Potluck

 

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Potluck 2.0 launching soon! See you in the new year!

 

ONE: TRANS PLANET

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS APOLITICAL ART DUMB ASS

first there was nothing
then god created a man & immediately she said
“i’ve made a huge mistake”
it’s okay god
i make mistakes all the time
like believing in people
like questioning myself
like my shaking hands gripping a book & a microphone
while i try to say what i believe loudly
there is a silence in me that is not deep
it does not go on forever
it is only a pause
a hesitation
the thing you lack in your fingers
as you tell me about beauty
“beauty is the absence of meaning” 
some asshole once said
but the only thing i do for its own sake
is continue not to die
every morning i wake up & avoid the mirror
as i read the buried headlines
about buried trans women
beauty doesn’t exist
words are bullshit
there is only the anger that keeps you going
out the front door into a world full of knives
there is only the fear you have
of living something like a life
i’ve lived several lives
subsisting on spite & fuck its
the only aesthetic i have left is survival
so if you want to see something truly beautiful
stop killing us
& then stare at the sky & shut the fuck up forever

 

 

Joshua Jennifer Espinoza is a trans woman poet from California. She is too gay to exist and yet, somehow, she does. She has been published in The Offing, The Feminist Wire, and other places. Her first book “i’m alive / it hurts / i love it” was released by Boost House in 2014. Follow her on Twitter @sadqueer4life.

body#0017x003

Tears stream down the body’s face,

                        first time experienced

with this particular,

            animate,

                                                            marionette,

                                                                 the searing caress of saline
                                                                 nevertheless

                                                                 an all too familiar friend.

It holds the body’s left wrist

(in the body’s right hand)
 
           firmly,

           focusing intently on its breathing

            as it tries to bring

            the suffocating pressure

            emanating from the body’s chest

            under control.

In.

Out.

In.

Out.

In.

Out.

Out.

In.

Out.

In.

Out.

In.

 

It doesn’t work.

(Who

– or what –

does it think it is kidding?)

It never does,

time to focus

on more drastic measures.

It lets the jagged thumbnail
of the body’s right hand
dig into its left wrist

– keeps perfect time

with the tormenting regularity

of the body’s pulse –
 

                                   pressure increasing:

                                             aggressively,

progressively,

exponentially;

                                                                                      pictures an accompanying graph,

                                                                                            curve surging off

into an infinite abyss.

(Euler’s number positively joyous
over its complicit involvement).

Force versus time:

                   interesting thought.

Force.

inertia at best.

Time:

in paralysing overabundance.
 

How much time had it spent living?

It laughs

– to itself –

   conspicuously unaware

   of potential audiences.

Living:

one concept

that never fails to summon

an ironic curvature

onto its body’s lips.

Dying usually being a more apt description,

              but in its case

              not even that

              could be said

              to be true.

 

It wasn’t dying,

never could.

It didn’t matter how much it

wanted,

desired,

or craved it,

             longed,

             yearned,

             or even begged for it;

                          it could not die.

 

Its death wasn’t its to live.

(Having,

on numerous occasions,

             tested the theory,

             and currently in the process

             of a renewed attempt,

             supposing the glistening claret

             leaking from the body’s left wrist

             be permitted

             as supporting evidence

             to the fact.)

But they would never let it

             (die that is);

             they own it

– judicially,

             unequivocally,

             ethically? –

             wouldn’t let it go

             just like that.

It is too valuable,

they had invested too much,

it has so much more to teach them

             (despite the fact

             it itself appears

             to know nothing

             at all).

Returning to matters more visceral,

             it looks down

             at the viscous substance

             oozing from the gash

             – which has now taken form

             on the body’s left wrist –

             the sight of which

             brings its tears

             to a jarring halt.

Self-inflicted pain

(questionable adjective in this case perhaps)

             being more satiating in action

             than as mere thesis

             of thought.

 

 

 

 

Nicholas Lawrence is a postgraduate philosophy student living in Stockholm. His original fiction has been published in Tincture Journal and his translations appear on Monday Art Project. 

FIVE: Poems

物の哀れ

before you flew to Alaska, you told me
something beautiful about airports,
and I understood what you meant

I’ve realized that there’s trees in Hong Kong
and there’s neon lights in Alaska,
and that everywhere you go has everything

I’m beginning to think the only places
you can feel nostalgia for
are the convenience stores
that are on the threshold of too close and too far,
so you only go there sometimes,
and everydayness becomes a special occasion

you will leave before Christmas
and it will be cold where you’re going
but forever isn’t a long time

I know that you aren’t afraid
of the sad-but-beautiful feeling
so I will never worry about you

have you ever been places, where
on some days it rains, and the rain
doesn’t feel like water? because it’s acid
I’ve felt acid rain, and it doesn’t hurt
it’s sting-y and feels profoundly like something,
rather than feeling like hard air

When I flew home from Seoul,
we flew over your home, but I sat
in a middle seat, so I couldn’t look down

you told me that the world
was beautiful again,
and I believed you again

 

 

Christian M Patterson is 23 years old. He's from Auburn WA and lives in Portland OR. When he isn't writing poetry, he is watching wrestling. Find him on Twitter and Tumblr.

The Happiest Bearded Man in Fukui

You learn a lot about what words by living them.  What you think a word means can be a lot different in your head than in the world.  Some words —important words — have a hidden weight to them, a heft you have to get used to.  When I was a little kid, the teacher who came in to teach us metrics brought in a piece of metal that weighed about a kilogram.  It was heavy and cumbersome, hard to hold on to let alone get my fingers around.  Today, at the gym, I held a kilogram weight between two fingers and didn't notice it.

For a long time, I paid little attention to the weight of words.  I paid no mind to the weight of their existence or how much displacement they could create in our emotional lives.  In a poetry workshop, a few of us argued that haiku didn’t always work in English.  English words carried different emotional weights from their Japanese counterparts.  I argued that in Japanese haiku, words were loaded with an accepted emotional shorthand.  We didn’t do that in English as much, so the Japanese words felt heavier.

For example, the word samishii carries a weight for me that loneliness doesn’t.  Loneliness is staring into the sad foam-coated bottom of an empty beer mug. Samishii is walking home on a cold night when the wind sinks its claws through your coat, gnaws at your ears and your feet are wet.  I don’t know where I got this idea; maybe it was in my high school Japanese class or maybe when I started reading Japanese poetry.  Or maybe I learned it living three winters in Japan.  Samishii is more desperate than loneliness, and that is how I felt.

When I lived in Japan, I lived in Fukui Prefecture, a little prefecture by the Sea of Japan. In Fukui, I felt the full weight of samishii.  The summers were hot and sweaty.  Then, as if someone remembered to flip the switch that turned on the cold and killed off the cicadas, winter rolled in, dumping thick, wet snow.  My little Japanese home was the kind of place where you might not need a social occasion to drink.  As a result, we spent a lot of time in bars.

So it follows that the best-lit street in Fukui City was Katamachi, the drinking district.  On a weekday night, this short stretch could get crowded, but on a weekend, it was packed.  Cars inched down the narrow lane in two directions.  Pedestrians crisscrossed between the cars as they moved from one joint to the next.  We had our favorite places and chose our spots for a variety of reasons.  Someone knew someone who owned a place. Sometimes a place had the right vibe. Sometimes it was because they didn’t charge us for putting our asses down.  One night when Russ hovered his butt over his seat saying, “Wait!  Wait!  I’m about to spend 500 yen!” before lowering himself onto the worn green cushion.  We hated places with seating charges.

One of the “no sitting fee” places was Big Mug.  I liked the natural finished tabletops with their black iron stands, but hated the J-pop blaring over the speakers.  Loved the TV screens in the walls that were never on, but wasn’t crazy about the lack of cushions on the seats.  It was only two doors down from Akiyoshi, a favorite yakitori place and stumbling distance was always a plus.  

