, bloody, A rib or two is broken from the intermittent bouncing down, but the body is a healer and we are always progressing journeyward. What we are. Wards of the journey. Owned by life; the body leased. The purpose: proceed. You will have two hundred and eighteen million, nine hundred and forty-six thousand steps. You will have forty-five million eight hundred and sixty-three thousand,
eight hundred forty-one steps. You will have fifteen thousand seven hundred and seventy-seven steps. We walk them. Wide-eyed wonder of the gift to each. Presence in a universe box whose sides are invisible. To live is luck itself. Emily says, “To have been made alive is so chief a thing, all else inevitably adds.” We all walk together. One family is the world. If your arms are wide enough, you can embrace everything. You CAN embrace everything so open your arms up wide and reach, Scoop it all up like a bushel of leaves, a barrel of monkeys, a bowl full of cherries or a basket full of stars. Fling life up and scatter the juicy, twinkling, howling, rustling bunches of it. Stomp your feet, and beat your chest, and eat all the sweet growing things the forest scatters down upon you and the rest of your tribe. And scatter them yourself in kind. What you can give is why we are here. What you can give nobody else can give. The greatness in the small and how you rise above it into your sublimity. So be led by it, know, glory, allow it to, feel what we cannot see
I sa k LI nde nau e r
but dimly most always shining imperceptibly ahead of us that is our way...
o u t by the tr ees
Angel didn’t know how long he could leave the girl in the trunk. He wasn’t out of California yet but already it was bothering him. Highway 120 through Modesto, then Yosemite. The big trees. Past Mono Lake, stark and dead like a moonscape as the sun came up. No sound. On a road that was closed in winter, his old blue Ford not taking the turns well. The hilly curves rumbling with the throb of the V8. He was supposed to take the back roads. In case there was a problem with the girl. Angel wondered how she was doing back there. He saw a building in the distance, a small gasand-grocery where the road that was closed in winter met up with a bigger road, Highway 6. A thicker red line on his map, Angel having to squint to see it right. He was tired. His head hurt. He popped two more white pills from the baggie under the seat, swallowed them, forcing them down with almost no spit. The pills made his mouth dry.
The store just starting to open up: a little place made of grey wood, faded metal pop signs, from a time long ago, before he came to the US. Still a boy. This place was like some American TV show in the fifties, how they used to live, he imagined. He had this picture of what it used to be like for them and this, this store and gas station, this was part of it. No police at the door in the middle of the night, no being thrown around in a little boat trying to get away. He pulled the Ford into the station, up to a pump, let the engine die. He could hear birds in the trees. A middle-aged man in a plaid shirt and dungarees came out, started unlocking the pumps. Watching Angel out of the corner of his eye, wary of a big Latino in a leather jacket who needed sleep and a bath. The man came around the Ford, wiping his hands on a rag, checking Angel out as he peered into the driver’s window. “What’ll it be?” Angel saw him notice the beer cans on the floor. He didn’t know they did this anymore, came over to gas it up, like in Leave it to Beaver. “I’ll get it,” Angel said. He didn’t want the man near the trunk.
“Suit yourself,” the man said, walking off, going inside the store. The screen door banged shut behind him. Angel got out, his legs creaking. He gassed up the car, the tank gurgling in the early morning. Wondering for one crazy moment if she wasn’t still alive. The gas nozzle clicked off and he topped it off. But still no sound from the trunk. He was supposed to leave her in there until he got to the ranch. She’d be alright, they said. Angel looked at the store. The man in the plaid shirt was watching him through the screen door. Like Angel was going to run off with a tank of gas. Angel went over to the store, getting his wallet out, let the man know he was going to pay him. The man backed away from the door back into the store. When Angel went in he was putting loaves of bread on wooden shelves. Angel bought six-packs of Pabst, one of Pepsi, a loaf of bread, baloney, chips, Hostess cupcakes. A pack of cheese, the slices individually wrapped. A roll of toilet paper, which cost over a dollar. “You got any milk?” Angel said. “Yes,” the man said, still not friendly, pointing at the cooler. “Back where you were.”
