Managing Editor Jessica Gonzalez
Managing Co-Editor Sabrina C. Zertuche
Nonfiction Editor Priscilla Dominquez
Fiction Editor Marina Flores
Poetry Editor Monique Cortez
Faculty Advisor Yvette Benavides
The Thing Itself is a publication of Our Lady of the Lake University’s
MA/MFA Program in Literature, Creative Writing, and Social Justice.
table of contents
Desiderata, A Map of Her Heart
Maddie De Pree
Counting Down the Breaths
Putting the Soul Back Into Solstice 12,018
Dreaming in Noir 223
Song for America VII
Missing Piece (for Jason)
Walk in MLK’s Footsteps
What Mistranslation Lost
If We’re Gonna Build a Wall
The Bells of Sunday Morning
Dreaming in Noir 145
from the editors
The mission of The Thing Itself is to promote compassion, encourage empathy, and inspire equality and understanding for social justice issues. Working on a journal like this is both an adventure and a test of dedication and reflection. 2018 marked a year where the journal was no longer attached to a class; instead, graduate and undergraduate students volunteered their time to produce this year’s edition.
As an editorial staff of five, with the guidance of our faculty adviser, we embarked on producing a journal that was representative of the heart and mind of this current generation. The Thing Itself has a mission to showcase works that speak with compassion and empathy. This year, we had the opportunity to award a prize to a submission from each genre that best communicated our mission.
For Fiction, Jason Graff’s “Heady” was selected for how the text uses the husband’s point of view that captures a form of intimacy in marriage. The story speaks about having courage and strength through tragedy, and staying present in the shared experiences of life and death.
“Desiderata: A Map of Her Heart” was selected the winner in the Nonfiction genre because the editorial staff recognized it as a provoking portrayal of real struggles that people experience, specifically regarding college-age individuals. The author, Maddie De Pree, uses third person narration to evoke emotion through its themes of internal struggle, growth, and personal reflection.
In Poetry, Jonathan Fletcher’s “Dirigibles” was selected the winner, as it spoke to us with its thematic inclusion and commentary on bullying and the importance of self-acceptance. The work is relateable; it develops compassion through the imagery and displays a journey to self-confidence.
We invite you, the reader, to delve into these works with emotion and intellect. Our hope is that you will discover something new that you never thought about before, and we most definitely hope you end the page with an experience.
-Jessica Gonzalez & Sabrina Zertuche
Desiderata, A Map of Her Heart
Maddie De Pree
“With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.”
She’s brushing her teeth when it happens. Her vision darkens and clouds at the edges, and she collapses onto the floor, unconscious. Her roommate runs out of the room and yells down the dorm hallway. Shit, somebody, help. I need help down here.
Two girls sprint down the hall and elevate her feet, check her pulse where jawline meets neck. One lays a damp washcloth across her forehead while the other one rushes around, looking for something useful.
Her roommate runs back in with the R.A. She hears words: shit, fuck. Oh my god. Someone walks over, notices her open eyes. Does she remember her phone passcode? Yes. Does she remember what happened? Yes. They need to call someone – her mom, her dad. What was that passcode, again? Oh-eight-oh-nine- nine-eight. Her birthday. In the corner, the R.A. calls 911, campus police. It is 8:30 a.m., some Saturday in January.
Her roommate presses a cold cell phone against her ear. She hears her dad’s voice. Brooke just called, he says. What happened, honey? Honey, are you okay?
Fainted, she says. Her voice feels like molasses. It’s fine.
Didn’t even hit my head. She hangs up and watches her heart beat under her shirt. She can’t sit up, and she wonders, absently, if she is going to die. The girls are quiet. They wait.
She thinks about her ex with the freckles, the one she still loves. Sweetheart. What would he say to her?
Two men arrive with a machine and an IV. One clears the room – everyone out, even the roommate – while the other untangles plugs and wires. We need to attach these to your chest, he says. Okay? He lifts her shirt and she feels the air hit her ribs. He turns to the other man, concerned. She needs to eat more, he says. He nudges an IV into her left arm. Tiny.
The men place sticky pads on her chest, then plug her into the machine. Hold still, they say. We are making a map of your heart. The machine beeps, and the men glance at its screen. Her blood pressure is low, her blood sugar the same. They are waiting to see if she’ll go into cardiac arrest. She does not.
After ten minutes, the men ask if she can sit up. She tries, but it’s too soon – her blood pressure plummets, and she almost blacks out again. The men look at each other. One of them opens a packet of strawberry goo, tells her to eat up. Let’s raise that blood sugar. The goo is thick, has a surgically-sweet aftertaste. It reminds her of children’s toothpaste, the green gelatinous kind with fun packaging. A smiling watermelon on a surfboard.
One man stands and prepares a chair in the corner, a cross between a stretcher and a seat. They will carry her down the stairs to a full stretcher, and from there, an ambulance. She is going to the hospital. The men explain this while she lies on the floor, silent.
They wait until she can sit up. Eventually, she does.
Her mom drives up from Atlanta and meets her at the ER. The visit is lengthy and bleak. The doctors do not know why she passed out. She laughs weakly. Her mom says that there is nothing funny about this. A nurse slides a thin wand up her nose and diagnoses her with the flu.
Her mom leaves for Atlanta the next morning. Will you be okay here, her mom asks. Dealing with this alone. She says yes. She says, I will.
The following week, it occurs to her that waking up is a disappointment. She doesn’t know what to do with this information. She asks her campus therapist about it. Sometimes I wish I had died that morning, she says. Often I wish I had died.
The therapist gives her a questionnaire, then looks at it and tells her she is depressed. Severely. The therapist asks if she will consider medication. She does.
One night, her ex pries apart her ribs, reaches inside, and removes her heart. It is the rich gold of a wet dandelion, so vivid that it looks like a joke. He holds it in his fist and extends his arm, desperate. Take it, he says. It hurts to look at. Her heart beats frantically in his hand. Yellow blood seeps through his fingers, opaque and thick, the color and consistency of hotdog mustard. A drop hits the ground and the air goes dead in her ears. Everywhere she turns, she sees the same pressing silence.
She dreams like this for months. She scales buildings, drives badly, crashes. Her hair catches on fire. She suffers stab wounds, a snake bite. She descends a hill and covers herself in mud. She is forever falling.
Waking life moves slowly. One day, she eats nothing but a protein shake and half of a stuffed shell. The shell is jumbo, stuffed to the brim with marinara and mild ricotta. She enjoys it until it makes her want to vomit, then she doesn’t enjoy it anymore.
Her gums recede rapidly, expose raw bone underneath. She pokes at the sagging tissue in the mirror and covers it with her lip. She can encircle her upper thigh in her hands, middle finger to middle finger, thumb to thumb.
She has heard that hypothermia is one of the more merciful ways to die – that just before one freezes to death, one feels pleasantly warm. Her dad told her this once.
She does not think she will freeze to death.
She eats cucumbers.
She feels warm.
A month goes by, and the medicine does not work. When she sits in the passenger seat of her friend’s Jeep, she fantasizes about a quick stop and a collision, the sound of breaking glass, her head thudding against the dashboard and becoming still.
If nothing changes, she is going to take seven hundred dollars out of her savings account, take herself out to dinner, and go to the Westin to die. She will leave her notebooks to her older sister.
One week in March, she tells her therapist everything. It is a long conversation, and it does not matter to her. It is sunny outside, she is failing math, and it does not matter. Those things do not matter, nor does anything else. There is nothing here for me. The therapist is concerned, tries to backpedal, bargain.
Think of it this way, her therapist says. You’re 18. You’ve experienced a tiny slice of life. There’s so much more.
That’s true, she says.
What about this, the therapist asks. Is there ever a reason for an 18-year-old to die. For someone so young to be gone forever.
I don’t know, she says. I think people should die when they are ready to die.
The therapist doesn’t say anything. The therapist looks at her, then looks at nothing. After a moment, the therapist speaks again.
Do you have a plan?
I do, she says. It’s a little sad. She describes the plan, gauges the therapist’s face.
That’s incredibly sad, the therapist says. Yet you say it so flatly, without any emotion at all.
After the session, the therapist doesn’t let her leave. She sits on a couch and waits, wondering what to do. She has the frantic impulse to take her backpack and run back to the dorm, to call an Uber, to go and go and go, but she doesn’t have the energy. She folds her body in half, touches her forehead to her knees. She can feel her bones pressing together, see the floor through the gap in her legs. Her whole body feels sharp.
The therapist returns from the recesses of the counseling center with the psychiatrist. The two of them have decided on hospitalization. It’s her decision, they say, but if she doesn’t decide to go, they can get a court order for mandated treatment.
We want to help you, they say. Are you going to let us help you?
She decides. She’ll go to an institute tomorrow. Her dad will bring her. It’s a short-term stabilization facility in Greer, trusted and acclaimed, designed to correct medication and prevent suicide. Supervision, group therapy, white sheets. They’ll fix her brain there, teach her how to live.
We are all going to help you. Okay?
When the therapist is satisfied – can you walk back to the dorms without hurting yourself? Are you sure? – she leaves. On the walk back, she sits on the curb to catch her breath. She curls her knees to her chest and calls her mom.
I’m sorry, she whispers. I’m so sorry, so sorry, so sorry.
Sorry for what?
The building is blocky and beige and mostly windowless. She brings her red suitcase. Her dad checks her in, gives her a long hug. He says he is proud of her. She says this is not possible. He says honey, c’mon. She doesn’t cry until he leaves. She wonders if he cries too, sitting outside in the car alone.
Once inside, she is allowed three changes of clothes and not much else. The nurses search her luggage and confiscate some things – a pocket mirror, a glass pan of eyeshadow. She could shatter these, apparently, and hurt herself with the shards. She suspects someone desperate has done this before.
A nurse deposits her in the second ward, the ward for suicidal adults. She is closer in age to the teen ward, but since she is 18, she legally belongs among the real adults.