But the biggest asset to Big Mug was the Happiest Bearded Man in Fukui.  I didn’t know him but saw him all the time. He was the headwaiter.  He’d stand in the back of the front room, watching everything that went on.  Until Patrick gave him the name, I never noticed the beard. It was pretty impressive, thick and full, well-groomed, meaty.

He looked middle-aged with a thick torso compared to the rail-thin kids who stood next to him.  They all wore the same black slacks with waistcoats and white shirts.  The younger waiters looked like high school students with bleached, spiky hair and shirts that fit more like tents.  The man filled out his uniform and was distinguishable and, for the most part, distinguished.

Sometimes I wouldn't go to Big Mug for months.  After all, we had a few favorite haunts and I traveled around quite a bit.  But no matter what, this guy was always there.  He was as much of a fixture as the smooth barstools and the orange walls.

***

Living in another country is an exciting experience.  All the new sights and sounds and smells lead to days where your senses become numb.  But if it’s a country that doesn’t speak your language and you don't speak theirs well, the days are grueling as the simplest tasks are like wading through a swamp.  Going from being articulate and educated to being a mute illiterate is hard on the ego.  All that time in school feels like a waste when the most advanced conversation consists of monosyllabic grunts about the weather.  While I took Japanese in high school and college, I wasn’t fluent and, at first, wasn't conversant.  Most frustrating of all, I didn’t have the benefit of looking foreign, so I got no slack.

For me, Japan had always been a kind of Fantasyland.  My mother told me immigrant tales of a country from the last century where everyone looked like us.  Japan was a mirage made up of those stories and the Japanese kids shows on our UHF channel.  That combination can be dangerous when you get there, because things are always trickier once you can smell the people.

In JET, we were brought to Japan in middle the humid summer, which tended to wilt Westerners like a flower in the oven.  Then there was the winter of not-so-extreme temperatures except you have no insulation in the walls and no central heating.  Huddled next to a kerosene heater in a room floored with straw mats didn’t inspire great amounts of confidence for my safety.  The springs, with the cherry blossoms blooming, and autumns, with the changing fiery leaves, were not just pleasant but downright beautiful.  The summers and winters really knocked the romance out of you.  And that’s when the devil comes to tempt you.

Truth is, I never felt culture shock come along until February, and then it came back the same time every year.  I would be sick and tired of Japanese study, both the language and the culture, tired of the cold and not looking forward to the heat.  I was tired of what I thought of as a strange mix of primitive and super-modern—my rice cooker having more buttons and settings than my TV and a burner/range that didn't deserve higher status than a bunch of dry sticks surrounded by a ring of rocks.  My heater looked like a relic from the Great Depression, but my bathroom was molded from one piece of plastic.  I was tired of sorting my trash out into the nebulous categories of “burnable” and “non-burnable” and who decided that plastic wrap was recyclable?  I was lucky. I never had any run-ins with the neighborhood garbage police of grandmas in aprons.

By February 2000, I was ready to come home.  I had just turned 30 and had finished a pretty horrific falling out a month earlier which I won’t talk about.  The job had definitely soured for me after moving from an easy 35-hour week, to a 24/7 job with phone calls coming in the middle of the night.  Even aikido practice, which had been my safe haven was feeling a bit strained.  I was training for my black belt, but most of the foreigners were not coming as often, which was normal because of Winter break travels, the weather, and general work busyness.  Sometimes, I would practice on auto-pilot, never talking with my Japanese partners who, by then, I could talk to and were always my most sympathetic audience.

In other words, I was ready for a good drunk.  Often, by the end of the day, I wanted to hang around with other native English speakers.  Tired of dealing with Japanese people and often hungry, I would grow depressed sitting in my apartment.  So one night, on one of those weekends when everyone else had left the prefecture for places where people drank for social reasons, I found myself hungry and cold, sitting in my apartment.  I contemplated the bachelor food in my cupboard, the packets of curry that you could either heat up in the packet in a pot of boiling water with rice ready for the microwave, or curry in a plastic tray with rice all ready for the microwave.  I had grown out of eating the instant supermarket noodles.  After three years, I had tried them all and was sick of them.  At thirty, I felt more like a college-aged teen than ever.

In any case, not to be pathetic, I decided to go out and be with people.  That night was a terrible late winter night where it snowed big, wet, heavy crap that stuck to everything.  That alone usually kept me inside, but I tugged on my snow boots. I was always a bit proud of them because they were black with a soft warm lining and looked like regular boots instead of those green and yellow “spaceman” boots with “Michelin” stamped on the top like everyone else had.  I grabbed my umbrella and left.

Since I would have a couple of drinks, I decided on the cheapest of the cheap umbrellas—an opaque one with white trim and a flimsy looking handle.  If it got stolen, it wouldn’t be a big deal and in Katamachi, either I would take someone else’s or run over to the convenience store to replace it.

Walking outside, the streets were quiet.  The snow tumbled straight down and formed a thick crust on the top of the umbrella.  My street had lights, but as soon as I got to the intersection to walk towards Katamachi, that changed.  The long stretch in the middle of downtown didn’t have street lights on one side of the street, making the way a minefield of hidden puddles.  Even through my boots, I could feel the cold water when I landed in one.  For a while I wondered if my great boots had sprung a leak.  The snow piled up along the street and big puddles formed everywhere from the water jets that sprayed the roads to keep them clean.

By the time I arrived at the front of Big Mug, I thought I would be ready for a good drunk.  But I wasn’t.  I wanted the company of the familiar, to not feel distant and removed from those around me as I would when I entered.  I noticed the taxis idling next to the door, lined up on what usually was a busy night.  The snow around them had melted into deep puddles and the drivers stared passed me toward the main street beyond.

Through the tall, narrow windows, I could see a few people sitting at the front room’s tables.  Of course, no one I knew; I would have been shocked to see someone familiar even if that was what I found myself wishing for.  Osaka sounded nice, although I didn't know the town, but I would be with friends even if I didn’t like the atmosphere of dance clubs.  I never liked them at home, but seemed to tolerate them in Japan.  Still, dwelling about things I didn’t do, couldn’t do, or wasn’t invited to do was pointless and I was getting cold standing outside the bar.

Walking inside, I slid my umbrella into the rack by the door and looked for the Happiest Bearded Man.  As he walked towards me, he motioned towards one of the front room tables.  When I sat down, he asked, “Kuro-nama?” the black beer that I had started to drink regularly a few weeks earlier.  I liked this guy who always seemed to recognize each customer, remembered what we drank and would have had it sitting at the table waiting if he knew we were coming.  That felt good.

Sitting at the table, I watched the bartender pour my beer.  I fiddled with the small plastic holder for the menu that was on the table.  Around me, couples and groups of young people were chattering.  I given up trying to eavesdrop conversations like I did at home, and now made them up in my head.  My Japanese was a combination of that static stodginess that you learn from a textbook and the slang I picked up from the kids I taught.  I could only imagine how I sounded to everyone else, and as a result never laugh at people struggling at English.

I liked the kuro-nama, the odd bitterness of it when you first draw it into your mouth.  I miss it now.  I haven’t had it in years, but still remember it clearly.  There was a quickness to it in that didn’t warm me up, but a steady blanket of numb that pass would over me like when you pull up the covers up on a winter morning.   It was comfort food.  So was pizza, if I managed to get it plain and without corn or mayonnaise.  That was a small blessing of the kitchen in the Big Mug, a clean pizza.  And as much as I liked the kuro-nama, I had a limit of two in an evening.

Regardless, there were nights in Japan I broke that rule.  No, that wasn’t a healthy thing.  Being vain, I would be conscious of my waistline and comments made about it.  Being cheap, I’d lament an empty wallet even more than an empty mug.  Being timid, I’d grow afraid of the warm sensations of alcohol, worry about slipping in to a drunken abyss.  Of course, going out with others was even more dangerous, since I tended to drink and eat too much, spend too much, and disregard any of the warnings in my mind.