Max T oMLI nson
Angel looked again. There was chocolate milk in the cooler so he got that. He scooped some candy onto the counter as he dumped the items by the register. Let the man put everything in a bag for him. “Sweet tooth, eh?” The man trying to be friendly now, now that he saw Angel coming out with a wedge of twenties. Not some Mexican with no money. “I do.” Angel felt like going back to the Ford, getting the .38 from the sock hanging under the dash, scare the TV show American half to death. He went back to the car, cleaned out the beer cans, dumping them in a 55-gallon drum by the pumps. Still no sound from the back. Taking more pills from the baggie under the seat he drove out Highway 6 to a point where there were still trees and a dirt road to the south. Soon it would be desert and no trees at all. He pulled off onto the dirt road, the Ford not liking it, bouncing around. He found a place where there was a clearing, an old picnic table and an old mattress and lots of garbage. Angel stopped, got out of the car, waited, listening to the quiet.
He went round to the trunk, unlocked it. She was rolled up in a little ball. Her knees were up to her chest. She was hugging them with her hands duct-taped together. Her ankles were taped too, and tape on her mouth. She had on little green shorts with wild cartoon patterns. She looked at him, frozen, scared. Scared but she was fighting it. He’d never seen a little girl be so brave, not even back where he came from. He carefully eased the tape back from her mouth and she gasped like a fish. He got out his knife, slowly cut the tape from her ankles and wrists so as not to cut her, pulled the tape off slowly so it wouldn’t hurt. She let him, not saying anything, not resisting. He went back to the front of the car, got the roll of toilet paper from the sack. When he returned she was sitting up, blinking. Next to her was a bag of her things, a white and black fluffy pig sticking out. He helped her out. She was light. He sat her on the rear bumper, let her put her white sneakers on, the ones with no laces. He dusted her off with his big rough hands. She stood, wobbly, from her time in the trunk. He handed her the roll of toilet paper and she took it, held it with both hands, unsure of what to do.
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“There’s a bush over there,” he said. “Don’t go so far I don’t know where you are.” She stared at him, still not blinking. “When you get back, I got some things for you to eat.” She nodded quickly. “Where’s my Mom?” “She’s waiting for you.” She went off into the bushes while he smoked a cigarette and watched her shadow, making sure she didn’t take off. Then she came rustling back. She handed him the roll of paper and stared at the picnic table, at the loaf of bread he’d laid out, at the cold cuts and cheese and chocolate milk and candy. “Go ahead,” he said, lighting up another cigarette and popping a beer. “Am I going back in there?” she said, nodding at the trunk, still open. He could see her shaking, trying not to. “No.” “Promise?” “Yes.”
“Are we really going to see my Mom?” “Yes.” And now he meant it. She nodded and walked up to the bench. He sauntered over to the Ford, shut the trunk so it wouldn’t be an issue for her. When he came back, she was gulping down chocolate milk like a drain. He drank his beer while she piled baloney onto a slice of bread, stopping to eat one piece folded up before she continued. Then she put slices of cheese on top of the meat and another slice of white flannel bread on top of that. It was two inches thick but she held it with both hands and attacked it with a hunger he hadn’t seen since he was a boy in his own country.
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the r o a d is L o n g a n d o L d but th e onLy Way home
Wet hot Latin-American summer air spiced up by sundown’s drunken golden fiesta – habanero, manzano, jalapeño, tequila with lime, sky not looking but tasting brightly turquoise. I am a stranger here. Other runaway Americans drove to LA, Peter Panned to NYC, or swam or flew to Paris or Peru. But the day I was born I knew – I will paint portraits of bandilleros in Mexico. I saw my life like a painting – by day I’ll paint the bullfighting men and nights I’ll moonlight cantinas with bars and blinding neon signs and live Mexicali blues. Of all the wild animals, human beings create the most to need and do. I needed a mound of sand to bury my feet, a plot of land not my own to root and grow. At sixteen I moved to Mexico City. Instead of paint, all I did was get shitty. I started out on burgundy but soon hit railroad gin.