Another nurse appears and shows her to a bedroom. The room is large and smooth and clean, full of white and gray. She takes the empty bed next to the window. She has a view – a wide, scrubby lawn that looks like the backdrop of a Salvador Dalí painting. The room has tall cabinets, though no handles on which to tie a sheet and hang oneself.
It is not terrible.
She unpacks, then walks into the common room and stares at the wall. She looks at the other patients, notices that she is the youngest one. A young man sits next to her and introduces himself. His name is Jacob. Jacob is 23 and has a fiancée named Claudia. He also has blue eyes the size of frisbees. His eyes are so big, in fact, that he has to order custom contact lenses. Regular ones won’t fit his irises. He tells her this. She laughs, and he laughs too. She becomes worn out from the laughing and goes back to her room to lie down.
She sees Jacob again when they line up for dinner. She and Jacob eat cafeteria food with a girl named Maya, who is 20. Maya has dark brown skin and wears her hair in thick, bouncy twists. Maya wears cat-eye glasses and talks about her boyfriend, who is tall and kind and white. Maya likes to sing. Sometimes Maya sings beautifully.
After dinner, she sleeps. Throughout the night, nurses poke their heads in and out of the room. They open and shut the door noisily, scribble on clipboards. Shh-shh- shh. They try to be soft.
The psychiatrist starts her on a new antidepressant the next morning. She calls her dad from a corded phone and tells him this. He sounds apprehensive, happy.
She spends time in the ward with Maya and Jacob. They eat together, draw doodles. The three of them make another friend, a young woman named Wendy. Wendy is from Beijing. She has a Chinese name, but she doesn’t use it because it is too long. She says she picked her English name from Peter Pan.
In group therapy, someone calls her Miss Prim n’ Proper. This doesn’t bother her. She doesn’t talk much in these group sessions. She likes to spy on people, draw cartoons of them when they aren’t looking. She can tell which patients are flirtiest, which ones want to sleep together. Some of them like to frustrate the moderator and laugh. In some ways, it reminds her of high school.
She gets a roommate who is young and blonde and good-looking. The roommate is in treatment for the 8th time and says this is the best place so far. This is oddly comforting.
Every night, her roommate curls up in the dark and rocks back and forth in a ball. The sheets shift beneath her and make a slight sound, a steady fsh-sh-sh-sh-sh.
In the ward is a man named Jeremy, who is her dad’s age. He has two daughters, both in their late teens. She has seen these daughters during visiting hours, sitting polite and pretty. She feels embarrassed when they look at her.
One day, Jeremy tells her about his electroconvulsive therapy. ECT. Small shocks to the brain. She shudders. Jeremy says it’s no big deal. Just medically-induced seizures. Helps people who don’t respond to medication.
This disturbs her. She doesn’t want to do electroconvulsive therapy. She pictures Jeremy’s seizures as a collection of flashbulbs, a group of unpredictable lights blinking on and off behind his eyes.
Every morning, she fills out the same worksheet. It has questions: Have you experienced suicidal ideation today? If you were discharged today, would you be tempted to hurt yourself? On a scale of one to ten, how much pain are you in?
The patients complete dozens of other worksheets, follow a strict schedule. In group therapy, they talk about values, goals, obstacles. In the common room afterwards, she and the other patients compare old suicide plans. These conversations build a macabre camaraderie.
She draws pictures of her friends during free time, cartoons of Maya and Jacob and Wendy. The other patients see these and call her an artist. They ask her for drawings. Draw me and my daughter. Draw me a butterfly. Draw me with long hair and angel wings. She draws these things and smiles. A nurse asks her for a drawing of himself and his boyfriend. She draws them together, two men among a flurry of small hearts.
One day, she gains an appetite, starts to feel in-focus. She is not sure why this is, but she is glad.
The nurses discharge her at the end of the week. She writes down other patients’ phone numbers, promises to keep in touch. She wheels her red suitcase behind her on her way out of the ward. Her mom meets her in the waiting room, tries not to cry. Sweetheart. How are you? She is not sure how to answer this. She says she is doing better than before, which feels true.
Fresh air feels strange – it is electric, unsterilized. She hasn’t stepped outside since she first checked in, unless she counts a smoke break that she spent in the rain, not smoking. She tells this to her mom on the drive home. They stop at a Macaroni Grill and order two large bowls of pasta. She draws a picture of the waitress on the receipt.
At home, she climbs the stairs and curls up on the floor. Her mom joins her and picks at the carpet. They don’t speak. They lie there for a long time.
She returns to campus after spring break. Her friends handle her gingerly at first, like something made of wet paper. No one asks about the institute, though they all know why she went. She doesn’t mind this. She takes her medication every morning, eats big meals.
Maya starts a group chat called Young Squad. In it are Maya, Jacob, herself, and Wendy. How’s life, they ask. She says life is highly bearable. They all find this funny. They meet for dinner occasionally, give each other pep talks.
One day, a bolt of lightning strikes the math building and splits into pieces. She is walking to class in rubber- soled boots when this happens. A strand of lightning snakes down the stem of her umbrella and passes through her clenched fingers, a flick of bluish light. It buzzes like a trapped insect.
Apparently, lightning can stop the human heart. This only happens if the current moves down the body and exits through the feet. She does not know this until her dad tells her. Thank God for those Doc Martens, he says. They probably saved your life.
She becomes hungry – hungry for spaghetti, omelettes, chocolate peanut butter milkshakes. She gains twenty pounds in three weeks.
By the end of the month, she needs new jeans. She buys them a size too big. She knows she will grow into them, though she doesn’t want to. Her friends make a game of it – these are your goal pants. Soon, these will hug your body. Soon, these will fit you right. When the jeans finally fit, they all go out to dinner. She decides that this is okay.
At points, life still seems dubious. Her feelings wobble, then flat line. The psychiatrist increases her dosage, and her therapist convinces her to drop a class. The therapist tells her to relish small things: felt-tip pens, her new red boots. Afternoons flung wide in the sun.
On bad days, she closes her eyes.
Beneath her eyelids, she rests in a field of clover. It is a soft hour, everything bathed in gold. Cinnamon and cream, the warm scent of early summer. Hundreds of white flowers, all the world young and blooming. Nothing yet rancid.
After some time, she presses her cheek to the grass and looks at the blooms sideways. If she squints her eyes hard enough, the flowers look almost like snow.
COUNTING DOWN THE BREATHS
The end began on a Saturday.
Ten days earlier, it appeared Ana might be responding to the aggressive chemotherapy. She looked a little better although a permanent frown on her face as she slept reflected an almost constant state of pain. One corner of her lip sprouted an open sore. I applied steady coats of Blistex to it. She tried eating some
food but suffered bouts of vomiting, and I had to clean whatever came screaming back up all over the bed, her clothes, the floor, and mostly me while holding her head, trying to direct it into a container.
The bag draining the catheter rooted in her stomach seemed to take more time to fill, a sign that the disease’s action was perhaps slowing, perhaps succumbing to treatment. The only real problem was the return of the yellowing in her eyes and a withering weakness. When she vomited, the liquid gushing from her mouth over my hands and arms while I held her was unlike anything I’d seen or felt before. It was greenish but not consistent—more like mucous than regurgitated foods or liquids, a dense gelatin with small dark squares suspended inside. This was a product of the disease, actually a form of gangrene resulting from the cancer’s silent, insatiable appetite for Ana’s body.
It was her life being eaten, chewed, spit out.
Cleaning her that Saturday, I noticed an empty look glazing her eyes. I panicked—not for the first time—and shook her by the shoulders, calling her name. Her eyes snapped into focus; she seemed to relax a bit back into sleep.
I did the same, waking at about 6:30 Sunday morning. Ana stared at the ceiling, barely strong enough to lift her hand to point in the air. She kept saying “they” were there for her, asking if I saw “them.” Holding her shoulders, I propped her up in the bed, calling her name, but there was no answer. She had slipped into a coma.
We called an ambulance.
At first, her mother avoided the hospital, understandably since the parent isn’t supposed to outlast the child, yet here was Julita watching her daughter shrink up and waste away in front of her. Ironically, we had left Florida the year before to be with Ana’s parents for what should have been their last years. Instead, they would be burying her rather than the other way around.
The most gut-wrenching aspect of staying in the hospital room with Ana after visitors left was hearing the occasional sounds she made during the night, somewhere between a moan and a yawn, as if she was either in some sort of pain or perhaps waking from this stupor she had been in since—when? two and one-half days earlier. Those sounds, more than any other, were the most disheartening aspect of what was happening: more than the periodic hand movements that made her look like she was scratching her chin or rubbing her cheek; more than the sudden opening of her eyes, pupils moving from side to side as if trying to focus on something in the room or seeming to establish contact before the lids rolled back down halfway, the eyeballs themselves fluttering into vacuous whites. These spasms, along with other sounds, continued until Tuesday.
By then, word had gotten out about Ana’s condition, and family members filed through the door. Some I knew; others I had never seen. Two of Ana’s aunts spent the day chasing me in the hallways or calling for my attention as I sat in a high-backed armchair reading, telling me to look at her, that she was looking at me or calling me into the room to hear what she was saying when, in actuality, she was never looking at anything, and the sounds she made were no more speech than wind moaning through a house like some saddened ghost seeking solace.
I was getting sick of false hope. In fact, I was getting pissed.
That evening, her immediate family and friends came in to visit including her mom. Perhaps she was there after hearing rumors of “recovery” that had probably started during the morning and since filtered through the family network. Ana lay, unresponsive, an occasional involuntary action causing both her mom and daughter Tania to decipher awareness. I was increasingly short-tempered through all of this. Why keep bothering me with this ridiculous inventory of movements and sounds?
I left the room and walked to the soda machine.
Occasionally, Tania would call me into the room where Julita insisted Ana was trying to say something. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I shook my head in mock agreement as actions that they thought Ana initiated disappeared in my presence. I would leave the room again. One can handle only so much false hope before cynicism sets in. I continued pacing the hallway and was returning when Tania came to me.
