A Stranger Come Home – by HIRO TSUKINO


Stranger Come Home

by Hiro Tsukino



The guy with the window seat smiled and shaped his hand into a gun. He put the barrel against his neck and fired smoothly, gesticulating the glory of the blow out the other side onto the woman sleeper between us. He did this in slow motion and with grace (hand model or magician?). His fist mimed the unfurling violence—blood spray, tubular bits transmuted into globular muck from the heat and force of the bullet, neck bone fragments wild—in a gesture of sprawling digits and a snaky curl of the wrist.

The ten-hour flight from Tokyo to San Francisco would be painful, but not suicide. For me the opposite.

“Bitchin,’” the weirdo said, smiling. He showed teeth.

“Thank you.” I comprehended at last that he’d complimented my tattoo. The Death Star is tattooed on my neck, mid-detonation.

But writing this, months later, I am uncertain if the weirdo meant that his “bitchin’” explosion resembled my tattoo. He’d dropped his head back after the initial shot, then tapped his neck again with the barrel, and dropped his head back and performed this motion a third time (or have I rewritten in recalling?). Meaning (possibly): How bitchin’ would it be to shoot through all three of our necks so the bullet exits your tattoo and bursts into the center aisle to initiate further gore?(?)

It was a long flight. Even I was not myself.

The tattoo was done here, I confessed.

“In the air?” He wasn’t joking.

“In the U.S.—San Fran—” I said— “when I was fifteen.”

I am not the kind of person who chats with strangers on planes, yet I pushed through my introversion and spoke of my teenage rebellion, my hope that my father would not carry me back to Tokyo so irreverently marked. He did so and worse. Those were long days inside skyscrapers that blotted out the sun, and me lost under the lengthier shadow of my father. A matrix of shadow. Deep was his, and so un-there was I, that at night I seeped through the cracks of this steel trap into punk and electronic shows and the life underground. Never long—kidnapped at daybreak by heavy-handed limo drivers. My father being who he is, etcetera. Tokyo was a fun-house mirror and a charcoal suit I will not miss, I explained. I was returning to the U.S. for good, or maybe I would not stop wandering now, I told all this to the weirdo on the plane in not so many words.

I wanted to be a good listener, who I see myself as, so I asked, “What about you? Business or pleasure?”

“Exquisitely inseparable in my book,” he said.

I remember this is what he said because I’d never heard a person use the word “exquisitely.” I smirked in return.

“Talk—tell me about yourself,” he said, reaching into his jacket pocket. Three travel whiskeys lay in my lap (magician).

I began and, despite my introversion, could not stop. This was a cliff’s edge time for me, running on a new life. Not new—deep me, 24/7.

I did not speak of the patriarch. I told the weirdo a little about my music and much more about the zines I had written for and published. Conspiracy zines. With expats. The one I put most heart into was a meta zine on conspiracy and knowledge. Its title: Dietrologia.

“’Nothing you can believe … is not coming true,’” the guy said. He dipped his finger in the air at the word “not,” made squiggles in the air of the rest. I had not seen him drink. Though languid, his motions were precise.

This quote is from Don DeLillo’s Underworld in which he writes of the search for hidden motives. Exactly where I had stolen the title.

“People don’t want to hear it,” I said, meaning the truth, excited that we shared this language. I immediately became paranoid: A coincidence? Was he sent to interrogate me? By my father? The U.S. Government? I was one whiskey in, a lightweight.

“Too afraid?” he said.

“The opposite.” I said this much less excited. “The concept is not scary enough.”

I thought I would say no more.

The weirdo stared at the headrest of the seat in front of him with a crazed grin as if gazing through it, through the skull and brain of the person in front of him, and entertained by the picture show of his or her dreaming mind.

I then shared what I’d learned after years of working on zines. When I published about the secrets of space travel acquired from little gray men from outer space, locked in cells under the Pentagon, people bought. When I wrote about Cthulhu cultists performing virgin sacrifices in high power high-rises of Dubai, about the living city of Atlantis leading sensitives to its rediscovery through ESP, and about the death of American rappers linked to the Illuminati, people bought.

When I published about the immorality of the 1%, about political parties as pro-corporate puppets exploiting labor at home and internationally, about the zombie-ing effect of “present culture” (see titles of current “Top 100 Songs”) to prevent labor from seeing its disempowerment and capitalism’s future catastrophes as inevitable, about our inability to conceptualize the lasting effects of parties and politicians for more than five years forward or backward, about the inability to see that as a problem, about the underfunding of education globally so that the unprivileged are learning less in classrooms about how political and economic systems operate, about these schools serving only to conform us into spectators and not actors, about racism and sexism and classism as subversive tools that keep us blind and divided, about how we uphold these inequalities through fighting and not talking, and about why this is happening, about power securing power, stuffing bank accounts at the cost of human dignity, then no one bought.