I knew the artist needed to suffer from some crippling addiction. After gin my love was Texas medicine, a homebrew I bought off a one-eyed Mexican, a teenage kid, one hell of a salesman, I might add. I dug myself this hole to call my own, popped bottomless bottles and poured myself in. All the masters taught how to fill to the brim, to swig deep from the jar, to climb and swing from the birch’s tallest whitest branches. It took ten quarts of Cuervo, two limes, and one quarter-century to learn to take my sweet damn time, to draw the line with salt on my hand straight and long, between the body, bottle, and thirsty mind. Mornings shattered deathlike sleep and shone bile-yellow light on the bone-white bones of a question – which America is mine? North? South? West? East? Somewhere inside a voice cried, a buzz like the drunk from cheap wine – darse nombre – darse nombre – darse nom— I didn’t know the difference between the other’s name and mine. I didn’t know where on earth to go. I tried Mexico. What did I find.
After so many years, what did I know? All I really knew were stories like these, like dreams. I knew I always dreamed of bigger skies. Blue-tasting, Whitman-wide, Kerouac-fast, but Charles Wright journal-and-landscape-Southern-drawl-slow. This is a voice that is more like my own. No no no, look, see, they tell me, no one magically has a home. If you find it, then you build. But first of all you hit the road. I looked for a language to know in full as though fluent meant perfect, absolute. But what I found was its Latin root – flumen: flowing freely; of rivers; to move.
de r WI LLI a Ms
even the President of the united states sometimes stands naked
Raining. The smell of wet paint on the railing. The woman who fell down Stairs is having a baby. The smell of wet pavement. Time is your dad in a Blue tie. Sundown’s blood-orange & cantaloupe tie-dye. The difference Between brain & mind is the time it takes to think. The eye’s a dog, time’s A tether. Crows of a murder flock together. Being important is nice but nice Is better. Two red moose & green spruce stitched to a Christmas sweater. There’s nothing good about perfect order, but nothing good about chaos either. Time is one pricey parking meter. The city is a copper coin slipped through oily Fingers. Philip Levine said “I do not believe in sorrow. It is just so unAmerican.” The woman who fell down stairs is now in labor at the university hospital at Ann
de r WI LLI a Ms
Arbor. Snip of scissors. Warm shaving cream. The quick scratch of razor On the back of your neck at the barber’s. Time is your father wearing a blue Hat. Life is hairs on a young person’s balding head. Ten Black & Tans please. What’s that? That’s right. Ten. The smell of the dunes. The sound of music From empty rooms. Nothing good about so much weight, but nothing good about Hummingbirds either. Cake. The word, even, is icing-topped & light- & fluffyCentered. The woman who fell down stairs is dying, but first will give birth to me. The smell of wet smoke stuck in your throat. Time is my nameless naked daddy.
t h e e u C h arist
a priest with greasy fingers shoving french fries through his chapped lips, smiling through his rotting teeth. this is the body of christ. and he laughs with his mouth full, remnants of swept up potatoes glued to his cheeks, as his white collar grows tighter. let us rejoice and give thanks. he grabs his soda, lips eagerly kissing the rim, chugging down the ounces of aspartame in an attempt to wash the pesticides. this is the blood of christ. he shoves a dripping patty into his mouth, molars grinding the cow’s corpse in a rhythm that resembles an offbeat chant.
let us give thanks to our lord. and the french fries stain his robe, and the patty drips down his mouth, and he is still laughing with his mouth full, laughing with his head back, as his white collar grows tighter and tighter and his face swells from the chemicals off the coated tiles. he is praising something, he is praising hallelujah with parted lips and greasy fingers. this is what we cannot see. amen.
f o r L is a
Next year we will go to different schools but now we share bare feet burning on hot bricks and a garden hose. We stopped popping the fuchsia blossoms last summer when you got stung by a bee. You are wearing my pink ruffled beach coverup, the one I can no longer fit into. My swimsuit is plain and my thighs- I don’t know what my mom has been feeding me- look like they belong on Jack Atlas. My mom’s hair has finally begun to grow back from when she chopped it during her divorce the year before. We can’t go to your house though it has a pool because your dad locked your family out when your mom she said she wanted a divorce. I know this but my mother has forbidden me to talk about it. I say you can borrow my swimsuit. You say thank you, despite your hatred of pink. So we play outside with the garden hose. The water is like ribbon candy, curling and so sweet we laugh but forget to smile.