Still, dreary, wet and snowy nights alone in Fukui often were too much by my third year.  I had watched every videotape my parents sent, my friends’ parents had sent, and that I could understand in the video store.  I had never watched the X-Files when I was in the States, but watched each episode of the first five season three or four times each.  Then there was ER and the first season of Ally McBeal, along with an assortment of made-for-TV movies that found their way into video stores across the Pacific.  And on nights like this, I would rationalize, with the Happiest Bearded Man there, it wasn’t like I was drinking alone.  Sure, it wasn’t like drinking with a friend, more like drinking in front of the butler, but it at least was familiar.  The warm sensations of the kuro-nama were familiar.  The weight on me felt lighter, if only obscured.

But that night, I left Big Mug with a strange mixture of lonely tedium covered in the warm flush of a beer drunk too fast.  This wasn’t my future or even where I belonged.  This was where I was and what I was doing.  This was a kind of Zen drunk.  I was lonely, and Japan was a lonely place.  The samishii of it all—the heaviness of it all—was constant, something that followed me from home, an odd misery that had become a comfortable companion.

There is something unreal about loneliness, something empty, like arms embracing nothing but air.  It’s frustrating, more irritating than painful, although it is that too.  Loneliness is about the things around you, that surround you, how you feel when they are gone.

Samishii is different.  It is solid and heavy.  It hurts because it isn’t inside you; it is you.  You are yourself on that cold empty night, and in a way, you always are, even surrounded by others.  When I was a student, I studied Japanese history and culture as a major and would let my imagination wander a bit during lectures about poetry and literature.  I would picture the new monkish noble, just outside the capital, writing poems longing for old friends and old times watching the cloud-covered moon through a hole in the roof.  The whole idea of someone doing this was a conceit, but to write real poems of longing, there had to be something in them drawing on real feelings and real pain.  That is samishii—that dense solitude that no one touches and the kuro-nama can only temporarily obscure.

***

Daryl Muranaka works primarily as a poet and his poems have appeared most recently in the Tulane Review and is forthcoming in Spry.  His first poetry collection, Hanami, was published by Aldrich Press this spring, and his chapbook, The Minstrel of Belmont, will be released by Finishing Line Press this fall. His prose has appeared in Potluck, Under the Sun, Ink Monkey Magazine, and The Rejected Writer.

 

Palindrome/Pashto

 

i

This city calibrates hell with time. We have plenty of both. They are the same. Here
the sky borrows the rosacea freckled gooseflesh of an Uzbek shepherd. There are
things I have yet to see through you. I too know a few things about losing homes. 
The first thing to go is the address. My grandmother’s cheap cigarette trembles in a
jokeadd more dresses, jaan. Jaan, life. She will die before I wed. You or anyone
else. I return to that house shaped like a chandelier earring she left me as my
heirloom. I collect my dowry. I bless my dead. All their bombed bodies bridge into a
guerilla tug of war. In the mirror of water, the corpse of a nameless city clothed in
algae and plastic. In my dream, I once showed her Atlantis. The Caucasian anatomy
of deep-drowned statuesdemigods electrocuted by their own exorcisms. Maybe
that was god’s garden. She said our Eden breeds the greed of venus flytraps. It is
naked, sharp, and boomerangs like a hungry child’s voice. It echoes at the base of all
our spines. Before leaving, I bury her talisman among the gourd and watch a new
vine rehearse its calligraphy against the stained glass of my window. I have
inherited her cupboards full of elegies in silk. On the dining table a glass of milk, a
widow’s veil, a deaf ghost. In bedouin poetry, the phrase used by poets remains qilt
al-qasida
(‘I uttered a poem’) and not katabt al-qasida (‘I wrote a poem’). So I utter
myself, Other myselfpause the grave of each heartbreak and fill it with the dirt of
words. I lower the last of her language inside me like a coffin slowly hunkering
above a wet pit.

 

 

iv

You eat me like I am the sacred bread. The anthropology of this worship is best
understood in the vicinity of sparrows & serpents. Tongue cocked. Devout. 
Devastated. I want to linger against your heart-drum; the silkworm harbored to its
mulberry leaf. I want to sayhere is a boy with eyes like the doors of an orphanage. 
The country you leave behind is a collage of bombed terraces. Each wall has
welcomed its own grenade; each wall is a constellation of snuffed cartridge. In those
days, how easy it was to drag down the sky and trace each birthmark on the hip of
heaven.

 

 

v

All night the roof in Kabul shatters its translucent ribs against the ricochet of rain. 
All night an army of contradictions left mumbling between need and nerve. All night
the pianissimo of shelter after atonement.  You stamped me with your homelessness
an illiterate man’s thumbprint on a forged passport; a skein of sandpiper lifting the
length of my horizon to a further, more excruciating distance. I undress you of your
apologies. This is the beginning of a bridge between God & grief. This is why we
have two lungs. This is why the heart came unpaired.

 

 

Author's note: Pashto is an Afghan language.
 

 

 

Scherezade Siobhan is a psychologist, writer, and the maker of world's finest Spanish omelettes. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in tNY.Press, Bluestem Magazine, Black & BLUE Writing, Cordite Poetry Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Electric Cereal, Mandala, Fruita Pulp & others. Her first poetry collection Bone Tongue was published by Thought Catalog Books in 2015. She can be found squeeing about small furry animals, football (the proper kind), & neuroscience at viperslang or @zaharaesque.

FOUR: Poems

Santa Cruz

in a beach house, with a big ‘U’ shape
made out of white couches, between the ocean
balcony and a minibar, and photos of families
I don’t know, everywhere

I’d like many people to walk on the beach
with me, and look at the burning with neon wharf
and look at the Pacific and feel smaller than ever
I especially wish it was you

I think about hugging you on a sidewalk
and how grazing your side
with my hand when I pull away
is the most erotic way I can touch someone

I’m remembering a facebook conversation
I had with Morgan when we were in Korea
I said
           the future is scary but
           that’s why it’s beautiful :)

and she said
           I guess that’s true.
           The big world out there
           is the scariest part

you don’t need to think about space
to feel infinite in your smallness,
you need to think about the Pacific,
because specificity is more interesting
and the Incas, the Hawaiian Empire,
Indonesia, China, Japan never touched space

I go to the beach in the middle of the night
and the cracking waves sounds like
distant thunder, and in the distance,
Monterrey looks like a string
of Christmas lights, signifying everything
beyond the curvature of the Earth

 

 

Christian M Patterson is 23 years old. He's from Auburn WA and lives in Portland OR. When he isn't writing poetry, he is watching wrestling. Find him on Twitter and Tumblr.

Dominoes & Biscuits

The seminarian rushed from church, past campus, over footbridge, and stopped at the edge of a lake.

Seán Whitlock, the fourth child in a family of four sons, his first eighteen years had been spent within farming confines difficult to cultivate, even more difficult to harvest. The family farm was located two miles north of Berdan, the county seat, with its wide brick main streets that followed the same path laid down before the Civil War.

From the first bell rung at 8:00 a.m. outside the three-room, eight-grade schoolhouse, until Sister Hildegard rang her final bell seven and one-half hours later, Seán sat in an cast-iron frame school desk, the students arranged in five straight rows, according to height. He studied, did what he was told, served two years on the school patrol, proudly wore his golden captain’s badge on the white sash.

After the final school bell, he ran from school to church, hurriedly pulled the white surplice over the black cassock, placed the water and wine cruets on a table next to the altar, followed the priest into the sacristy, repeated without understanding, Et Cum spiritu tuo after the priest said, Dominus vobiscum – it all sounded like nonsense syllables to him.