“It’s mommy,” she said, pulling me toward the door. “She said she’s hungry.”
I gave her a look, but her insistence won out. I walked through the door to see Julita facing me, holding Ana’s hand. Ana was looking up at her mom.
As the door closed, she turned her head my way, dry lips forming a weak smile. Tania moved around the bed.
“Mami,” she asked, “do you want something?”
Ana said something, but her voice was too weak, her vocal cords too atrophied for us to understand.
“¿Qué?” Tania asked. We both leaned forward to decipher what Ana said.
“He-low,” she whispered. Hielo. Ice. It had come out weakly, and it had taken much of her strength to say it, but she had said it. Someone went to the ice machine with a plastic cup. We crushed the cubes into smaller pieces; Tania placed a few flakes on Ana’s tongue. She leaned back on the pillow sucking on the ice, closing her eyes, enjoying the sensation. Ana pulled my hand, beckoning me to come closer. With difficulty but resolve, she wrapped her arms around my neck, squeezed me with what little strength she had. Then we kissed.
I don’t know if I had ever felt more loved or important to someone before that moment, a position I felt unqualified for given my negative attitude over the previous days. Now, optimism infected even me. When Dr. Rizek stopped by, he said the high salt content of the intravenous solution probably caused her awakening; I blew him off with contempt.
“Well,” he said, shrugging thick shoulders. “Tomorrow’s another day.”
Goddamn right, buddy, and I’ll be kissing her good morning then, as I had now.
. . .beepbeep. . .beepbeep. . .beepbeep. ..beepbeep. . .
Just before 5:30 in the morning, I heard the IV’s incessant alarm. Something needed attention. The solution in the bag had drained again. I had managed to doze off in the vinyl armchair on Ana’s right side. Our fingers were still intertwined, hers loosely. I got out of the chair, laid her hand across her chest, shut off the alarm, and left to summon a nurse to change the empty container. With a new IV bag hanging from the stand, I retook my seat, moving the chair perpendicular to Ana’s shoulders. She seemed asleep, but her breathing was short, shallow, and labored. The nurse returned to check her blood pressure. He took the measurements and left, returning to tell me he had called Dr. Rizek; he wasn’t reading any blood pressure. He switched the intravenous bag for another that contained a higher ratio of sodium-chloride as well as added vitamins, turning the machine up to pump the fluids into Ana faster.
After he left, I sat there watching her chest rise and fall, rise and fall, too slowly it seemed. Fifteen or 20 minutes later, her breathing was still labored and much slower than when I started watching. I checked it for almost a minute, counting about 16 breaths while watching her chest rise and fall. That worked out to about one breath every three or four seconds. That seemed normal. I decided to monitor her breathing, this time using my watch’s stopwatch. After 60 seconds, I counted eight, perhaps nine inhalations, and they seemed to have been slowing down. I reset the timer but beforehand checked her out as best as I could. Her hands had no grip, and when I opened her eyelids, the pupils pointed in different directions. By then, the nurse had returned and rechecked her blood pressure.
“lt’s about 40 over 20,” he told me. That was something. Better than before. Perhaps the new mix was doing some good. After he left, I sat back down, leaning over the side of the bed and pleading with Ana.
“Stay with me,” I whispered in her ear. “Stay with me.”
As I repeated the words, I thought back to what Dr. Rizek had said earlier: her thirst was probably from the high salinity in the mixture they’d been giving her since Sunday. I preferred to believe that she somehow knew her life was coming to an end, and her temporary recovery was a final farewell to us. After all, when she had regained consciousness for that small, relatively joyous slice of our lives, her timing had been, above all, absolutely perfect. The majority of her immediate family, including her mother and children, had been present along with several close friends. She talked with her brother Axel over the phone, and her awakening gave the two of us another chance to kiss and hold one another.
Did she somehow know that it was all corning to a close? Was this a final farewell or a medically- explained physiological reaction to treatment? Even if that awakening had simply been some biological reaction to the massive amounts of saline pumped into her since being admitted that Sunday, it was one that could not have been better orchestrated.
“Well, tomorrow’s another day,” Dr. Rizek had said. And here it was. Another day—just another day. Before seven, Ana was starting on another liter of fluids. As the nurse left, I again pushed the button of the stopwatch and watched her breathing, now barely perceptible. At the end of that minute, I had only counted four breaths. Unable to believe that was right, I stopped the second counter, reset it, and began again. I watched her, looking down at the watch as the seconds flashed by in a digital blur approaching and passing a half-minute. I looked up again, trying to detect the rise of her chest. There was no movement. I checked again, disregarding the watch altogether. There was no movement.
By now, the shifts had changed. I flagged two nurses I had not seen before to the room. Although they didn’t speak any English, my appearance must have said volumes. Ana had stopped breathing. The nurses entered the room, flanking the bed. They checked just about every pulse point imaginable: wrist, neck, temple, even the ankles. After exhausting the possibilities, they shook their heads in a sort of resigned weariness that was more melancholy than sadness.
“Call Dr. Rizek,” I said to them quietly in unspoken agreement. They nodded, leaving me at the foot of the bed looking at the corpse that, moments before, had been my wife. I stayed there. I was not going to call anyone or say anything until Dr. Rizek made it official, but it was done. It was all over for Ana. It was all over for us.
“Til death do you part” was what we said at the wedding. In less than three months—81 days to be exact, we were “parted,” and it had taken death to do it.
Putting the Soul Back Into Solstice 12,018
Ancient civilizations and cultures across the planet were aware that days began to lengthen again following one of the paired Solstices. To commemorate the hemisphere’s Winter Solstice, people erected timeless stone structures, like Stonehenge on the northern side of the planet, to mark this important astronomical passage.
For two thousand years, an arbitrary calendar’s reckoning of time has been the standard accounting that patriarchs have enforced. But our menstrual- blood-related ancestors, now thought to have lived going on 200,000 years before this day, based on fossil carbon dating, believed in a different concept. Our more matriarchal-centered cultures understood that life originates within our earth mother’s sacred womb. It is she who nurtures and sustains us.
Women’s bodies echo that life-giving force, contain it, and distribute it in a fractalizing expansion.
Honoring this, our ancestors believed that earth’s necessary partner, the sun, was reborn during the year’s turning at Solstice. We decorated evergreen plants, those that did not appear to die off in winter— northern mistletoe, pine, and fir trees, southern maguey—to represent that life survives winter’s harsh conditions. We used fire, candles on tree branches, in recognition that light always follows darkness, dispels it.
Here we add an arbitrary 10,000 years, the length of time our ancestors have practiced agriculture, growing instead of gathering food, to the common era’s two thousand odd years. Whatever awaits us as our communities live past the momentous turning of 10,012, we gather the energies of families, friends, familiars, all the variations of us comprising the one human community. Blessings of passion, prosperity, and peace accompany this poem which symbolizes putting the soul back into solstice.
Subtle transition. Darkness slowly overwhelming light ’til unfailing
comes a rebirth point. This candle’s flickering gradually sustains a hope:
Let darkness that harbors secret greed turn – in time – to shared enduring peace.
It was hard to hide it. Hal felt his smile was probably too broad, perhaps even almost indecent for a hospital. He hoped no one in the lobby had noticed him. In a corner of smudged glass, the tiny gift shop with wilting flowers standing sentry had just opened or was about to close. It was hard to tell. Hal had lost track of time, hours, days even.
A menagerie of stuffed animals sat in stacked plastic cubes against the back wall. There were cats of all varieties, wild and domestic, as well as penguins, elephants, giraffes, dogs and finally, crowded together at the far end, two teddy bears lightly touching paws. Hal hated to break them up but Mike was too old for teddy bears and…and….they hadn’t named her yet. Letting loose with a cackle so loud that the skinny kid manning the cash register flinched, Hal scooped up the less dusty of the pair. Whomever she was going to be, his daughter wouldn’t need two bears just yet.
“Named for Theodore Roosevelt,” Hal told the kid when he brought the bear to the register. “He refused to shoot a bear that he’d captured on a hunting trip…”
The kid handed him the sales slip for his signature.
“I’m too tired to get from there all the way to why it’s called a Teddy Bear, right now. It’s just, just…”
“Have a good day,” said the kid.
“Roosevelt never liked that they were named for him,” Hal added.
The kid grunted.
In the elevator, he tried to remember the names they’d discussed. That was when the lack of sleep hit him. It suddenly took extra effort to lean forward and press the button. The names, the whole discussion they’d had, which seemed so vital at the time, so much so that it had almost turned into an argument, now lay shrouded in a fog, floating on the edge of his consciousness.
Sitting up in bed, Karen held the baby to her nipple, a blanket wrapped around their daughter’s inconceivably tiny body. Her bangs were smeared against her forehead. She exhaled through her nose when she saw him.
“Melissa,” she said, gasping and looking at Hal then the baby.
“I was trying to remember.” Hal went over to kiss them, his wife on the arm and Melissa on the top of the head, where the blood pulsed in her fontanelle.
“Melissa, Melissa, Melissa,” Karen kept whispering, unable to say anything else. She sat next to her in the back seat on the way home, wrapping her arm around the frame of the car seat. She had her little girl now. Things would surely be easier having survived seven years with Michael.
Beginning with the car ride home, he’d been difficult. Michael was their first and Karen had felt so overwhelmed that as she sat next to her newborn watching him breathe; she began to feel sick. She wanted to tell Hal to stop the car and let her out. Then, Kevin let loose with a scream that made Karen feel as though she was about to shatter. It was a louder sound than a being of his size should’ve been able to make.
Melissa didn’t make a sound the whole ride. Her tiny eyes were closed, a smile like that of serenity itself laid upon her face. Karen had to keep fighting the urge to reach out and touch her.