JuLy 12, 2002
what has happened? I forgot about love. I forgot about love. I forgot about love, my Love: Beserk, prince of the poetic peacocks. I think I knew him. I think I fell in love with him once in the holy lunacy of October. He wooed me with deformed fingers. said he lived in sun color and milky blues, while whispering recycled love poems. He told me, “paper clips are outstretched tongues spit cups are holy things, pigeons are memories, cobblestone are unpressed desires, remember me, remember me, remember me, as you stubble against wine and sequins.” I, only heard his hand, his sad, sad hand. And I forgot
dark night of the Creative souL
I’m tired of these floppy ears and slack jawed happy. I wanna stop swinging between shiny balled meditation and spiked snarls. Give me my tin-can, my Red Algae, a bay flower to crackle and comb with the stretch of phosphorescent paintbrushes.
nI coLe H e na re s
the Lang uag e
pink streaks, sky, pink streaks, branches—buildings turn purple—the wind sings the moon—the moon sings the wind—all the words, all the worlds, in one face—
one story—the boy and the swan—the swan and the night—the face in the house—your lips slip the night—your face slips your eyes—your eyes slip your yes—love like flying—
where is your bliss—who is your kiss—smile painting smile sacred arcs of rain—O taste, O taste and see—I can’t believe we’ve come to this—you rose—I can’t believe—
and all the words—all the hands—you dream me— dream me there—soft mist, soft kiss—change the world—Jesus it’s possible—what do you know—what do you taste—vodka, ice, soft air, soft air, your hands—what if I worship you—your life is real—
tonight—what’s that—a voice—a wing—tonight can sing tomorrow’s ring—arc, arc me the secret—your gaze, the spin—you go so deep—your sound, your sound—you go so deep—
Your Kisses Your Sky Your Darkness Your Sky —no— paint angel— flesh— paint angel—
Yelling at the building, yelling at the secret, yelling after midnight: try this: property is death: they had a body crammed in a mailbox and it was just a brown suit with bones sticking out: America, you can’t be greed; America, you’re only greed; America, one extra summer night—
let’s be rain—you could kiss me, pink arcs, pinkpurple arcs—you Dirty, clean, kindness, longing: write the night— sound gives life—death’s sound too—keep listening, listen: before you broke me I thought I was free: sinful and free— Blue sound, blue vision, skyscrapers, empty tombs: nothing ends, see you later; sound and vision, broken rooms: mist, ropes of wind: end of the night, watery greens, blue winter night, thirty years gone—end of the night, watery greens, blue winter night— give me the round sky to suck you winter night—you
know, you knew, you always know Your Kisses Your Sky Your Darkness Your Sky
Jose p H Le ase
the fun faCto
I got a gig today as a writer on a kids’ TV show. A playwright friend of mine hooked me up. I’ve never done much of that kind of work, but I figure it’ll be a good way to make some quick money without taking too much time away from my novel. The timing was crucial because last week I started reusing paper towels. I wasn’t sure if the people at the show were going to call at all, frankly; I didn’t think the interview went especially well. It was just the producer and me, and the whole time I was talking about my work experience he kept leaning back in his Aeron chair, strumming an acoustic guitar and gazing out the window, only occasionally breaking the reverie to scroll through something that popped up on his laptop. But just when I’d wound down to a nearly catatonic state, having run entirely out of things to say about myself, he lurched forward and said, “So why do you want to write for children’s television?” I leaned away from him and frenetically scanned
my brain for an answer, then mumbled, “Well… I like children…. and I like television….” That was followed by thirty seconds of dead air while he eyed me as if I were some sort of medical curiosity. Then he stood up and said, “Okay, thanks,” and whisked me out of the office. So I was surprised when they called and offered me the contract.
This is the sweetest setup I’ve ever had. It’s like a playhouse for adults. Everyone is really friendly, the women in the front office are beautiful, and there’s a giant ceramic bowl in the kitchen that’s always filled with peanut M & M’s. The whole staff seems very enthusiastic about the show. The target audience is four to six-year-olds, and apparently they’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from parents and the educational research types who follow these things. It’s all puppets—a bear, a pig, a rabbit and so on—shot against a cheesy-looking, computer-animated forest; but the kids seem to go for it. So far I’m still going through last season’s scripts and sitting in on story meetings. I was a little nervous about the whole thing at first; they take this stuff very seriously. But it is four to six-year-olds, I’m thinking, so how hard can it be?