Each day before supper, he herded dairy cows from their barbed wire pasture through a narrow path and into the barn for their milking duty, then gathered any extra eggs the hens deigned to deposit since morning. After supper, Seán practiced singing to his mother’s piano accompaniment, then finished his homework. At ten o’clock, the dog out for the night, he walked past the Florence coal-burning stove at the foot of the stairs, its heat rising up the stairway built by his great grandfather. He turned right into his bedroom where he knelt and uttered memorized prayers, then fell asleep to the creaks of the windmill south of the milk barn.

In the morning, before he left for school, he pumped water from the well, and hauled the overflowing buckets to the house for his mother’s daily chores. It wasn’t until Seán was in the eighth grade that the house was blessed with running water, hand pumped from the cattle trough.

On the first Saturday of each month, he sat in the front seat of the family’s Desoto while his mother drove him to confession, where Sean would kneel, and, after an examination of conscience, the priest listened to the garden-variety sins of a young boy - the “I disobeyed my parents three times, and “used God’s name in a bad way four times” type.  

Seán was the only altar boy during the summer weekday Masses. It became his routine to don his cassock in private with an unaccustomed flair, choose the correct surplice, kneel before the altar, pour water over the priest’s hands and wine into his chalice, exit after communion to light the charcoal for the benediction incense. He found peace during that one-hour of liturgical routine and ritual, the flow of the priest’s vestments, his ease of movement behind the altar. He envied the priest gliding through the rituals, and the respect the man received.

When he and his mother arrived home after Mass, his father and brothers had been in the fields for hours. After their breakfast, Seán worked alongside his mother in the livestock pens, vegetable garden, and kitchen.

Seán’s older brothers left home early, married, returned on Christmases with their pregnant wives to the joy of their mother and the short attention span of their father.

Early in his junior year of high school, Sister Margareta requested Seán’s participation in the school plays. Sean’s voice had matured into a rich, youthful baritone due to a gift from God and God’s chief assistant – Seán’s mother. “Just audition. Sister says you have a good voice.” His mother’s requests concluded with, “Singing in a play could help you get into the seminary. They like priests with good voices.” She had calculated that since her older sons insured grandchildren, she had no reason to fear the seminary. Sister Margareta had made the same calculation. Seán complied without question.

He was chosen to play Gaylord in Showboat. Crystal, his third cousin, was Magnolia, the love interest. Her voice an emerging contralto, she was chubby, as awkward as Seán, but eager, curious, and relished the romantic scenes. Seán, stiff and self-conscious, broadcast the embarrassment of a boy whose body and voice matured faster than his libido.

During rehearsals, he walked behind the scenery, stood on stage, grew more comfortable with Crystal, enjoyed her camaraderie, and the warmth from audiences. In their senior year performance, Seán was Tommy to Crystal’s Fiona in Brigadoon. At the final curtain bow, Crystal clasped Seán’s hand and guided it toward her. He hesitated, complied, suddenly pulled away, paused, then turned, and left the stage.

* * *

Unable to make the decision himself, Sister Margareta, his mother, and the parish priest chose St. Aloysius Seminary. His fear of girls, combined with his mother’s insistence, when blended with the full-court press of nuns, priests, aunts, and uncles had been confused by Seán as a vocation.

His first two years were a blur of study, worry, avoidance; his only mishaps were strained eyes and cramped fingers.

After his second year in the seminary, Seán spent the summer as a volunteer hospital chaplain. He saw lives of fear and pain; grew to despise his inability to call upon the divine to affect anything more than fleeting relief. Disappointed at himself, his devotion not reciprocated, he attended Mass less and less, and, after his father’s funeral, not at all. Learned he was no closer to God than before the seminary.

Early on the second Saturday in September, he drove back to the seminary one week late. He had asked for a meeting with his spiritual advisor on Monday.

As he sat on his dorm bed that Saturday afternoon, his roommate relayed the gossip about Eldon Penner. One week earlier, Penner had been a second year seminarian. That prior Friday night, his rules over reason roommate, Wilfred Huffacre, entered their dorm room, noticed a blanket over Penner’s head, left the lights off, crawled into bed, turned his face to the wall, and prepped for his nightly struggle with sleep.

Within minutes, he heard whispers, rapid breathing. Huffacre turned over, mesmerized by the sounds and undulations of a young woman kneeling above Penner. Huffacre could almost feel her. He stiffened, released, opened his eyes, listened again, looked again. His entire body re-filled, then released again. Knew he had sinned, knew he would have sinned at least twice in thought, word, and deed were she in his bed.

The next day before the third Hail Mary of the noon Angelus, the full force of the seminary collapsed on Eldon Penner – he was expelled before the genuflection.

Seán glanced at the wall clock. Hesitated. The regulations of seminary life intervened. He had only to negotiate the weekend rules about mandatory Saturday confessions with the sign-in cards and senior monitors. If missed, his spiritual advisor would visit that evening for a talk. It was the talk Seán wasn’t ready to face until Monday.

He crossed the street to the church, saw tanned, young women in summer shorts or off-the shoulder dresses; he felt the energy experienced in April.  Up the church steps, through the heavy double doors, and, once inside the vestibule, he shuffled through tables smothered with pamphlets, collection boxes, and candles, until he found the required attendance card, his name stamped across the top. He handed it to the monitor - a close-cropped, efficient fourth-year seminarian who alphabetized each card.

When Seán moved toward the second set of doors, Christ surrounded him. Christ to his left, face abused and bloodied, hung at eye level, body beaten and wounded. Christ, to his right, stood with right arm partially extended, hand open, exposed heart strangled with thorns.  

Both doors jerked toward him. Two young men, their Saturday obligation over, smiled and nodded, “He’s over there.” rolled their eyes and laughed as they hurried past.

The scent of the morning’s incense from the sanctuary blended with the tang of extinguished candles; the only light came through the stained glass windows. For two years, Seán had looked at the vaulted ceilings supported by white marble pillars. That afternoon, his eyes moved to the Stations of the Cross embedded into the sidewalls near the confessionals, then onto the several suffering, yet labile, saints who hung from walls while others lurked as statues in shadowed corners near the side altars covered with exposed relics – the bones of forgotten saints. The wall behind the center altar with the golden tabernacle was dominated by a cathedral-size fresco of Christ dying on Golgotha. To Seán it was like standing inside a familiar store.

He walked past rows of pews in which men in cassocks knelt, their rosaries spinning between thumb and forefinger. Seán genuflected out of habit, and, since he was also out of practice, flopped into the pew, leaned back, pulled the kneeler down with his right foot. He tilted forward, rested his forearms on the top of the pew in front, pushed his hips back – half-resting, half adolescent habit.

The left side of the church was Father Dauchhauser’s realm. His curtained confessional lodged, as seminarians put it, between two of the sorrowful mysteries, the crowning of thorns and the scourging at the pillar. Seminary lore held that years ago, after hearing a confession, Father Dauchhauser had stormed from the confessional, and, with the ramrod stiffness of Moses, towered above a kneeling young man in a cassock. The priest pointed toward the bloodied, half-dead Christ on the cross, shouted, “How can you come in here, and tell me what you just did, and still call yourself a follower of that man?” The only ones waiting in Father Dauchhauser’s line that afternoon were freshman.

The long line on the opposite side of the church waited for Father Shein – brief, safe, and forgiving. In his eighty-third year, he had accepted man’s fallen nature as something that would survive him and was now more focused on saving himself than saving the world. With gentle empathy, he dealt with the Saturday phalanx of seminarians who marched to confession – his penance after hearing confession was five Our Fathers, five Hail Marys.