Mike was waiting at the door. He tried to take the car seat from Hal as he came in. Hal managed to brush by him in a way that seemed almost kind, then put the seat down on the kitchen table and pulled a chair around. Mike knelt on the chair, getting his face very close to the baby’s. For a long time, he sat like that, just looking. Karen had wondered what this moment would be like and was surprised how quiet the house was.
“What do you think, champ?” Hal asked. Mike’s eyes darted from them to the baby and back.
Then he leaned forward very slowly and planted a soft kiss on Melissa’s cheek. With her hands to her mouth, Karen stifled a whimper of joy. She rubbed her son’s back and ran a hand through his hair in way that she hadn’t in years.
“I’m a big brother,” Mike said.
“She’s just starting out in the world. She doesn’t know how to do anything, yet. You’ll have to teach her things,” Karen said.
“Like what, what can I teach her? I’m not a teacher,” Mike said. “I don’t know how to do things good enough to teach a girl. To teach thing to kids, you need to be expert.”
“Do you?” A laugh rode atop Hal’s question as he tossed Kevin the teddy bear. “Wait until you’re in school a couple more years.”
“She’ll have to learn how to talk,” Karen said and hooking an arm around Mike’s neck, gently drew him close to her. “You can work on that as she gets older.
Mike took his role as big brother with a seriousness that surprised Karen. He showed a real knack for feeding Melissa, holding her head just right so that she could drink fully but not so quickly so that she choked or got gas. Karen wished Hal took as much care when he fed her. Mike even wanted to help changing her diaper, though Karen never let him wipe her. She managed to explain to him without having to get too specific that girls needed to be handled a special way.
He did as much as she allowed him to do. Formerly a very impatient, demanding, often bratty boy, Mike became someone else when he was with Melissa. Sometimes Karen would hover, just watching the two of them together and think that she might’ve been wrong all along about her son.
When Melissa stirred, Mike would lean over her crib. He seemed listen intently to the mishmash of barely intelligible syllables and then try to turn them into a kind of language that they might share. Sometimes their exchanges were so convincing that Karen could almost believe Melissa was telling Mike things she would not tell anyone else.
One day, Mike was sitting on the floor, his face pressed up against the slats of the crib, trying to get his nine-month-old sister to respond. He said his name over and over until Melissa looked back at him with a kind of smirk, a look it seemed was meant only for him. “Mike, Michael, Mike, Mike, Mike,” he whispered to her, faster and faster.
She scooted up close to him, reaching out to touch his chin. Her head rested on the teddy bear. Looking him in the eyes, her jaw began to tremble like she was chewing air.
“Heady,” she said, speaking both syllables clearly. “Heady,” she said again, thrusting the bear towards him.
Mike slumped away from the crib, angry with the bear, even though he knew that was silly. At dinner, he barely ate. When his mom asked him what was bothering him, he couldn’t help telling her about Melissa and the bear. His parents gasped as one and asked in voices that sounded almost angry why he hadn’t said anything. Suddenly, they didn’t care what was bothering him.
Dad told Mike that he should feel great about what had happened. Melissa had shown forethought and a real desire to communicate. It was more important who her words were directed at than what they were. Mike listened and agreed but he still felt hurt. It was the bear she loved, he felt certain of that.
As Melissa moved from crib to bed, from high chair to booster seat, from little girl to little lady, she took Heady with her everywhere. Increasingly, Mom and Dad learned to make good use of her attachment to it. If, as when she was playing by the lake at the park and slipped and cut her knee bad enough to require stitches, Heady was called upon in the emergency room to calm her down. If she wouldn’t go to sleep, Heady would become sleepy. If she had trouble waking up in time for daycare, Heady would be itching to go, wide awake and ready for the world. Alternately, if she misbehaved in the grocery store, Heady would have to sit up front on the way home. Couldn’t finish her vegetables, wouldn’t have the strength to hold Heady later.
In time, Mike also learned to wield this awesome power to his own, often rather nefarious ends. Once, she caught him sneaking Thin Mints from the freezer before dinner and Heady was held for ransom until she promised to keep quiet. A couple of years later when she caught him ditching school, he hid Heady from her; once again wringing a promise of silence in exchange for the bear’s security. Melissa came to resent being manipulated in that way as she grew older. Even more than her parents, Mike often needed to be reminded that she wasn’t a little girl any more. The thought of always being younger, of being little to his big made her so mad some times.
Having a brother so much older did, in time, offer her certain advantages. Melissa found that by telling of his adventures and misdeeds, she soon became the star storyteller of the school lunch table. Unfortunately, her claim to that status did not last long as Amelia, whom Melissa had never really liked and had assumed did not like her back, also realized this and began chiming in with stories about her sister, Laura, who was a year older and much more daring than Mike.
The stories that received the biggest gasps and most nervous giggles were the ones where Laura snuck boys into her room late at night. Everyone would crowd around Amelia as she told of waiting up, of whispers from the other side of the wall, of the other sounds she heard whose purpose Melissa could only guess at. Mike had a girlfriend but he never brought her around and hadn’t ever snuck out to meet her. Melissa would’ve known, she laid awake many a night listening, hoping he would.
Finally one night with their parents out at dinner, she met Candy. The image Melissa had of her was nothing like the older, much older girl with a short, very short pumpkin-colored corduroy skirt and black halter top, who stood before her in the kitchen. She acted like she knew Melissa and helped herself to a soda from the fridge without even asking.
Taking her soda and making herself at home on the couch, Candy soon talked Mike into smoking this skinny cigarette that she pulled out from her bra. So shocked was Melissa by the gesture that she didn’t even think to mention that smoking was not allowed in the house. Without knowing why, she found she wanted badly for Candy to like her; she wanted to be cool. She even went so far to make a move to join in when Candy offered her some.
“No, no, no, you’re too…that’s not for you,” Mike said, intercepting it and putting it to his mouth.
He coughed himself red. Candy laughed, slapping him on the back. Melissa joined in to further show Candy how cool she could be. It was embarrassing to have Heady there sitting on the La-Z-Boy watching all of this. Melissa didn’t even remember bringing him out of her room. She so hoped Candy hadn’t noticed.
As they passed the cigarette back and forth and the living room filled with heavy, skunky- smelling smoke, Melissa began to realize that the story she’d tell of that night wasn’t even the best part of it. A major rule was being broken and nothing Mike could threaten to do to Heady would keep her from wringing some concessions from him this time.
After finishing the smoke, which Mike for some reason dropped in the garbage disposal, they said they wanted some alone time so they went to Mike’s room. Melissa was supposed to stay in the family room watching TV but as soon as she heard the door close, she crept down the hall, freezing just a foot away from his room.
At first, she heard laughing, then more muffled, more wet and sloppy sounds. Candy yelped and laughed. Then, the bed started squeaking, banging against the wall, sounding like hers when she jumped on it. Holding her breath outside the door, listening as hard as she could, Melissa thought about the sound effects she’d make when she told the story.
As soon as Candy left, she told Mike that she had to tell Mom and Dad. He was not supposed to have people over and certainly not people who smoked in the house. He started saying something about Heady getting lost or Heady not liking that but Melissa would not be swayed. It was her turn to make him an offer.
Now that he finally had his license, he was going to take her for a ride just as he said he would before taking the exam for the first time. Melissa was sorry she had to make threats in order to get him to do it but some people just did not keep their promises.
That Monday, she could hardly wait for everyone at her table to sit down. She began the tale slowly as she noticed Amelia often did, telling them about her parents going out and Mike making them a pizza while they watched TV. As Candy appeared and the drama built, the girls all gasped, staring at her wide-eyed. One of the girls, Emmie, who never said anything, even unexpectedly livened things up when she mused that it probably was not a regular cigarette but drugs that Melissa had been offered. That got them all squealing and talking about it for the rest of the day, the week even.
Melissa hated to do it but she couldn’t help using Emmie’s insight about drugs to try and turn the short drive into something more. Mike agreed to her suggestion of a picnic so quickly to it that she realized it must’ve been drugs. She wondered if she should tell their parents but she had made a promise.
The night before, she could hardly sleep. As soon as the sun began to fill her windows, Melissa leapt from her bed. In the living room, she folded the tartan blanket that was on the back of the couch over and over until it became a thick rectangular package. In the kitchen, she laid it over top of the picnic basket. It fit perfectly underneath the handles with only a little spilling over the sides. She picked up the basket to make sure the blanket hadn’t made it too heavy. Melissa wanted to carry it, wanted to pick out where they would put their stuff down. She knew just the spot.
“I haven’t put your lunches in yet,” Mom said later that morning, standing at the counter, mixing grapes and walnuts into a bowl of chicken salad.
“I know, I just wanted to make sure the blanket fit over the top. You know, in case there’s a lot of stuff to carry that way we won’t have to make more than one trip.”
“You are your father’s daughter,” Mom said. “Are you going on a picnic? Can I come?” Dad asked.
“Dad, it’s just Mike and me. I told you that.” “Mike and you, Mike and you,” he said, ducking back behind the paper. “First time out in the world alone together. You’re a brave young lady to get in car with that guy.”
“Hal,” Mom tsked, “don’t say that.”
“I’m just kidding. You’ll have a good time. Your brother is a fine driver. The state says so, even if others might think differently.” “Hal!”
Melissa just stared as Dad did that stupid laugh of his. She didn’t care what he said. It had only taken Mike two tries to pass the driving test and he’d had his license for weeks, clearly he was a fine driver. The idea that he might be on drugs, that he might drive her while impaired did bother her but she didn’t dare say anything. She kept peeking over daddy’s shoulder down the hall as she ate her cereal. The longer Mike waited to appear, the more nervous she grew that he’d changed his mind, that he’d figured she’d never have the guts to tell on him.
“You do have a nice brother, you know? Most boys his age wouldn’t take time out of their weekend for their little…sorry, younger sister,” her mother said.
“I know,” Melissa huffed after the unintentional knife twist.
“Are we ready?” Mike asked, stepping out of his room just as Melissa was beginning to find the pressure of waiting unbearable.