My first table read. The puppeteers sit around the lunch tables on the set and give your script a cold read while the producer sits back and makes notes. He seemed pretty happy with the script—he called it a “good first effort”—but one of the puppeteers, the guy who works the pig puppet, came up to me afterwards with a line of dialogue circled in red. He said, “Gimlet”—not the puppet’s real name— ”wouldn’t say that.” “Well,” I told him, “I was thinking we could add another dimension to Gimlet’s character.” “Maybe give him a bit of an agenda,” I said with a wink. He looked at me soberly. “Gimlet doesn’t have an agenda,” he said.
I was hoping to inject a little politics into the show. I pitched an episode where the pig and the donkey are running in competition for a vaguely defined treasury position in the computer-animated forest. It all would have devolved into a mad scramble for power, with the usual upshot about cooperation versus competition—and maybe a subliminal lesson for the
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kids about how not to let hot-button social issues distract you from your true class interests. But the producer got hung up on a couple of technical points. First, he thought that the phrase “pork barrel” brought up the kind of associations for the pig character that, as he put it, were “better left unexplored.” What really seemed to bother him, though, was a small plot point that turned on the rabbit getting a pair of running shoes. “Rabbits don’t wear shoes,” he said with a smirk, in front of the assembled cast and crew. That got a chuckle from the new kid they hired as script assistant. “Well,” I pointed out, “he’s wearing a vest.” “The vest is part of his character,” the producer said solemnly, and the script assistant made a note.
The pressure to crank out scripts is beginning to build. We’re two weeks behind the shooting schedule and everybody looks stressed. My back has been going into spasms whenever I hunch over my desk to bang out puppet dialogue. Plus, I’ve been so wired at night, knowing how much work I have to do, I started taking Ambien to get to sleep. Sylvia, one of the other writers, suggested it. She explained that
she and her husband, an overworked lawyer, take it to wind down from their jobs, and it keeps them from being at each other’s throats. The only drawback, she said, is that after using it for a while you start to feel a little surly by the next afternoon. “Like you could eat glass,” she said.
Last night a woman at a party asked me what I do. “Writing,” I told her. “What kind of writing?” “Well,” I said, “I’m working on a novel.” Nothing. Her eyes glazed over as if I’d just said I scrape gum off movie theater seats. “But right now,” I added, “I’m also writing for a children’s television show.” Her face suddenly came alive. “Really,” she said. “That must be fun!” “Yes,” I said, warming to her enthusiasm and throwing in a knowing nod, “It’s fun, but it’s a lot of work…”
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I am a puppet god. What I do is, I put words into the mouths of puppets. I take these inanimate objects— toys, really—and create characters out of them. I give nuance to the crude sketches of their personalities—a way of orienting them to the world. I give them life. My third script went over really well at the table read. The producer made a point of saying how much he liked it and how it showed that, “even a simple idea can work, if it’s executed well.” After the read, the cute girl who works the donkey puppet gave me a big smile.
I’ve been editing scripts on the floor all week, flat on my back. It’s the only way I can keep the spasms from starting up. I think it’s the Ambien. At today’s table read the producer almost stepped on my head. I was lying on the floor behind one of the puppet-maker’s workbenches when he came bounding in to deliver the script. It was a freelance submission by his wife, a marketing executive at Bed, Bath and Beyond—who, we were told, “has a terrific story sense.” Her script had the donkey and the bear deciding at the top of the first act to make a quilt together. It all
goes swimmingly, in a sort of dramatic flat-line from beginning to end: they have tremendous fun; the quilt ends up looking terrific; none of the characters get up and move anywhere—eliminating messy issues about things like set design; and along the way we learn an alarming amount about quilt-making. When the read was over, everyone sat in stony silence. Later in the afternoon, at the mark-up session, Sylvia told us that she and her husband are having a trial separation.
It’s a slave ship. That’s what it’s like—being on a slave ship. The writers’ room is like the hold of the ship, each of us chained to our desks, manning the oars, while the head writer walks up and down the room ready to crack the whip. I’ve never worked so hard in my life. I’ve never actually worked very hard at anything for any serious length of time, but I’ve had enough awful jobs in short stretches to know about back-breaking labor and mind-sucking monotony. This is worse. It’s a miserable combination of the isolation and inescapable self-reliance of writing, and the imprisonment, interpersonal horror and spiritrobbing fluorescence of an office job. I don’t even know if I’ll make it the last two weeks.