After Sean’s visitor in April, he had dreamt of the magnetic rhythms of both males and females – stopped, felt unsettled, fearful of his excitement. He used confession then as a test with a vague, multi-use sin - impure thoughts toward others – sandwiched between failures to obey the rules and late to class arrivals. Father Shein passed Seán’s test when he asked no specifics, and gave his standard penance.

* * *

That Saturday in September, standing in line inside the church, Seán tried to conduct an examination of conscience. Of his sins, he carried what he was able, the rest he self-forgave. Stepped from the line, saw the confession monitors at the back door, returned to the line. Opted instead for several rapid-fire Acts of Contrition – shot-off ten in three minutes before he entered the confessional – hoped for heaven to extend mitigating kindness for speed and quantity.

He parted the dark brown curtain, stepped up into a dark room the size of an old phone booth, lowered himself onto a cushioned kneeler, faced the opaque muslin window screen; the small, dark curtain behind it remained closed. He heard the soft sound of Father Shein’s voice on the other side - the centuries-old mumbling of another confession winding-down. Then muted clicks as Father Shein closed one curtain. When he opened Seán’s curtain, habit took over, and Seán began.

BLESS ME, FATHER, FOR I HAVE SINNED. MY LAST CONFESSION WAS...

How long had it been? He had not been inside a church since his father’s funeral. His thoughts transformed into words, “My last confession was two months ago.”

SINCE MY LAST CONFESSION, I...

Time to list my sins. Seán reverted to the “I disobeyed... and I used...” portions of the confession. Minor rules disobeyed. “Used God’s name in a bad way.” Never any specifics requested. Just a quick numerical tally – three times, four times. Keep the numbers in single digits. “Failed to do assigned tasks, twice.” No specifics requested. Seán inhaled quickly, neglected to exhale.  

I AM SORRY FOR THESE SINS, AND THE SINS OF MY WHOLE LIFE, ESPECIALLY FOR...

Seán was silent as he sped through another lightning mental rehearsal.

Crystal had visited him in April. That chubby farm girl came back into his life as a slender woman who moved with the easy grace of a dancer. As he stretched to remove her coat, Seán’s eyes followed the reverberations of her blouse as they echoed the fluctuations of her upper body. When she closed the seldom-used visitors’ privacy curtain, he watched the movement of her legs as her split skirt flowed and opened. She walked behind him, touched his shoulders, glided her hand down his back, moved closer, kissed his cheek. “That’s to make up for you not kissing me in high school.”

She sat across from Seán, scooted closer until her right knee touched the inside of his left leg. “When you get home this summer, we’ll go to dinner at a hotel.” He hesitated; she added, “It’s just dinner, Seán. And, it’s just me. It’ll be fun.” She rose, opened the curtain, and, using the same motions, sat, leaned forward, made a slow gesture toward his leg, stopped, said, as she re-crossed her legs, watched his eyes, “You will; won’t you? Say, yes”, smiled, “Great, we’ll have dinner in June.”

In front of the hotel, Seán, hot, stiff and uncomfortable in his older brother’s slacks, his over-starched white shirt, and, embarrassed by the thud of his new Florsheim shoes against the sidewalk, held back a step. Crystal skimmed toward the double doors to the large hotel lobby. She turned, leaned, linked her arm in his, clasped her other hand on top. They strode over the terrazzo floors, veered around the large center table. To the right of the circular stairs rose ballroom-high marble walls that surrounded the elevator doors. To the left stood the walnut registration desk behind which the clerk pointed to the restaurant with its step-down entrance. Crystal leaned toward Seán, rested her head on his shoulder, ran her finger down the center of her blouse, pointed toward the south window, “Tomorrow, we’ll have breakfast at that table.”

Inside the confessional that September afternoon, Seán remained silent.

Then, as if Father Shein had an infinite amount of time, “Yes, my son. Are you ready? If you’re ready, then-. If not, perhaps-”

Seán’s voice overrode the priest’s, “Father, I committed mortal sins.”

“We all have, all of us.”

“Not like these, Father.”

“Just breathe, and tell me.

“Father, I slept with a woman.”

Father Shein’s gentle voice, “And?”

“And? And, several times, I slept with her.”

“How old was she?”

“Twenty-two.”

“Married?”

“No, Father.”

“Was it voluntary for both?”

“It was.”

Seán was aware of the point of these questions. Adultery, double adultery, fornication, rape, statutory rape. Classification now in place – the sin was fornication.

“Do you intend to repeat it?”

“High probability, Father.”

“And you have not told your spiritual advisor?”

Seán’s answer hung unspoken as if he were delaying the verdict.  

“Since you haven’t, do you feel the need to?”

“The need, not the desire.”

Seán heard a muffled chuckle from Father Shein’s side of the cloth screen, “You will need to tell him. It impacts on your vocation. Your penance is to tell your spiritual advisor. Now say an Act of Contrition and go in peace,” — for years the priest had skipped the ritual, “and sin no more," substituted instead, “please pray for me.”    

Seán’s mumbled prayer reverberated with the Lord’s Prayer whispered in Latin from the other side of the cloth. Pater noster, qui es in caelis... Then he heard, Dominus vobiscum. It still sounded like dominoes and biscuits to him.

Seán had neglected to tell of his nights with two other women, and the tests they served; or his time with men, and the tests they served.

I FIRMLY RESOLVE WITH THE HELP OF THY GRACE, TO CONFESS MY SINS, TO DO PENANCE, AND TO AMEND MY LIFE. AMEN.

Seán’s spiritual advisor found him on a bench by the lake. He leaned down, “Seán, you have something to tell me.” He watched Seán’s body heave, asked, “What do you want to do right now?”

“Run.” Seán said without looking up.

“Where?”

Seán neither talked, nor breathed.

Seán, inhale. Inhale. Good, now exhale. Even better. One more time. Again.” Then said, “Let’s begin”.

Seán stood, stepped off to the side, looked down on the man, “No. Thanks, but no,” turned and walked to his car.

* * *

Thomas Elson has spent extensive time throughout the country. From California to North Carolina, and Louisiana to Washington - including off road destinations, he writes of lives that fall with neither safety net nor safe person to catch them. His most recent short stories have been published in the United States and United Kingdom.

THREE: Poems

Oxiclean

I loaded my laundry into the washer
then went to the darkest corner
of the parking lot and packed my cigarettes

I saw you cross the street
you said can I have a cigarette, I said yes
you said you pack your cigarettes loudly

I placed a cigarette between your lips
I said do you need a light
and I handed you my silver lighter
you lit my cigarette first
I made a tunnel around your hand
with mine, to block out the wind

you said are you walking home
which seemed like a weird question
to someone standing in the darkest corner
of a laundromat parking lot
I said no and you said I’m walking
to my car, I was at my friend’s house

we talk about school and laundry
you say a lot of soft words
and as you walk away
we keep talking, as if something
was dragging us apart through space,
and we didn’t know why

 

Christian M Patterson is 23 years old. He's from Auburn WA and lives in Portland OR. When he isn't writing poetry, he is watching wrestling. Find him on Twitter and Tumblr.