“To sum it up—” I said in a sweat.

“Please,” he said.

“People want mystery. If they know what is happening in the world…” we looked to the window simultaneously—high altitude darkness circumscribed by a soft rectangle made of white plastic, “the interest is not there.”

“Suspense!” The guy rocked in his seat and patted the sleeper’s leg encouragingly. I am certain they did not know one another. “Suspension—the state of—disbelief,” he rambled.

“Something like that.” I wiped my eyes, bleary from an unexpected sadness, two whiskeys in. The lost and those not wanting to be found, acquaintances, awaited me in this country. I was not even awaited.

Most passengers were asleep or attempting to sleep at this time in the flight. We both became aware of it and talked in a lower volume.

“What does one do with truth?” he asked. “What do you do with it?”

“Avoid. For a long time. The truths about myself.” Was I still by running from Japan and my father? I didn’t know. I didn’t wholly want to.

“Ever open your eyes at night in bed? Try it sometime. Tonight!” the guy said. “One eye sees darker than the other. Close one, open the other. The rods and cones are different, each eye degenerating at different speeds. Eyeballs are hardware, you see? We are devices of input, and we compile one dark image, one lighter image into a single 3D illusion. So let me ask you: Which eye sees the world as it is?”

The question was very rhetorical because he continued before I understood his point (slow with drink). He’d skipped several logical points ahead as if missing a teleprompter.

“You compile your own—or so you think. Your own Meaning of Life. In you, for you. But what of outside you, now? Outside your little life with its little meaning—what’s the bigger fish, the system that you, we, as data, compile into?”

“I don’t know. Life?”

“Whose objective is?”

“There isn’t one?”

He raised a finger.

“Whatever we make of it?” I answered.

The finger went limp, and his smile sagged into distaste.

He told me to drink the last whiskey and, after, when I’d enjoyed my “brief escape” and sobered up, to get serious about the “red mountain in the room.”

He put in earbuds, and we did not talk for the remaining hours of the flight. My answer, or lack of one, had disappointed him. So I did not (yet) understand the hidden meaning of reality. I knew myself. Didn’t I? The sadness returned. I could not finish the drink. I expected we would shake hands at the gate. I became anxious over it, considering what I would say to make things right, as they had been. To make a friend.

Upon landing, he got up (no bags) and passed me the way one does not see a stranger.


Hiro Tsukino is an artist and activist living in San Francisco. He is the editor-in-chief at Future First Magazine and was born in Hiroshima, Japan.


Transparency – Kelly Fitzharris (Coody)

So, want to know how it feels to go through a divorce?


It’s absolute hell.

You feel like you’re insane; ergo, in an attempt to quell some of your loneliness and pain, you talk to other men (friends or acquaintances, whatever) and become inexplicably clingy with them, to which they instantly recoil in response.

It’s not surprising that they do this. I mean, if I weren’t in the situation I’m in right now, I’d recoil too. I can understand where they’re coming from and I do not know why I’m acting like this – it’s out of character for me to say the least.

I used to love being alone. I loved it. I craved it. I missed the days when I could just go unbothered about my life and be who I wanted to be. I still mourn the one-bedroom apartment I lived in for two years while I was attending UT at Austin.

At 32, I don’t like to play games.

I’ve been with the same man for 12 years. On January the 1st, he bitch slapped me with a divorce that I didn’t see coming. Not even close.  We’ve ALWAYS had our ups and downs; it was just a part of us. I thought that this was another one of those lulls. I didn’t ever anticipate that it would end in a conversation where he said to me, “I don’t love you anymore. I’m tired of pretending. I’m sorry.”

I don’t give a fuck about being “PC” or pandering to the masses for the moment. I’m sick of it. I’m falling the fuck apart. I’m NOT okay.

“Put on a brave face, Kelly.”

“If anyone can do this, Kelly, you can. You’re strong enough.”

“You are so strong. You have to do this for the kids.”

STOP telling me what to do and how to do it. I have so little control over what happens right now that it’s gut-wrenching.

One of the fallacies in being from a town named Niceville is that everyone suddenly knows your business and wants to know why your spouse of 9 years, with whom you have two beautiful children, and in a relationship with for 12 years, would leave you. They phrase the question in a way that implicates that I MUST be somehow at fault. How could I not?