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I’m determined not to quit, though. I’ve decided that if it comes to it, I’m going to make them fire me. I’ll just sit at my desk and do nothing, stare at the wall and shovel down M & M’s until they come and carry me out. If nothing else, I’ll squeeze a couple more weeks of pay out of them. One thing’s for sure: I’ll never take a job like this again. I’d rather scrape gum off movie theater seats.
I could see doing this again. It was hard work, sure, but that’s what makes you good. If you’re a craftsman, you use your craft. You don’t sit around saying, “I’m too good for this; I’m too good for that.” You hone your skills. You take the skills you have and you hone them. Today was the wrap party for the season. I wasn’t going to go; I was pretty wiped from pushing through for eleven hours on a final rewrite. I was trying to sneak out the side door when I ran into a pack of puppeteers and got herded along. It turned out to be more fun than I expected. The women in the front office made it a celebration of the writers. They had us wear crowns made out of newspaper and No. 2 pencils and stand for group photos in the middle of the restaurant—which was a little humiliating. But even with that, I enjoyed the attention. I flirted with a couple of the front office women, and the cute girl who works the Droopy
puppet told me how much she liked the way I fleshed out his character. “You made him more than some dysfunctional donkey,” she said. After a couple of hours of the open bar, even the puppeteer for Gimlet pulled me aside. “We’ve had our differences, man,” he told me. “But I respect you—because you respect the puppet.” At the end of the night the producer gave me an awkward hug and told me about another project he’s got in the works that he thinks I’d be perfect for. It’s about an extended family of vowels who play winter sports and, from what I can tell, live in a sort of dyslexic Alpine village. He asked me if I thought that sounded interesting. “It does,” I told him. “It definitely does. I definitely think it does…”
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fr o m
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? A woodchuck would chuck how much a woodchuck would chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood.
How much wood could Chuck Wood’s woodchuck chuck if Chuck Wood’s woodchuck could and would chuck wood?
If Chuck Wood’s woodchuck could and would chuck wood how much wood could and would Chuck Wood’s woodchuck chuck?
How much ground would a groundhog hog if a groundhog could hog ground?
How much dew does a dewdrop drop if dew drops do drop dew?
How much pot could a pot roast roast if a pot roast could roast pot?
How many cookies could a good cook cook If a good cook could cook cookies?
How many yaks could a yak pack pack if a yack pack could pack yaks?
How many cans can a cannibal nibble if a cannible can nibble cans?
Can you can a can as a canner can can a can in Kenya? Can you can a can as a canner can can a can in Kenya? Can you can a can as a canner can can a can in Kenya? Can you can a can as a canner can can a can in Kenya? Can you can a can as a canner can can a can in Kenya?
How can a clam cram in a clean cream can? How can a clam cram in a clean cream can? Can you can a can as a canner can can a can in Kenya? Can you can a can as a canner can can a can in Kenya? Can you can a can as a canner can can a can in Kenya? Can you can a can as a canner can can a can in Kenya? Can you can a can as a canner can can a can in Kenya? Can you can a can as a canner can can a can in Kenya? Can you can a can as a canner can can a can in Kenya? Can you can a can as a canner can can a can in Kenya? Can you can a can as a canner can can a can in Kenya? Can you can a can as a canner can can a can in Kenya? Can you can a can as a canner can can a can in Kenya? Can you can a can as a canner can can a can in Kenya?
How much myrtle would a wood turtle hurdle if a wood turtle could hurdle myrtle? How much myrtle would a wood turtle hurdle if a wood turtle could hurdle myrtle?
T oM coMI T Ta
How much dough would Bob Dole dole if Bob Dole could dole dough? How much dough would Bob Dole dole if Bob Dole could dole dough?
I wish to wish the wish you wish to wish, but if you wish to wish the wish the wish wishes, I won’t wish the wish you wish to wish.
I wish you were a fish in my dish
I wish to wish, I dream to dream, I try to try, and I live to live, and I’d die to die, and I cry to cry but I don’t know why.