Three Poems

UK Living
 

60-minute makeovers
In 59 minutes
Boy this is progress
The answer to everything:
Build more bars
Increase the sales of
Ironic Christmas jumpers
All year round
Defend the right
To spend your whole life
In the car park of
A retail park
Then insist on
Death by chocolate

 

 

 

 

Poetic Potential
 

The small mercies of London town
You should write a poem about that

This documentary I saw on TV last night
You should write a poem about that

The feeling you can’t escape a bad flat share
You should write a poem about that 

This thing my mum said the other week
Or maybe it was the week before
You should write a poem about that

The amount of time you haven’t had sex for
You should write a poem about that

The dizzy feeling the docs can’t diagnose
You should write a poem about that

The stunted conversations at funerals
You should write a poem about that

The fact the grass is sometimes greener on the other side
You should write a poem about that

All the buzzwords you accidentally started saying
Unironically after beginning ironically
You should write a poem about that

The way the mind goes blank when you score a goal
You should write a poem about that

Your suggestion pessimism is closer to realism
You should write a poem about that

This guy I once met in Ibiza about 2007
You should write a poem about that

When the semblance of a good idea
Goes on for too long
Starts becoming somewhat worse for wear
And eventually more or less caves in on itself
You should write a poem about that

Well there you go--it’s done now

 

 

 

 

The Life Achievements of Big Dave
 

There was the time Big Dave
Downed ten Aftershocks
Rolled in aniseed and stayed overnight
In a dog pound
Mistaking it for a motel
What a lege
What an absolute lege

There was the time Big Dave
Downed ten snakebites
Swam three circuits of
The resort’s septic tank
And went out without a shower
Talked his way into the VIP room
Without a guestlist
What a lad
What a lege and a lad

There was the time Big Dave
Downed ten shots of white spirit
Through the eyeballs
Smashed all the windows
In the taxi rank
Eloped with a driver’s wife
Concluded a business deal
In a Vegas jail cell
What a dawg
What a lege and a lad and a dawg

There was the time Big Dave
Was presumed M.I.A.
Missing in Absolutely legendary bender
In reality was sat in the bath
For two days straight
Not eating solids for seven
Crying solidly until thinned like
Kid’s cake rice paper characters
Flattened by wild-eyed expectation
He didn’t tell his mates

But he’s alright now
You can tell because
He’s on his ninth Apple Sourz
And he’s nurturing hell
Like he’s willing to raise it
To maturity
This big bastard banter baby knows
Time cannot be wasted
It can only be filled

 

 

 

Gary W. Hartley is sometimes to be found on stage under the moniker 'Gary From Leeds' and once dressed as a yeti for three weeks solid. He co-edited The Alarmist until he didn't.

TWO: Poems

the Day after Christmas

1

The bar down the street, and WalMart,
are both at capacity, and they were
the day before Christmas too

we hang out in Zak’s driveway, with a blow-up
Santa riding a motorcycle, a reindeer
driving a tractor, Snoopy in an aeroplane
with ‘Season’s Greetings’ on the side

I’m only in a purple sweatshirt
and black long johns
and the air feels sharply cold

last night, I drove by the space where
my high school used to be
A new high school, with the same name
is in the same space

2

You are in New York right, in a knit cap and scarf,
watching your brother’s boyfriend play Skyrim,
and you don’t need me to show you the world

I remember Sarah in high school, in her white
tank top and bike shorts, I’d also jokingly tell her
that I would show her the world
and before I came back for Christmas
she sent me a wedding invitation in the mail

I imagine you now, looking
off a fire escape in Manhattan,
even though that’s probably inaccurate,
I’m romanticizing you in my mind
while I write this on my phone
in the North Auburn Taco Bell drive thru

 

 

Christian M Patterson is 23 years old. He's from Auburn WA and lives in Portland OR. When he isn't writing poetry, he is watching wrestling. Find him on Twitter and Tumblr.

One Art

When I was around two years old, I found myself in my parents’ bedroom, thrillingly alone (total lack of supervision was difficult to come by in those days). I don’t remember exactly how I took advantage of this newfound freedom, but I do remember whatever revelry I indulged in ending abruptly upon discovery of a small, silver, shiny object I had never seen before.

 

It was the kind of object that I instinctively knew, even if I couldn’t fully process the concept, spelled DANGER. It was the kind of object that, normally, would be snatched away before I could gaze at it for too long.

 

So I grabbed it.

 

I didn’t have time to enjoy whatever function this mysterious toy was supposed to serve, because seconds after my small, uncoordinated fingers closed around it, I dropped it in shock at the stab of pain in my right index finger. The skin was broken; ugly, crimson blood spilling into the palm of my hand, onto the floor.

 

My memory fades after this; I am sure I screamed loudly, bringing thundering footsteps and soothing, then sharp words: parental relief and fear and guilt enshrouding my terror and confusion at my new toy’s sudden betrayal.

 

It was a razor blade.

 

I still have the scar.

 

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

 

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

 

 

Several years ago, a group of neuroscientists at the University of Minnesota conducted a lab experiment to detect whether rats could experience regret. They put the rats into a circular maze, which would eventually lead to four possible destinations: a chocolate-flavored food, a cherry-flavored food, a banana-flavored food, and an unflavored food. Upon arriving at their destination, the rats would have to listen to a tone that could last from one to forty-five seconds before they could indulge in the treat. Time was of the essence, however; each rat had only one hour to complete the maze.

 

The scientists discovered that rats can indeed feel regret for choices they have made. If a rat passed on one treat and was later forced to wait longer for their second, the part of their brain that remembered that first treat would light up – they would even pause and look back. Additionally, the rats would typically be willing to wait longer for food after making a bad decision, and would gobble it up quickly, instead of savoring it as they normally would. These rats would recognize their folly, and later compensate by taking whatever they could get, as quickly as they could get it.

 

 

The “no regrets” rhetoric popularized by youth culture in the early 2000s plagued me throughout my late teens and early twenties. Inundated with the ‘live, laugh, love’ Myspace meme ideals that comprised my adolescence, I believed that one could only find satisfaction in life through adventure, through travel, through exploration. Long road trips with no clear destination. Nights spent on the beach in unfamiliar cities. Parties that lasted all night, featuring strangers kissed and soon forgotten. My ideal life was found in the thirty second montages of films like “Crazy/Beautiful” and “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”: I would fantasize about myself abstractly, always imagining myself as the observer, and my dream self as the observed, laughing and running and living with all of the zeal and charisma that my actual self so pitifully yearned for, and sadly lacked.

 

The grand gestures, I told myself, were what life was worth living for. The more wild and reckless my youth, the fewer regrets I would have. What was a regret but the gaping absence of an exhilarating memory? Wasn’t this why so many adults appeared so dour, so unhappy? They hadn’t had enough adventures. And now they were too old to have fun.

 

Unfortunately, chronic loneliness and depression do not lend themselves well to a life of reckless abandon. I tried. And with each attempt to climb out of my dark pit, I would fumble and stumble and eventually lose the motivation to keep trying. College was one of those times. I settled on my school for financial reasons, rather than do the necessary work to find one that would be a better fit. I can’t explain exactly why I gave up, but I did. I recognized my defeatist attitude, and I did nothing to remedy it. Whatever, I thought.

 

It was the first regret that incurred an avalanche of more: my dorm, my classes, my friends, my clubs, my activities. All of the tiny disappointments that I endured were a direct result of a decision that I had made, one that I could never go back in time to unmake. Every day, I carried the weight of the life I wanted to live in my backpack, trudging from home to class to home. I continued to spin my old fantasy: sparkling me, happening upon friends, building meaningful relationships, and discovering my social niche. My conceptualization of ‘no regrets’ was shifting; rather than seeking adventures, I found myself, after years of isolation, desperate to connect, to build the lifelong friendships that I thought were part and parcel of my time at college.

 

Four years later, I graduated with one real friend, $30,000 of debt, and an English degree. I had traveled, and had adventures, and had hundreds of new pictures to prove it. I had partially fulfilled the dreams of my adolescent self: I had run on foreign beaches and danced sweaty in dark rooms and kissed nameless strangers whose names I had forgotten. And I still felt, as I walked away from my commencement ceremony, like I had racked up more losses than gains. I got into my car and drove home, readying myself for the barrage of congratulations and well wishes from family members who had traveled to watch me walk across a stage and collect a piece of paper. I felt vaguely proud of what I had accomplished, and relieved that it was over, but deeper than those sensations was the very real desire to return to my senior year of high school and start it all over again.

 

That desire has never fully gone away.