The other disadvantage to living our lives the way that we do right now, in the digital age, is that it is lonelier than ever to go through a traumatic event like this. Tonight, I’d been with my children all day, dealt with their daily acting out and drama and was about to blow my top.  So, here I sit at a Starbucks close to my house, listening to angry music and writing this. And doing some light people-watching. (Psst: Wednesday nights aren’t that exciting.)

As I stated above, I’m 32: I’ve been with the same man since I was 20 years old. I don’t know how the hell to live my life without him! Shit, we met my junior year of college and I just never looked back. We used to celebrate our monthly anniversaries – and our 12 year is just around the corner, on March 26th, 2017.

“You’re so gorgeous. You can get anyone you want.”

That’s not the point. That’s not what I want.

I want to feel okay. I want to BE okay.

I’ve never, ever been a codependent person. But I believe(d) in my marriage and trying to make it work and sticking it out.

I let myself fall completely and totally in love with him at that young age; so much so that it hurt. We dated and lived together for three years before we were married. We had our first child soon after. Four years later, we moved to a bigger house and had another child. After I had Jackson, I went back to work full-time at the bank when he was only 10 weeks old. Two and a half years later, after speaking with my spouse about our finances and hectic schedules, he and I decided that I would quit work full-time to stay at home with the children to cut the costs of daycare and thus, eliminate the lack of disposable income.

That’s when things really began to take a turn for the worst. I was no longer bringing in a second income, so my spending had to drastically change.

I never felt like I was doing the right thing with the kids or with myself; I was constantly second-guessing myself and how I was doing raising the kids. It was a time full of uncertainty, self-doubt, and, yes, on some days, self-loathing. I am not impervious to emotion. I am not impervious to suffering.

Here’s where I’m at right now: I don’t know who I am yet.

It’s not about the destination, but the journey, the battle, the struggle, and the ultimate rise in your self-confidence and learning how to trust again. I don’t know when that will be for me or how it will ultimately go, but I know that I need to have faith. Though shaky, it’s there. I do have faith.


I also want you to know that the reason I’m being THIS candid and THIS transparent about what I’m going through is for those of you who might be suffering as well. This is for those of you who feel alone, abandoned, hopeless, and have a bottomless pit full of suffering.

I’ve become defensive and perpetually angry; and, you know what? If I am bitter for a while, then so be it. I don’t give a shit. Why do I HAVE to rise above? What IS it with our culture these days that tells us that we aren’t allowed to have a bad day or a bad time and just be bad at life? That’s the kind of shit that leads to hoarding, drug use, and all kinds of other unhealthy manifestations of unhealthy behavior. Because what the hell else are we supposed to do? No one likes to listen to someone who’s going through a hard time. No one wants to be around it. So, then, inevitably, the person adopts a coping mechanism.

My soon-to-be-ex is not sad about the divorce. He’s the one who initiated, so apparently that means that I’m the only half of the marriage that feels like hurling themselves off of a building while he’s absolutely fine. I never knew that that was a thing. That that was possible; even if you’re the one initiating, shouldn’t you sort of mourn what you once had? All the years spent together, the experiences?

I’m sick to DEATH of the facades and the personas we all create and put-on as we face the internet world. It’s not true and it’s unfair. So, let’s say that someone like me reads an upbeat, happy-go-lucky, go-getter article from a woman who’s in a similar situation: it will crush that someone. It will make them feel even more like a failure.

I read article after article after article about how these “perfect” social media faces lead to depression; so, here I am, being as transparent as I can be in order to offset some of that. I always end up taking a lot of flak for telling it like it is, for saying that I am sad, that I’m destroyed, and am told to “SMILE!” and I’m told, “It will get better!” and “Kelly, stop being so negative.”

So, I personally feel (and know) that it’s more helpful to read something where someone’s honest. It’s more helpful to hear about how someone’s struggling and that they are, in fact, sad, rather than read an article about how a woman in my situation is doing great, rising above her daily minutiae, unaffected by her impending divorce, and that she’s simultaneously crocheting her entire family personalized pillows while pan-frying salmon for dinner. And then she posts a flawless “selfie” where she’s wearing a monogrammed shirt and holding a glass of pinot grigio.

And I’m cleaning pee off the bathroom floor, yelling at everyone in the house to “settle down!” And the ever-popular, “Don’t you make me come in there!” while I wipe sweat from my forehead, my heart pounding out of my chest, the dog barking at a random solicitor that she can see out of the side window.