Mike jingled the keys as he walked down the hall. He looked happy, much happier than Melissa would’ve expected. It dulled the teeth of the guilt gnawing at her insides. Dad glanced at Mike, before returning to the paper. She was afraid he’d make one of his trying-to-be funny comments and change Mike’s mood.
“Precious cargo, son,” Dad said from behind the sports section.
“I know, Dad,” Mike said.
“You mind your brother,” Mom said.
“You’re not bringing Heady, huh?” Mike asked with a tight, teasing smile.
“No. You know I don’t take him places anymore,” Melissa said, trying not to sound too hurt or annoyed. There was no use starting things off wrong. “I haven’t in a long time. You know that.”
“Michael,” Mom growled in the way she growled at Dad.
“I know, I’m just kidding.”
She’d never been the car alone with him before. It was a strange feeling to both be in the front seat. As they pulled out, Melissa realized that more than the picnic, this was the moment she had been waiting for, the feeling of riding in front, just the two of them. Being alone together in the house was one thing. There, it still felt like her parents were in charge. As they left their neighborhood and merged onto the parkway, she felt truly free, far away from her parents and from the little girl who was expected to drag a bear around with her all the time.
She put the window down and swum her arm through the air rushing by the car. It was cool against the downy hairs of her arm. Melissa wished they could just drive around, just the two of them. They could go wherever he wanted. If only the lunch table could see her now.
“What are you looking in mirror for?” Mike asked.
“Making sure the basket stays on the seat,” she said.
“It’ll be fine, girl. Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it.”
At the park, she raced ahead for the spot under the tree that would allow them the best view of where the ducks and geese liked to get out of the water. She looked back at Mike. He was texting, walking in little circles in and smiling to himself. Melissa would be sure to omit that detail when she told the girls. Could he go one day, one second without talking with Candy?
She spread out the blanket, put the basket down in the middle and knelt behind it, waiting. As he approached, she wanted to say something to him about giving it a break with Candy already. It was something Dad would say and like a lot of the things
he said, Melissa hated at first only to find out later how right it could sound in the appropriate circumstances. Once Mike put the phone back in his pocket and came walking over to her, the urge to say anything vanished. She didn’t want to ruin the day.
“Hey Lissy,” he said, coming up to the edge of the blanket, “what would you say to Candy joining us?”
Melissa didn’t say anything at first. She just started unpacking the basket, hoping that if she ignored him, the question might just evaporate. She handed him his sandwich. He squatted at the blanket’s edge and gave it back to her. She figured if she could get him onto the blanket, then he’d be hers and she wouldn’t have to worry about him sneaking off with Candy.
“She really likes picnics and lives just over the the hill, practically right next to the school. Just over there,” he said nodding towards the hill on the other side of the lake. “I’m sure Mom packed extra food.”
“You’re just going to leave me here?” Melissa asked, wanting so badly to hurl the thermos of lemonade at him.
“You can be here alone. You’re a big girl, aren’t you? Who’s going to watch the blanket? Our stuff? Someone might take our spot, eat out food. Like those geese, look, here they come.”
She turned to find six geese wading their way up the hill. They squawked at each other and flapped their wings. A large one was leading them. He stuck his beak into the grass first, then they all did.
“Come on, Lissy. We’ll have fun together,” Mike promised. “The three of us. Didn’t we have fun together the last time? I remember your laughing.”
“Fine,” Melissa said like she could have said anything and it wouldn’t have made a difference.
Mike never seemed as afraid of making her mad as she was of upsetting him. He didn’t even look back as he ran to the car. Melissa decided to set some rules for them, once they arrived. This was to be her day after all and she still had the drugs to use against Mike, if she had to. They weren’t to run off to be alone like they had when Michael was supposed to be watching her. Melissa also did not want them smoking those smelly, little cigarettes. She knew what they were and would tell them.
After what felt like a long time had passed, Melissa began to rehearse the many ways that she would tell Mike how mad she was. She even started doing it out loud, voicing her displeasure to the head goose as if he were the source of her frustration. Mike acted like a different person when he was with Candy, like someone stupid. If he didn’t promise to give it a break, Melissa would tell her parents everything about the drinking and the smoking drugs and the trip to his room and everything she saw and heard.
After a while longer, Melissa began to think he’d forgotten her. A notion so infuriating, she told the goose how much she hated her brother. As the afternoon shadows lengthened, the sun turning orange and then melting into the hill behind the school, she grew too hungry to keep waiting. With little bites, she began eating her sandwich. She was about halfway through it when the tears began. The less she could control her crying the bigger and bigger her bites got. Choking down those huge mouthfuls wasn’t easy but she kept going. She even ate some of Mike’s sandwich too and when she couldn’t finish, she took it and the extra one that would’ve been Candy’s down to the water and threw them in.
Running back to the blanket, she screamed out her rage, her own voice echoing. She grabbed the picnic basket, ran to the water’s edge and dumped it. The bags of potato chips bobbed up to the surface. The thermos disappeared quickly, burping a series of small bubbles in its descent. Mom and Dad would be so mad at Mike they wouldn’t care that she’d done it. If she didn’t like the picnic basket so much, the feel of its rattan weave against her hand, she would’ve thrown it in too. Melissa wanted to jump in just to show Mike how mad she was and make him feel sorry but the water had a coating of gross green scum on top.
After the sun had begun to go down, sinking beneath the hill and crowning it with a hazy halo of gold, Melissa noticed how wet the grass was or she might’ve dumped the blanket too. Finally, not along after dark, Mom and Dad arrived, walking fast from the parking lot down to where she was. The air was lit with fireflies.
At first, Melissa thought they were crying for her, were sad because she was sad, because she had been left waiting. When Dad told her about the accident, about what had happened to Mike and Candy, Melissa looked back towards the pond and thought of the thermos that was sitting at the bottom. She felt sorry for everything she’d said and thought that day. She let Dad pick her up and carry her to the car like he hadn’t done in years. The next day, Dad didn’t want to go to the accident scene but Mom kept insisting. She said she wanted to see the last place where Mike had been alive but just couldn’t do it alone. They needed to go together, all three of them.
“We could say good-bye from there. In case…in case he can still hear us,” Melissa said, holding Heady in a way she hadn’t for years, tight to herself with her chin on its head.
“I guess if we’re going to do this, we should do it together,” Dad said, grabbing the car keys from their hook by the door.
He held the screen door open for them and for a second it seemed like he might not come after all. Just standing there, staring; his eyes big and empty, his face suddenly grey and old. Melissa took Mom’s hand, still holding Heady tight with the other. Finally, Dad stepped out of the house onto the concrete step. He touched Melissa lightly on the head. Then, one heavy step followed another. Everything and everyone seemed to be in slow motion.
They could not miss the scene for all the things people had already left there, not even a whole day since the accident. Someone had screwed a piece of metal in the shape of a cross onto a street sign post, halfway down. Flickering candles sat in the weeds behind the guardrail. In between them, wood scraps of uneven length had been arranged behind it, spelling out MIkE and cANdY. Placed among these were plastic and glass bottles and jars that held flowers and water.
There were still some fragments of glass scattered along the road’s shoulder. Melissa put Heady down behind where the guardrail had been bent. It forced a sound from her mom unlike anything Melissa had ever heard before, a wail, a cry, a sound against all other sounds. Dad pulled Mom to him. She tucked her head into his shoulder. He was trembling. They stood there for a time behind the guardrail, until it began to feel like they were a part of the memorial.
The day they finally disassembled it, almost a year after the accident, Dad read aloud from the paper, like he was reading any other article. Someone, some local politician said that she regularly received calls of complaint about the roadside memorial. Most callers wanted the display removed because they don’t want continual reminders of someone’s death in a traffic accident. His voice quavered a bit when he came to the last part.
By then, Heady had moved, been blown over and well off the side of the road into a ditch. Its plush coat was rotting away, the stitching frayed. All around it, the rest of the memorial was also in decay. The flowers had wilted. The water in the small glasses and jars had long since turned fetid and filthy. The wood battered by the wind no longer held the shape of the names of the dead.
The wind whispered small secrets the boy didn’t understand. The sun was blocked by a bellow of insidious fogs and equally blocked the son. He watched his older brother and father exchange last pleasantries while the boy could only hold onto his father’s hand, the hulking and calloused appendage caressed the soft and youthful hand. The soft and vulnerable core to the steel exterior. The two men hugged and the older squatted down to view the youth.
“Well, Chito, I gotta get going now. I’m leaving for a long while, but I’m not going away forever. I’ll be back to see you.”
The boy began to tear up, “But I don’t get it, Lalo, why are you leaving us? I don’t want you to leave.”
The older brother wiped a small tear away, “Hey, hey, hey. I gotta go fight for you, I’m fighting the bad guys far away. It’s okay to be sad right now, but remember you have iron in your veins. I’ll bring you back something.”
Chito didn’t say anything as his older brother boarded his bus. The massive mechanism rode away with his brother as his parents drove in the opposite direction. His parents discussed important grown up topics, like the war, the protests, the government. He tried to keep up with the adults but inevitably failed.
The family returned to their small home, the father’s stalwart echoing throughout the house. The man sat on the sofa, shooing off his child to play somewhere. Chito only wanted to stay with his parent, to watch him, to listen to him.”
“But, but what will happen to Lalo?”
Chito’s father let out a sigh, “Only god knows. All we can do is pray that he comes back alright.”
“But, why did he need to leave?”
“To fight the bad guys far away, just like he told you. Go to your room mijo, your mama and I gotta talk about some stuff.”
Chito sat in his room in silence. He still didn’t understand why Lalo needed to go out and fight. The mere thought of throwing a punch made Chito shudder and thinking of his brother throwing punches all day and night made him sick. Violence was always wrong. That’s what the boy had come to know. The humble toys littered the floor, scattered like the brothers. Chito stared out through his window into the middle distance, staring past the laughing children playing in the street. How far away they seemed to the young boy, their blurred and replicated faces offering an omen of nothingness ahead. Chito thought about his brother, what he was like, what he enjoyed to do, the way he kept reminding everyone how much he loved them this morning. The boy reminisced about how much taller the brother was than he, how the comfort of his chest was always at eye level, inviting Chito at any opportunity.