How how how much much much oil oil oil boil boil boil can can can a a a gum gum gum boil boil boil boil boil boil if if if a a a gum gum gum boil boil boil can can can boil boil boil oil oil oil??? How how how much much much oil oil oil boil boil boil can can can a a a gum gum gum boil boil boil boil boil boil if if if a a a gum gum gum boil boil boil can can can boil boil boil oil oil oil???
Knife and a fork bottle and a cork that is the way you spell New York. Knife and a fork bottle and a cork that is the way you spell New York.
He wanted to desert his dessert in the desert! He wanted to desert his dessert in the desert!
T oM coMI T Ta
I would if I could! But I can’t, so I won’t! I would if I could! But I can’t, so I won’t!
Toy boat, toy boat, toy boat, toy boat, … Toy boat, toy boat, toy boat, toy boat, …
Mumbling, bumbling. Bumbling, mumbling. Mumbling, bumbling. Bumbling, mumbling.
Iranian Uranium Iranium Uranium
P o PPy traC ks
On Wall Street crooked sticks throw loaded dice hedging bets on a mother’s failure to provide a roof, a father’s failure to protect the young, a nations failure to govern the people. But over-turned soil feeds fresh flowers. While black suits dissect and parcel out women, claiming rights over fertile ground, a scream breaks the night as the hanger drags a child out. But railroad tracks bloom year round. Golden blossoms wave in the breeze. At home classrooms brim over with hunger, black suits tighten tiny belts around slims waists. Yet trains carve deep veins into a pavement carpeted West, exposing over turned soil where wayward seeds may settle. Abroad, a holy land is speckled with shrapnel, while blue-green leaves unfurl in the noon sun soaking in the rays across the golden state along highways and byways where we had thought the West was conquered and dead, underneath a blanket of pitch and tar. Yet still it grows
in four petals, the color of men’s dreams, a king’s ransom, the sun’s rays turned smoother than silk, constant as tomorrow. Still it shines in disturbed arenas.
January 1st – the crystal ball drops at midnight signaling a call – Mother – “Did she call you?” No – but the New Year began with confetti – streamers and lights champagne clinks – fresh kisses – bright eyes – No but I February 14 – red paper hearts dangle over the coffee counter order begins – interrupted – Mother’s ring – “Did she call you?” No – but chocolate mixes with the scent of fresh roses the bay sparkles in the sun – pink ribbons wave – No but I March 5 – nerves shot through by stuff bags full of clothes hurry out the door before – a ring – “She called you?” Yes – from a detox center wrapped in black railroad tracks – broken liquor bottles – insulin needles – Yes – I – april 8 – pastel colored dresses wrap around smiling
rose T H e re sa Booke r
children hunting– spot an egg – when it rings – “Did she call you? No – but Churches are celebrating a miracle – a son’s return from beyond – arisen after three days in a tomb – No but I May 13 – on the train heading east – holding a package wrapped in her favorite colors – she calls – “Did she call you? No – but children are celebrating with homemade cards – packages filled with thanksgiving – adventures back home – No but I June 14 – phone ringing non-stop – insurance – police – hospitals among the indifferent ringing she calls out – “Has she called you?” Yes – from the police station – a hall way tiled cream white – stained black edges – a bruised hip – swollen eyes – Yes and I July 4 – night sky explodes with mutli-colored chrysanthemums
man-made stars come alive when – a ring – “Did she call you?” No – but many hands are holding tiny sparklers – waving for a freedom gained in blood – marked by explosions – No but I august 15 – we sit together in the pews – heads bent for the feast – assumption – not many hear her whisper – “Did she call you?” No – but the empty pews echo with the sound of praying breathes desperate energy – our names etched in the red book – No but we september 27 – her voice on the line a desperate plea over electric beeps – a respirator – Mother’s question – “She called you?” Yes – from a hospital across the bay near the site of the accident broken bones – swollen limbs – scared child – Yes – I october 31 – the world wears a fearsome mask – sharpen teeth fierce claws ready for – the ring – “Did she call you?”