 

It goes far beyond the very temporary thrill of those four years of higher education. In the course of a lifetime, four years don’t amount to much. I mourned what I felt I had lost by the time those years had passed: opportunities for mentorship, for finding older, more experienced women from whom I could gain wisdom, learn self-confidence. Opportunities for friendship - for finding like-minded people my age that I could begin to build lifelong memories and relationships with. Opportunities for my career - for finding a network of peers with similar educational backgrounds and aspirations that I could grow with.

 

More than those opportunities lost were the environment and time to learn how to forge those kinds of connections on my own. A college campus is insular, protected; a microcosm of the ‘real world’ where interpersonal communication skills are fostered and encouraged. Shy and alone, utterly lacking a basis of support, I floundered. And continued to flounder, long after I collected the necessary credits and threw away my cap and gown.

 

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

 

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

 

I am still the rat, wistfully gazing back at the food I could have had.

 

For the past five years, I have not only accepted my regret; I have embraced it. It has become a part of me, the way my poor eyesight and slightly crooked front tooth are a part of me. I can easily trace many, if not all, of my current dissatisfactions to my years at college, and thus my regrets multiply, in number and in volume. I carry that crippling weight with me, as if I never set down that backpack that I wore to class every day. And finally, I think that I am ready to take it off.

 

I understand the utility of regret. For someone my age, recognizing the poor decisions of the past can help me make smarter ones in the future. My growth as a human being is partially fueled by my own foibles. Each pit that I fall into can only be conquered by - eventually - climbing out. Every ascent will leave its scars, its painful memories. I could have had the chocolate, or the cherry, or banana. If only I had done this, instead of that.

 

But my old relationship with regret was not a beneficial one - it was an abusive one. I let my bitter memories cloud my reasoning, and allowed myself to remain emotionally stationary when I should have been moving away – running away – from my mistakes. I said “Whatever” one too many times, and adopted the same defeatist mindset that led to all of those years of regret. I had picked my wound open for too long. Rather than scar, it festered. I lived in the shadow of my regret, and instead of celebrating my gains and accepting my losses, I perversely did the opposite. I deserve this pain, I would think. I brought it upon myself.

 

My first child entered the world exactly one month ago. I now have the awesome, terrible responsibility of nurturing, protecting, and raising a brand new life. There will be times that she will cry and I won’t know why or what to do. When she is learning how to walk, she will fall, and probably get hurt. She might put something in her mouth that she shouldn’t or hit her head or bruise her knee. I will feel guilty each and every time.  I will wonder if I am equipped to be in this role, if I can trust myself enough to be the mother my daughter needs and deserves.

 

 My old brand of regret, the kind that cripples rather than teaches, has no place in this new phase of my life. I no longer have the luxury of wallowing in the mire of my poor choices. I can already feel the relentless press of time, the way it gathers speed as it passes, as undeniable a force as gravity. Each minute, each hour, each day holds another opportunity that I can either take, or not take. The not taking will occur, and I will be sad, or angry, or guilty. It will hurt. It will scar.

 

And I will - I will have to - move on.

 

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

 

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

 

-Elizabeth Bishop

 

Carla  Bruce-Eddings is a teacher, writer, and serial to-do list creator. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, daughter, and imaginary dog. You can follow her on Twitter @carlawaslike and read more of her writing on her website, carlawaslike.com.

ONE: Poems

you remind me of three different Weezer songs

I want to learn Chinese
Logograms can never pretend
they are not metaphors
I want to watch steam rise
from a large bowl of rice
I want to know
why geography is alive
I want to know why I am writing a paper
on shaman when you already are one

I want to visit Arizona with you,
because you think it’s beautiful
and will be beautiful
Arizona makes you think
of the color pink
Arizona makes me think
of the color orange

I forgot how important meter is
until I heard you speak for the first time
in years, and you inflect your voice
in a way no one else does
I forgot the way you crinkle your nose
when you say some words

I ask how you say ‘I love you’ in Cantonese
I copy how you say it the best that I can
I don’t say it to anyone though, just the air

It takes a third of the time
for you to fly to Hong Kong
than it’ll take for me to get to America
I think someday I will move south,
but not to Arizona
and probably not to Hong Kong

but when I move,
write me the most interesting words
that you have ever seen, then soak
the envelope in rain water
until it’s on the verge of dissolving
and send the letter to me and teach me

 

 

Christian M Patterson is 23 years old. He's from Auburn WA and lives in Portland OR. When he isn't writing poetry, he is watching wrestling. Find him on Twitter and Tumblr.

 

 

 

FIVE: Ramen

by Kauri Sievers

by Kei Ota

Kauri Sievers and Kei Ota are two studio artists whose lives have been infiltrated by the ramen culture while working at one of the premier ramen restaurants in NYC—they are surrounded by ramen, they live and work with ramen—and their professional lives are overlapping with their personal and creative lives. Through this process they began a series of collaborative sketchbooks of their customers and coworkers.

untitled

 

the breath
a blind lot
a loot lock
looking
sick, frisk
'em
Johnny
time freezes
a black
blue
beatin'
a bruise
already bruisin'
brown
loot's
no good
brown loot
and brown looks
no good
sufferin' pale
genocide
instead of livin'
n
breathin
makes sense to some
not me
'stead of thrivin
'stead of lovin
got no love
no brown looks
no cock
no warm embrace
prickly momma
trickle prickle womb
prickle hearth
of mouth
and toes
t or s
eething teeming
tum
tack
sit
pale genocide for brown love
pale
genocide
for
brown
love
pale // genocide
for // brown // love
p___ g_______
f__ b____ l___ (!)

 

 

 

Deloris Onwuka is a mathematician from Texas who recently graduated from NYU.
 

Helen Spencer

Helen froze when she heard her name. The door of the faculty room was open.

"Of course Helen will be there. It's in her honor." Gabby's gentle voice. Helen was drawn to listen further, but tip- toed away from the area. No need to be reminded of her oddball status at Spring Hill School.

Skillful at avoiding parties, she was locked into this one. After forty years of teaching, Helen Spencer was set to retire. Piper promised to be there, and she hoped he chose to fly, his driving skills declining with age. He still took credit for getting Headmaster Martin, his old prep school buddy, to hire her. Her world expanded when referring to Piper. Although out of the house when Helen was eight, he remained a source of joy when she picked through the litter of her childhood.

The litter of bottles cracked on the floor, or hidden where she packed away her toys. Her father was able to work, not given to hangovers. His trust fund cushioned the need to excel at the bank. Her mother could sleep through the mornings, letting Helen get herself ready for school. The day Piper packed his bags for college left Helen sobbing in her room. Although part of her was happy for him, the child in her gave into her sorrow, her feelings not yet stunted by life.

It was shortly after Piper's departure when Helen started to open and close drawers, line up her toys, and lock and unlock her bedroom door. Her mother was too wasted to notice, and Helen too ashamed to speak of it. Mrs. Maxwell, her third grade teacher, spoke to her after school one day. Helen remembered the afternoon, when it was her turn to clap the chalk from the erasers, a job she could do endlessly. Mrs. Maxwell brought erasers of her own and clapped along with her in the recess yard.

"Helen," she said quietly, "I notice you like to keep your desk neat."

Raised with little praise, Helen feared trouble, feared her mother's rage. " Is that bad?" she asked.

"Helen, please give this letter to your mother." Helen remembered it was one of the good spells, her mother spiffy and sober, playing the piano, inviting neighbors to bridge. From that letter grew a relationship with a doctor, who guided Helen through exercises to break her obsessive thoughts and actions. Mrs. Maxwell didn't become a villain in Mrs. Spencer's booze-fueled drama, and Helen found inspiration for her career. She chose to become a helping hand to some other child, while imparting knowledge, drawing out the riches of learning.

Before she was ready to face working, Helen armed herself with several advanced degrees and certificates. Her father, who found sobriety and a sparkling new wife, bought Helen a condo and supported her through graduate school.