Later that night, the boy sat at the dinner table, watching his father read the newspaper while the comal sizzled. The boy winced at the father sighed every so often as he flipped through the paper, audibly anxious reading over the war.
“Papa, when do you think Lalo will come back?”
The father stayed silent for a short while, “I don’t know, mijo. He signed up for three years, he might come back sooner, he might later.”
He went to the kitchen and returned with dinner for the boy, “It’s important to pray right now and hope that he’ll come back safe.”
The pair ate in silence, the clinking of their forks ravished the delicate stability of silence between the two. The food became a viscous jelly, impenetrable from the outside, absorbing words as quickly as they form. The statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe watched the tension on the table grow and thicken. Her hands offered a small token of comfort, her glowing brown visage in swirling exhaustion, her feet on angels.
The boy finished his food and quietly left for his room, his father remained at the table and continued to pretend to eat his food. Chito lay down on his bed and stared at the ceiling, the swirling pattern of bumps implying the illusion of his older brother. The silence retained the image in the back of the boy’s eyes. How would the days go by without his voice in the house? The door creaked open to allow the boy’s father to look in.
“You going to bed, mijo?” “Maybe. I’m a little sad.”
The man walked over to the boy and sat at the edge of the bed, “Why do you feel this way? I work hard for you to sleep easy.”
“I know, but I’m scared for Lalo. I miss him.”
The father smoothed the young boy’s hair, “I know it’s tough, but you gotta tough it out. He’s out serving his country, the country we call home now. We live here, and sometimes, people need to leave to find a better place to live. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“I think so.”
“Good, now say goodnight to mama and La Guadalupe and go to sleep.”
Chito put his hands together and prayed in silence as his father blessed him. The sleepy boy rested his weary head and drifted into a sound darkness. Coddled in the sweet limbo of his unconsciousness, the boy dreamed sweet dreams of his mother. A warm light bathed him in a white stupor, a gentle hand caressed his sweet face and offered small whispers of unconditional love. The still image of the woman cemented, her words were mute but still carried a spiritual heaviness. What a visage she has, the boy cannot dream more dreams of dreamy pleasantries.
The slant sunlight brushed at the boy and jostled him from his slumber. Saturday. His father must be at work right now. The quiet in the house beckoned the child to bathe, get dressed, and start the house chores.
Chito felt overwhelmed by the number of things to do, to clean, to fold, to prepare, to polish. Everything needed to be spotless by the time his dad came back home. Everything the two brothers did together now fell on the shoulders of the youngest. His big brother was fighting in the war. He was a hero. Chito couldn’t disappoint the family. He had to work hard.
The day flew by and Chito was still not finished with his chores. His father swung the door open, tracking mud and dirt into the tiles near the front door. He threw his helmet and boots off and helped himself to a beer.
“Hey, this kitchen isn’t spotless! I thought I told you, you have to have everything clean!”
The boy winced. “But Lalo isn’t here to help! It’s too hard.”
“I’ll tell you what’s hard! Breaking my back all day, working my ass off for you, and all I expect is for there to be a little order when I get back.”
The boy began to tear up and sat on the floor. The father sighed, rubbing his neck.
“Look, I’m sorry for yelling. I’m just really tired mijo, go play for a little while. I need a nap.”
Chito shook his head and headed outside to the cool evening air. The twilight clouds sent a nice breeze. The beads of sweat began to evaporate over the boy’s brow. He hoped that other days wouldn’t be so lonely. Spending all day cleaning, listening to the kids outside play, scrape, pounce on each other became unbearable in the hard concrete walls of his apartment. Chito sat on the sidewalk and thought of his brother. He wondered what Lalo was doing, if he was thinking of him too. Did he leave for another country yet? Chito decided to write him a letter, hopefully he’ll get it and he can write back. The thought of seeing his big brother’s note relaxed the young boy’s shoulders.
The days passed as quickly as they approached, each day was devoted to school, cleaning, and praying. The same routine over and over. Half way throughout his cleaning, Chito’s father will stop him to have him pray a rosary with him. For his brother’s sake, Chito would pray and hope as hard as he could that his brother would return safely. Eventually, Chito received a letter from his brother.
“Papa, papa! We got a letter from Lalo!”
“Well don’t just stand there, hand it over so we can read it!”
Chito handed to paper to his father who read aloud, “Hey there, little bro. I’ve missed you. It made me so happy to see I got a letter from you. It’s only been a couple of weeks, but I miss y’all, especially papa’s huevos rancheros, they don’t feed us much over here, just a bunch of boring soups and army surplus foods. It’s crazy over here, if you thought the weather back home was weird, you should come here. It’s been raining for days and hasn’t stopped once. Even right now, the paper is too wet and it’s hard to write. I hope the ink won’t run. It’s hard and lonely out here, but the thought of you and dad keep me going. Write back soon and I’ll tell you all my stories. Love, Lalo Gonzalo.”
The father laughed, “I didn’t know you sent your brother a letter.”
“He showed me how to write and send one before he left. I thought it would be good.”
The two just looked at the paper in their hands, trying to visualize Lalo writing it in the jungle or in a tent. Somewhere obscure and foreign, a place they will never visit, to keep in the recesses of their minds. A perfect abstraction, a simple reminder of something that will no longer be seen. The boy began to think of a response to send to his brother.
The weeks trudged on just the same as the ones before it, soon, Chito began to work in the habit of solitude, the loneliness became manageable and cleanliness became part of his personality. Cleaning and organizing and shelving were ways of life for the young boy. Chito would find himself organizing his room, the living room, even his father’s room. Everything had a place and it needed to stay that way. Every evening, the father would find the boy in the same position, on hands and knees sweeping something under something. The only other solace the boy found were in his letters. Writing, sending, and receiving his letters became a monthly treat he saved for himself. His father rarely had time to write and even less skills to write them, so Chito prided himself on his close to secret conversations with his brother.
“Mijo, I’ve been thinking.” the man mumbled peering over the newspaper. “Why don’t we go to the circus later this week? This is the last weekend it’ll be in town. Why don’t we go?”
Chito put down the last clean plate in the dish rack, “I don’t know, papa. I still have a lot to put away here. I didn’t clean the tub today. I wanna do it tomorrow.”
“Don’t you think you’ve been working too hard? Everyone needs a break.”
“I like to work hard.”
The father smiled and looked back to his stories, “Good boy.”
The young boy dried his hands and snatched the letter and went to his room. Coveting the envelope, he opened the letter and read aloud to himself.
“Hey, little bro.
I don’t know much about WWII, I wish I could help you with your history problems but I was not good at school myself either. I’m happy that you’re not too lonely without me but I wouldn’t expect for you to find fun in cleaning. I’ll remember that when I come back, you can do all my laundry! Hahaha. Also, just because I’m a million miles away, doesn’t mean I forgot. Happy birthday, Chito! I can’t believe you finally hit the double digits! I’m so proud of you, I can’t wait to take you out to the diner for ice cream. I got you some small presents for your big day, I hope you like them.
The boy looked in the envelope and found three Polaroids inside. One showed his older brother in midst of his encampment with some men, hugging and holding each other, happy faces from cheek to cheek. Lalo’s skin was noticeably darker than when he left, his rich brown hair had given way to darker, almost black, strands. All of them were wearing military greens, camouflage and brown boots covered their sweaty and muscly bodies. The next photograph showed Lalo sitting on a cot inside a tent, shaving cream covering his chin and a knife in one hand with a small mirror in the other. Lalo looked too posed, too focused on his task, his biceps and forearms were flexing. Chito could tell that Lalo was posing for the photo, a small used shaving razor laid next to his cot. Behind Lalo were photographs tacked onto a small board. One of the photos looked familiar, a small child riding on someone’s shoulders. The last photo was a picture of Lalo relaxing on a hammock, arms behind his head and sunglasses covering his face, his open shirt revealing his glistening torso. His smiling visage told unheard pleasures, a paradise of unknown quantities. Of course this was false, but Chito believed anyway, he wanted to, he needed to. To think or know or imagine his dear brother’s life in any proximity of danger was beyond taboo, inexplicable for words. Chito wished he could be with Lalo, sitting in that imaginary place, seeing the sunset, pretending to shave with knives. The boy put away the photos in a small album he’s been meaning to fill with memories. The father peeked in to see the lonesome child peering over and sighing. Silently, the father left and secluded himself in his room.
Like before, weeks turned into months, and months gave way for the first full year Lalo left the family. Chito and his father were growing to be silent roommates; the father would cook and the child would clean. The father would attempt at silent conversation, but Chito never paid too much attention. He had a mission now, to keep the house spotless for Lalo’s return. He knew that if Lalo saw how hard the boy worked for him, he would be overwhelmed with joy.
He would know that someone was waiting for him to return to a happy life. So Chito continued in his mission for months. The letters between the two brothers never stopped, each two weeks or month, one would receive a letter from the other and would quickly write back. Almost like a contest to see who loved the other more. Until eventually the letters stopped.
Chito checked the mail box every day for any sign of Lalo’s response, but nothing. Weeks went by until there was a knock at the door. The boy was far too concerned with his mission for his brother, the hero, to answer the door. Another knock, just as urgent as the first, the father stood and cautiously answered.
“Yes, can I help you?”
The solemn men in military uniforms bowed their heads and muttered something only the father could hear. Chito watched them as they handed his father a folded flag. They both said some parting words and left as quickly as they arrived. The stone cold silence of the father staring down at the folded flag, Chito instantly knew what it all meant. He dropped his dishes into the sink and ran into his room. Breathing heavily, staggering to his bed, he threw himself into his pillow’s embrace and sobbed harder than he ever has. The blood in his head became stagnant, his tears like salty lacerations across his face, his limbs contoured and twisted into snakely imitations of human forms. He heard his father scream in the kitchen and slam his fists onto the walls, the existential ache of something lost rings throughout their apartment.