rose T H e re sa Booke r
No – but I’ve given out over a pound of candy – home made caramels – her recipe – and chocolate eyes – No but I november 22 – roasted turkey – greens mixed with bacon sweet potato pies – all sit waiting – “Did she call you?” No – no but I cooked the food and the plates are all set enough – enough for three – just enough – No but I december 25 – evergreens draped in silver tinsel – fat men in red suits – I pass them all when – “Did she call you?” Yes – from home where the presents sit unopened – bandaged like her – watching re-runs – waiting – Yes – we –
true L ove
The day I proposed to her was the day after the day I realized girls only hook up anonymously with dudes of a certain height. I’d love to have tons of anonymous sex, but I’ve never had any anonymous sex because if you’re my height or shorter, or maybe even like a few inches taller than me, girls have to be in love with you before they sleep with you. Somewhere in Nevada there’s an ancient statue of unknown origin, like Easter Island, except it looks more like a Bob’s Big Boy-type character I think, a potbellied, smiling lad, extending his arm at about 6’2”, and underneath the arm it says in every human language that has ever existed or ever will exist, “You Must Be This Tall to be a Sexually Promiscuous Man.” I wish I had known about that statue before I got these three tattoos. Not to say I don’t love her, I do, but that’s not really that important. I also love strawberry-rhubarb pie and Mortal Kombat and the rock group Journey and my possibly-schizophrenic friend Matthew Elmer who may or may not have recently tried to burn down my and Chloe’s apartment after an argument over preferred cereal brands.
The important thing is I need her to make informed decisions about my life, and to show me how to do basic things. Here’s why: let me put it this way: parents, if right now you’re thinking about raising your kids as like a reaction to the hard times you yourself have had, like because you had to learn to fend for yourself, you want your kids to never have to worry about anything? Please don’t do it that way. That’s how my parents did it and it’s absolutely not worth it for kids like me, just because of the number of times your kid will end up embarrassing himself at 7-11 having a credit card and actually not knowing how it works, like handing the card to the man behind the counter, and watching him point to the credit card machine your kid is supposed to swipe his card through, and being like, “No, you don’t understand, I want to pay for something with my credit card, I’m not interested in whatever that little screen with the shallow vertical little trench on the side there is,” and the man behind the counter will be like, “Swipe it through, please,” and your kid will be like, “No, you idiot, I’m trying to pay for this bag of Extreme Sour Gummies and these cigars with a credit card, so please take the card and do whatever it is you do with the card to make the money thing happen.” Or the time where your little darling will have to ask his or her college roommate, as I have had to, not only how to boil water on the stove, but how to tell when the water is boiling.
And don’t even get me started on the food poisoning. You can’t convince me that a destitute child in Uganda or somewhere would envy the amount of food poisoning I’ve accidentally induced on myself and guests of my apartment before I moved in with her. Parents basically have to make a choice on the day their kid is born: do they want to teach their kid about money and food and clothes, or do they want their kid to end up in the hospital getting his stomach pumped at 23 because he tried to make a bagel? So that’s why I wanted to marry her—that, and because of that sex statue, leering at me in the desert night. You’re not so tough.
naT e Wa ggone r
d eLio ns o
n market str
Down the subway stairs haloed in sunlight a musician: shaky in stance eyes closed dark wrinkles smoothed into smile he bows a fiddle crafted of red plastic a couple of strings pauses now and then as if to remember to listen recognition ripples across his face and he continues the dry scrape of brittle branch. Out on the street embalmed in rust a sculpture: iron shapes wilt of leaf a waver in the stem one seed head about to explode over passersby while in the crack of cement a mere tickle underfoot
a dandelion sets off its plume song that floats in sunlight down the street.
What We WouLd reCLaim
In the stillness between notes a breath or is it a disappearance the mystery that is our beginning in the eastern light a haunting which comes from behind us a refrain the afterword a name written in the book without anecdote to give it verse. Herodotus said history is the strangest thing humans do: it begins with grieving for what we would reclaim but cannot always carry forward even in words the movement of the body is charted its reasons only interpreted. We start out to be different to escape memory embodied in the ether of our head but conjure up the awful hear the music of the masters then settle to perfect what has gone before and call it a progression. The dividing self that
sandra WassI LLI e
makes a body, a record with no erasures error becomes creation an experiment but truth seeps out of the fissures startles us with a flash of fireworks a piercing whisper whose brilliance fades before we can ever touch it.
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