Headmaster Martin didn't pepper her with questions during the initial interview, so perhaps Piper's influence was strong. She arrived at Spring Hill School prepared for the barrage of tricky tough questions she had faced in earlier interviews. One principal bombarded her with follow-up questions, which drove her to re-arrange the articles on his desk. She remembered his sneering smile when he said, " I think we're done here."

She was equipped to teach in the Upper and Lower School, but the adolescents frightened her. She settled into Spring Hill Lower School, alternating between second and third grade. From the moment she entered the classroom, her breathing slowed, her fear slackened, and she was able to concentrate on the little faces before her.

Miss Spencer didn't baby her young charges. She spoke to them directly with a patience this age group needed.

Reading was her favorite challenge, sounding out the letters with her students. Many of the little sophisticates had travelled the world and been tutored for years, so her work was lessened, but she found most children enjoyed being noticed and guided through the words before them.

When Headmaster Martin visited her classes, her focus was less gifted, but the children's natural interruptions and questions kept her from full-blown anxiety. She mentioned it to Piper during one of their chess matches, how visitation was hard for her. He may have worked his magic again, because Helen had fewer visits from her boss.

The new boss, Dr. Dan Richards was hired to replace Headmaster Martin. Helen felt frightened by the new Headmaster at first, but he proved to be a fair and even boss. Helen grew to trust him and he shared her serious nature.

Helen thanked God and her medication that she could control her OCD at school. Like a well-worn road, the crusty walls at Spring Hill threw few curves her way. Through decades of exposure to the school and her breathing and counting exercises, Miss Helen Spencer could function in the classroom with the zeal of an artist.

The children trusted and accepted her. Their sophisticated parents were often surprised when they met Miss Spencer, expecting someone hip and chic.

 

As Helen approached her retirement, and the dreaded public celebration, she was thankful for Gabby who arrived at Spring Hill soon after the new Headmaster. Gabby, more stylish and normal than Helen, nonetheless had a survivor's heart, having lost her husband when he was just thirty-three. Her perceptions were nearly clairvoyant, and she saw in Helen a friend.

Piper had met Helen's colleagues at Spring Hill functions, and Helen was careful to introduce him by his given name, Peter. Surviving their childhood home gave the Spencers an unbreakable bond. He arrived a few days before the celebration. Helen was so excited she set up their chess table, made reservations at Chez Pierre, and bought a bottle of scotch, aged twelve years , the way he liked it.

The day Piper arrived, Gabby insisted on driving Helen to the airport to pick him up. As they were leaving school in the June heat, several students called out to them. A little girl ran up to them..."Miss Spencer. Miss Spencer, I lost a tooth." Helen knelt down to look, the child's fist enclosed around it. Helen gently opened the little fist and regarded the tooth as a treasure.

"They will miss you, Helen, the little ones, " Gabby said with the slight lilting accent of her native Spanish.

She scheduled extra sessions with her doctor during the week before her party. He regressed her to an earlier stage, and kept his desk messy, his pen - holder laying on its side. He asked her to wear old clothing, to get her hands sticky with taffy and rub her clothing with the goo.

He amped up the implosion therapy that had worked in earlier years, and he worked with her through deep-breathing exercises, her hand touching her old tee shirt with the goo. He guided her to a formally set table where he placed a cupcake, a cleaning rag and a cup of coffee. After she was seated for three full minutes, her doctor smashed the cupcake on the table cloth, and poured some coffee into the mess.

He then asked her to continue breathing, to ignore the mess, and look up at the speaker, which was a yellow circle on the wall behind him. He reminded her he was on the board at the school, and would be on the stage to the left of the podium.

The Upper School student council decorated the auditorium for Helen's good-bye celebration. Helen's friend Gabby was in charge. The board spared no expense: fresh flowers for each table, elegant china and silverware, and finely-wrapped bags of Godiva chocolate.

A popular clique of seniors stopped by and muttered something nasty about Helen, and Gabby who was crouched below a table scraping wax from the floor, shot up, walked over, and hissed "Shut up" in Spanish. Many of the students heard her and giggled. Gabby winced and hoped she didn't get fired.

Helen chose a black dress, heels, and a string of pearls. Piper turned to her and said, "You look lovely, Helen."

Shortly after the invocation, a striking young woman walked through the crowd and many of the students gasped and said, "That's Ariel!" Some of the faculty recognized her too. She was surrounded by buff men who escorted her to Dr. Richards. She leaned closely and whispered something to him. Few men would deny this newly - famous model anything. Ariel walked up the three steps to the microphone and spoke into it.

"My name is Amber Carson."

Chants of "Ariel" began to emerge from the crowd. Dr. Richards in his deepest growl said "Let her speak!" The students obeyed.

Ariel continued in a clear, confident voice. "I was a student at Spring Hill. and I came here to honor Miss Spencer, my second grade teacher. I was gawky, I stuttered, and I was often taunted by the other kids. I remember the day Miss Spencer sat with me on the old stone wall next to the playground. And changed my life."

Helen remembered the sessions she had with Amber. Miss Spencer was careful to spread school books on the desk between them to look like a normal tutoring session. Helen taught Amber breathing and counting exercises to do before she spoke. She promised Amber that she would only call on her when she raised her hand, when she was ready to speak. Helen also made Amber walk erectly with a book on her head to honor her natural height, to square her shoulders, to ground her steps, to fake confidence in herself.

Many in the audience stood and snapped photos of Ariel, cell phones bobbing all through the room. Ariel hesitated, and Helen was thrust back in time to young Amber, recognizing the frightened pained look of struggle.

Helen walked elegantly to the stage, whispered to Ariel, and they nodded to the audience, Helen grabbed the mic confidently, and Ariel took a seat with the board.

Miss Spencer felt no fear as she spoke into the mic, the fruits of her vocation thrusting her to take action to soothe a student, albeit a famous, successful student, the model Ariel. Helen was gracious and elegant in her words to all assembled and gave thanks to her mentor, the late Mrs. Maxwell, who through the dusty chalk gave her a glimmer of hope. Hope that let Helen carve through a mountain of mental anguish to touch the little souls of Spring Hill School.

Three Poems


kaddish for i
 

i cannot help myself
but think, about me
hanging on the walls
of individuals who did not
know me, nor did they
understand the broken within
my mind, i cannot help
but die, like a portrait
in a whirling sort of fiction,
while me hangs like a darkling, yearning
to heal my thinking and dying i.

 

 

 

 

sadness does what i forget
 

father’s stroke: the loss of a heavy man
in a world wanting like virgil’s shade, 
stroke: because dogs are old, and dying
babies speak of their lives before the artist, painted them
sideways looking for a better angle, only to discover
themselves were the better perspective: stroke.

 

 

 

 

became my yours
 

i cannot recall, an acre of bread
so glassless as I, the barker
on the fields, cowing in the mines
which stood too tall, for the ride
of kissing feet in blood, and hermit
hands without arms to shake, me
cannot recall, my limbs left
a strewn, mine, like the barleys
on a rollercoaster too afraid to fall, i
cannot recall the moment my mines
finally became my yours.

 

 

 

Jonathan Dick is a 22-year-old poet and human being from Toronto, Canada. You may have seen his recent work in Songs of Eretz, The Rain, Party & Disaster Society, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, Five2One, or Lipstickparty Mag. 

ONE: Ramen

by Kauri Sievers

by Kauri Sievers

by Kei Ota

by Kei Ota

Kauri Sievers and Kei Ota are two studio artists whose lives have been infiltrated by the ramen culture while working at one of the premier ramen restaurants in NYC—they are surrounded by ramen, they live and work with ramen—and their professional lives are overlapping with their personal and creative lives. Through this process they began a series of collaborative sketchbooks of their customers and coworkers.