Something changed about the quality light that entered through the blinds the next morning. Its slanted and distorted composition reminded Chito of a sickly filter, a thin film between his eye and the world became viscous and slimy. Like a layer of tar covered the world in dread, Chito felt an oppressive gelatin hinder his movements, moving his body became overwhelming and the slight sound of music played in the back of his mind. A small melody of four beats played monotonously in faded obscurity as he opened his door to find his father hunched over empty beer bottles, muttering to himself.
“Papa, did you go to sleep?” The man didn’t say anything. “Papa?”
The broken figure of a man stood and took a breath.
“You know who won’t sleep anymore? Lalo. Those goddamn commie bastards took my son. What would your mom say if she were here? Do you know what I would do to each one of those red assholes?”
The boy took a step back. The toxic fumes of the law of the father penetrate the nostrils of the youth, his head swirling with noxious fumes of a rage he will know. How terrible the boy must experience paternal love.
“You don’t know what it’s like to suffer, boy. I break my back every day in the hot sun to give you something to eat, something to wear, a school to go to, and how do you repay me? You think washing a couple of pots and pans is enough to repay me? You were a mistake. You killed my wife and now my son is dead.”
The man slumped back down into his chair and slid his face into his hand, “My favorite son. My only son is gone.”
Chito just stood there and watched. He watched his father stumble to his room and lose consciousness at the foot of his bed. The boy didn’t say anything, he simply resumed washing the dish he neglected the previous day. Silent and still, he repeated the motion, suds and foam clouding his vision, and the boy kept washing.
Days blurred together leading up to the funeral, the sounds of 21 blasts bled into the bitterness inside the man. The young boy stands next to his father, without touching or holding, the man keeps his composure, the smell of whiskey and mouth wash intermingle in his mouth while his son sobs uncontrollably. Whenever the boy attempted to hold his hand, the man simply slapped the back of the boy’s head. Neither can remember the service nor any of the people who attended, the haze of the day distorts their memories of times they never experienced. The days slimed passed them like wet concrete, the news and TV specials about the war only exacerbated the tension in their small world.
The man took a swig of his beer and spit it at the TV set.
“These damn kids, protesting and whining about stuff that they don’t know about. Back when I was their age, I worked my fingers to the bone shelling pecans and we were all grateful for it. These damn snowflakes don’t know how good they have it!”
He got up when he heard the clatter of dropped plates. Staggering over to Chito, he swung and missed the boy’s face.
“You little idiot, you spilled water and glass all over the place. Get over here, you little brat.”
The father grabbed the Chito’s hair and slapped his cheek again and again. He threw the boy on the floor and kicked him in the ribs.
“Don’t you cry, don’t you dare cry! If you want something to cry about, I’ll show you what it’s like to hurt.”
The father grabbed his son’s throat and held him up to his face. The boy shut his eyes in desperation, the possibility of disappearing with simple darkness. Inevitably, the smack came from the right, and then from the left, and then from the right, and then from the left. Again and again and again, the invisible swats across the cheek cemented their realities on the welts on Chito’s cheek. The numbness began to creep into the boy’s face, the swelling hot blood under the boy’s face cushioned him, comforted him, it grew into a boil. The rolling bubbles under his skin absorbed the smacks from his father’s hand.
Secluded in his darkness, the Chito’s hand began to move in rhythms, a similar back and forth. The welts on his cheek have been numb for what felt like years, the blood still boiled like a furious whirlpool, spiraling into itself and out again. The sour splashes of a liquid fire scared the inside of his throat as his hand continued to swat and swing and smack across the darkness. Chito grabbed a hold of his own shirt and tugged and ripped his most outer layer, shreds of his persona clouded his toes.
Chito’s hand continued to smack and smack and smack.
He looked down at the boy at his feet, his young face sobbing and wiping the snot away from his nose. Chito stood up straight and turned to see his reflection, a hazy and jumbled creation of wrinkles and sun burns looked back with the same scowls he saw in his youth. The same angry and old grimace that plagued a portion of the man’s nightmares became realized in this one reflection; antagonizing him, annoying him, laughing at him. This old man stood in place, mimicking Chito’s movements in mockery, laughing at him for his weakness. This old man knew Chito had been weak in the past, but no more. Chito is strong now.
“Don’t cry. Don’t you ever cry. Why are you crying?”
The small boy wiped away his tears, “I’m sorry I got a bad grade on my spelling test. I tried –”
Chito slapped the boy again, “You never listen to me! I try and try and try to tell you how to do something and you intentionally disobeyed me! When I was your age, I didn’t cry when I failed. I only got stronger! I would never disrespect my father like you do. I break my back trying to provide for you and this is how you repay me?”
The boy flinched as his father threw his across the living room, the stench of beer and whiskey fumigated the lungs of the pair. Chito stopped in the middle of the room and stared out through the window. A phantasmal visage peered in through the slits in the blinds, winkled with decay and age, the apparition simply looked back in dreadful anticipation. Chito stared into its cold and hallow eyes, the reflection of his younger self still burned into the back of the face’s retinas. The man couldn’t help but feel a cosmic sense of remembrance, an existential reminder of something important.
Chito looked back down to his quivering son, “Did I say you could talk back to me?”
He swallowed the rest of the putrid juices and threw the empty bottle at the wall. With both hands, Chito shook his son by his shoulders, shouting incoherence nonsense. He watched the young boy’s head dart back and forth like it would fall off at any moment and kept shaking. The visage still floated outside, its deep wrinkles and folded skin swayed in disappointment. Watching a repetition of what was to come, it could only stay and watch as the father continually beat his son into submission. It watched the boy run into his room for some sweet comfort only to discover he would never find any. It watched Chito hang his head over the table, mumbling at what a failure of a father he has been for raising such a disappointment of a child. Chito looked up to the old picture of Lalo hanging on the wall. He felt a great deal of shame, but he did not know why.
In high school,
the others teased me because of my size,
called me “Goodyear” in the halls.
I tried to rise above them,
but they dragged me down.
My hope sank.
Then I met you.
you were big,
a Zeppelin, in fact.
But you loved yourself,
were not embarrassed by your body.
You even loved mine,
taught me to do the same.
And like dirigibles,
we lifted off,
let the heat carry us.
Steered by chubby cupids,
we sailed to places nobody could spot us,
Although not as sleek nor as swift as jets,
we glided nonetheless,
graceful crafts lifted by heat.
lighter than air.
And perhaps my bullies were right:
I was big,
a blimp even.
But I never again let others bring me down.
The Bells of Sunday Morning
She grew up in a house
That sat between two churches
Her Saturday night sacraments
Enough blood and flesh and cigarette smoke
To put glories and miracles
Poetry on bougainvillea afternoons
Stray alley cats and pigeons
Glasspack mufflers sing
Farm to Market praises
From acolyte throats of leather
She never let it go too far
She loaded up and left
Iridescent swirls of the forgotten
Cold nights sleeping in her car
Aurora Borealis echoes whisper
Into tidal pools and palm tree fronds,
17 new lovers on the table
In a dining spot, Pullman car rewind
She’s been here before
She’s been you before
And she’s killed the things that hide behind
Locked and bolted doors
Chevy Silverado FM radio
George Strait and Petty tunes at night like reruns
Border Patrol check points
Misty eye drops
She lies a lot to men that carry guns
Define the things you absolutely have to
But, you’d better never think that you know the facts
She’s laughing at us all out by the palisades
With sand between her toes and on her back
Beechnut chew and rebel flags, regardless
It takes strength to learn where your soul flows best
And there are better things to do tonight
Her parents still live there, between those churches
Sunday morning well-scrubbed
Bells still ring in jest…
Dreaming in Noir
Chapter One hundred forty-five
For the children of the border
The stars are falling
Walking among us
The dim light they’ve
Left to give
The hour growing thin
The clock heavy with the past
A loaded gun at its temple
Love an aborted attempt
—a vain substitute—
To stem death’s success
Losing more than minutes
The soul sickly & paralytic
Tossed by the roadside
Of our disrupted dreams
We no longer see the road ahead
Dreaming in Noir
Chapter Two hundred twenty-three
Hang around long enough with poetry
& things begin to happen
Little things at first
Words stare back
From the page
Like a pack of hungry wolves
Life begins to change
Lights go on in dark places
Mountains turn into molehills
Deflated hearts bounce back
Frowns give way to smiles
Laughter sheds its tears
Handshakes replace fists
Trigger happy hatred puts its gun down
& Ignorance moves to the back of the bus
Song for America VII
The American Dream
(Poem on the wall at the Delta Produce building at S. Brazos
and S. Laredo Streets recently painted over)
Did you dream the American dream
Was it a tale told by an idiot
Full of myth
Full of lies
Full of laughter
Full of cries
Did you dream the American dream
Was it a Hollywood movie for the big screen
Was it glitzy
Was it gory
Did it win an Oscar
or a Grammy
Did you dream the American dream
Was it dollar green
Where all the fat cat piggies
rake in all the cash
All the pink & tickled piggies
piling up their stash
Did you dream the American dream
Is it just an elephant & donkey’s game
Who will win
Who will lose
Who will sing
the barrio blues
Did you dream the American dream
Did it all get lost somehow
Can you find it on the Westside
living up on Zarzamora Street
Is it down on Frío City Road
where all the homies meet
Did you see the American dream
Is it all they said it’d be
Did you read about it in a book
or watch it on MTV
What is the American dream
An idea too good to be true
Too impossible too unreal
For folks like me & you
What color is freedom
How much does liberty cost
What’s the price of justice
when so many have been lost
Have you seen the American dream
Is it just an immigrant thing
Is it worth the sweat & pain
It’s written in blood
Waiting in your name
MISSING PIECE (for Jason)
I mentor a schoolboy who loves puzzles but shies away
from 4th grade reads.
Our jigsaw games, it’s true, they’re fun but I’m more
fond of reading one-on-one.
I noticed he’s a kid who imitates so I’m attempting to
One day his teacher sent an article along for us to read
outside of class.
I listened to him struggle, read aloud while I read
upside down and silently until he stumbled over words
like “conflict” “diamonds” “brutal” work
in tale of children mining gemstones deep in Congo.
At age of 12, boys graduate to working physically
instead of paying teachers cash to finish school.
They have a choice, if you can call it that,
to mine blood gems and skip their reading class.
I reminded him he’s also 12, but he objected stated he’s
11 yet ’til next week’s celebration.
I see he always balks when task is hard.
He finds it wrong to lose. He must be Number One.
So we switch to different kinds of puzzlement finding
United State shapes on a jigsaw map.
Texas is the shape he knows extremely well with border
limits he can easily identify.
I best him ‘cuz I hail from north New Jersey,
old enough to drive through lots of other states.
May he grow wise enough to follow roadmaps
puzzling past the borders set before him,
smart enough to understand the shifting shape of
knowledge: reading is the missing piece
he needs to always win.
Walk in MLK’S Footsteps
We are Texans, pale to black What values do we prize?
Some take a holiday from work.
Some would, but lost the job, still look.
Some are seeking blowout sales they’ll end up with
some bargain we marchers honor King’s travails
we have what dollars cannot captain
Imagine marching 275,000 strong King’s spirit strides
with us along other humans just like me smiling free
force of history
with intent of victory
This vision first formed in Reverend’s eyes overflowing,
loving souls today we unify, surprise.
What Mistranslation Lost
O, Birther of the Cosmos, focus your light within us —
make it useful Create your reign of unity now
Your one desire then acts with ours, As in all light,
So in all forms,
Grant us what we need each day in bread and insight:
Loose the cords of mistakes binding us,
As we release the strands we hold of other’s guilt. Don’t
let surface things delude us,
But free us from what holds us back. From you is born
all ruling will, The power and the life to do,
The song that beautifies all, From age to age it renews.
I affirm this with my whole being.
Fresh echoes of familiar supplications were intoned
originally in Aramaic. Yet Nazareth-born, thus brown-
completed Savior’s native tongue installed no Lord
within this prayer.
Rather find a Birther (not one concerned with paper
proof of birthplace) Birther of the Cosmos, being
obvious who does this:
Hallowed is this maiden’s name.
Instead of reign of blessed unity, we’ve been plagued
with kingdom come, with glory, power, willful acts of
domination separating earth away
from heaven for all conceiving time.
Did you know that birdsong matches planetary music
generating deep in space? Resounds on earth what
sings of heaven.
We got bread (and circuses) but lost the insight
we so desperately need. Notice how external fault,
temptation, redirects responsibility from we who
should be choosing not to judge our own or others’
In the native tongue of Eashoa’ M’sheekha (Jesus
the Anointed One)
comes clarity in revelation, declaration who—alone—
intends to make the call. Timeworn proclamations of a
jealous patriarch, architecting his idea of
God in own exalted image, reserving for himself
the freedoms to redact, mansplain, disseminate
What clergymen required us as children memorize can
be re-visioned as its ancient song reveals
I AM a HUman being, vibrating harmony of love of all.
I intone what prayer renews indigenous beliefs. Aho.
At a grouphouse down the block from the old stables,
a shambles, deserted, derelict,
gentrification a long way off—
You said you grew up on an island.
I told you my hometown was a city
of dying steel mills and railroads.
When the flu had you down for weeks,
I figured you lost my number,
You recovered, you relapsed. My
friends said he’s not healthy
enough for you. You
sent me a ticket for Fenway Park.
I made coffee in my galley kitchen,
on Sunday morning.
We went to the movies, to a bar, drank
a couple of pints, went to my place,
made a frittata with artichokes. I
watched you wash the dishes.
When the door closed behind you
I couldn’t believe my luck.
For days I called up that feeling, your
hands firm around my lower ribs,
like you were pressing my heart
upwards so you might take it.
But it was already
stashed in your pocket.
Forty years back, maybe forty ahead.
Not like children, wanting to be taller, older,
or hormone-infused teens, no find-a-mate quest.
Forty— young enough to wear your hair
long enough to brush your shoulders,
go on four hours’ sleep, alert after black coffee.
Skin clear, unwrinkled. Laugh lines faint.
A few white hairs at the temples, easy to pluck.
When you see young men you notice
their suntanned arms, the way they shout, then
turn away as though you’d barely caught their eye.
Still, there’s a moment
when you feel like Madonna, like a virgin,—
before this life of to-do lists.
What joy to make it
to the end of the day, crawl between sheets
next to your sleeping husband.
moonlight lining the floor, eyes closing,
the body’s factory busy making new cells,
new armaments for tomorrow.
PW Covington is a writer in the Beat tradition of the North American highway. He has been invited to share his work from Havana, Cuba to the Standing Rock Reservation, and his work has garnered international praise.
Covington currently lives two blocks off of His- toric Route 66 in Northern New Mexico. His latest col- lection of poetry is titled, “The Motor Hotels of Central Avenue”.
Bill Cushing earned an MFA in creative non-fic- tion writing from Goddard College in Vermont after his undergrad work at the University of Central Florida. “Counting Down the Breaths” is excerpted from his cre- ative thesis, which is currently undergoing preparation for possible submission.
He now lives in Glendale, California and teaches English classes at East Los Angeles and Mt. San Anto- nio colleges. Writing across genres, he has been pub- lished in numerous journals, anthologies, magazines, and newspapers, both in print and online including both volumes of the award-winning anthology Stories of Music.
After being named one of the “Top Ten L. A. Po- ets of 2017,” he was recently honored as among “Ten (poets) to Watch in 2018.” When not teaching or writ- ing, Bill facilitates a writer’s critique group (9 Bridges) as well as collaborating on live performances with an area musician in a project they have dubbed “Notes and Letters.”
Maddie De Pree
Madeleine De Pree is an undergraduate student at Furman University in Greenville, SC. She has been published in The Austin Chronicle and recently ap- peared in Best Emerging Poets of South Carolina: An Anthology.
In 1999, I accepted an offer of admission to the Creative Writing Program at the North East School of the Arts (NESA) at San Antonio’s Robert E Lee High School. Before I commenced my studies at NESA (and its magnet counterpart, ISA), I knew few things about writing: I liked it, and I had been told since I was little that I was good at it. However, I was unsure if I liked writing enough to focus on it for the next four years. But, at those times, I felt tempted to withdraw from NESA, the teachers (and writers) with whom I studied (Ms. Donna Peacock and Mr. Bryce Milligan, respec- tively) encouraged me to remain in the program. Had I not listened to them, I would not have honed my craft, would not have made and strengthened existing friend- ships with classmates (and fellow writers), would not have developed the resiliency necessary to have one’s work critiqued on the spot, would not have witnessed my work published and included in a collection of the San Antonio Public Library (SAPL), and would not have even commenced my undergraduate course of study at the University of Chicago. Currently, I am finishing my bachelor’s degree in Theology and Spiritual Action at OLLUSA.
Fernando Esteban Flores graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in English. He taught writing at several secondary schools in San An- tonio, received 2 ExCEL awards for excellence in teach- ing from KENS 5-TV, and was chosen as a distinguished educator from Bexar County by Trinity University’s Trinity Prize Committee. His work has appeared in: the San Antonio Express-News, Voices de la Luna, The Americas Review, The Texas Observer, The Thing Itself Journal (Our Lady of the Lake University), rogueagent journal (issue 25), Written with a Spoon: a Poet’s Cook- book, Is This Forever or What?, Lost Children of the River, (The Raving Press), writersofthe riogrande.com, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. His three books of poetry: Ragged Borders, Red Accordi- on Blues & BloodSongs are available from Hijo del Sol Publishing and were recently archived at the Ozuna Learning Center & Library at Palo Alto College. Visit his webpage: www.madwarbler.com
A widely published writer and Pushcart Prize nominee, Jason Graff’s novella, In the Service of the Boyar, is out now from Vagabondage Press. His first novel-length work, heckler, will be published in 2019 by Unsolicited Press. You can sample the future via his Hu- morscopes at blueplanetjournal.com. He lives in Rich- ardson, TX with his wife and son.
Catherine A. Lee founded, and ran for 13 years, Studio Red Top, Inc., a loft space/nonprofit in Boston. There Lee began exploring poetry as a percussive voice with jazz musicians—including joint gigs with her mentor, Beat poet/hipster tedjoans in 1986-87—and produced concerts, jam sessions, and readings. Though primarily a poet, she writes grants, other types of non- fiction, and produces video storylines. Her multimedia creations are archived on Soundcloud (http://sound- cloud.com/jazz-cat-lee) and Vimeo (http://vimeo.com/ jazzovation).
Lynne Viti teaches in the Writing Program at Wellesley College. She is the author of a poetry chap- book, Baltimore Girls, (Finishing Line Press, 2017) and a microchapbook, Punting, (Origami Poems Project, 2018). Her second chapbook, The Glamorganshire Bi-
ble, is forthcoming in May 2018 from Finishing line Press. She has also published most recently in The South Florida Poetry Journal, The End of 83, I Come From The World, Lost Sparrow, Pen-in- Hand, Light, and Fourth & Sycamore. She blogs at stillinschool. wordpress.com.
I graduated with my B.A. in English from Our Lady of the Lake University and I am now a graduate student working on my M.A. in English Literature and Language at St. Mary’s University. My research inter- ests include Queer theory, Marxist theory, Border theo- ry, cultural criticism, and the Gothic genre. I have been published in small university journals around San Anto- nio as well as some creative horror pieces in magazines. I’m a little bit country and I’m a little bit rock n roll.
Featured in this issue:
Maddie De Pree