And in between cleaning up pee and quelling arguments between my kids, I’m making them snack after snack after snack, attempting to clean the kitchen, and search for full-time jobs.

THAT is reality.

Kelly Fitzharris (Coody)






To The Sea – by Seb Reilly

There is a strange psychological effect on people who grew up by the sea. Not in every case; but for many, the idea of living away from an edge is something they struggle with. I definitely fall into this category.

Seaside people need the land to end. They need that boundary, a cut-off point. Rolling hills, lush forests, fields and meadows are all lovely. Cities full of people and bustle are exciting and vibrant. But we seasiders require water. We need the waves to lap against the shore of our home; the horizon to exist at the point where the sea meets the sky.

I love living by the sea, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I could move anywhere in the world, as long as it was on the coast. Where I happen to live, where I was born, is a former island called Thanet. It used to be completely separate from the rest of country until a few hundred years ago when the channel finally filled with silt. Thanet has the great benefit of being surrounded on three sides by water. We have the mainland to the west which prevents us getting claustrophobic on this little isle; but the north, east, and south all lead to the oceans. This is a truly remarkable place, an island that is not an island.

The water is something we often take for granted. It is there every day, and we sometimes ignore it, yet when we leave and go inland its absence is notable. Whenever I am away from the coast I can tell – the air smells and tastes different. The lack of salt in the atmosphere, the silence normally filled with the cries of gulls and the crash of waves, the sun descending into the land instead of the water, it feels off. I love the sea, and the closer I am to it whilst remaining on solid ground, the more I am at home.

It even inspires me, every now and again, to express my connection with it through words. I have written poetry, prose, articles, stories; all about the sea. I am drawn to it and I cannot look away.

I often indulge the water by submerging myself in the ocean. I walk out into it, as far as I can, then lay back and let myself float as the sun is setting. The view is incredible; the sinking sun from the water’s surface is a stunning sight. Afterwards I return to the beach to watch the final moments of the sunset, and often as the glowing orb slips beneath the ocean a green flash appears from the refraction of the light. That is something you would not see inland, and a memory I will cherish for years to come.

The ocean, to me, is a comfort. It is my environment. It is home.

sebreillySeb Reilly is an writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea in Kent with his family and two cats, and when he is not writing he enjoys music and film.


Chin Up! You Should Just be Happy You’ve Made it THIS Far! – Editor in Chief – Kelly Fitzharris Coody

“Complain to me when you’re talentless and homely.”

“I’m jealous of how thin you are!”

“My, my, with that red hair, you could break everyone’s heart in this room.”

“Woooo!!I just got my royalty check and oh my god! Kelly, can you edit half of my next book for free?”

“I do love a good story… however I’ll just keep the memory of how insanely beautiful you are with me to sleep:)”

GUESS WHAT?!!!!! I am writing my own books, juggling staying at home with my children, being a good wife, running this web site, collaborating with another author on a book, and making sure there’s food on the goddamn table.

This is fun?

This is productive?

I’ve worked so goddamn hard on this book – on making it a really, really good book that I’m proud of.

The other “authors” don’t consider me a peer because of my fucking appearance. (As you can already tell, I’m going to swear a lot. Be advised.) What do you want me to do, put a bag over my head? This is my face. I won’t apologize for being a woman.

I’ve never felt more underestimated, undervalued, or disappointed in my life. Do you want to know how many times I have been asked to “sex chat?” Or if I’m “happily married?” Rather than asking me about my writing or anything else.

Oh, and while I’m here, I need to address this.

What gives?! I asked  you guys nicely if you would share a link from Underground Book Reviews’s Facebook page for me, as I was up for being reviewed by them, as I had made Pitch Perfect Finalist.


So, guess what happened?

A book about quiche won and, yeah, I am sort of crushed. A BOOK ABOUT QUICHE RECIPES WON AND GOT A THOROUGH, WELL-PROMOTED REVIEW. And me? Well, I’m still here. Plugging along. Going back to the drawing board.

Melissa and I have both come down with a cold / flu / plague thing, so we’ve been MIA recently. We will be MIA for a little longer as we figure out the new schedule – the themes are still going to happen, they just may happen after the holidays in order for them to work.

As of right now, we are pushing back publishing to a later date. I will put up another editor’s letter once I figure out what that date is.

Another funny note that I might mention here – half of you are friends with me on Facebook and don’t even realize that I’m the one you email with your submissions – that I’m the one working tirelessly to be a platform for YOUR writing. I created this magazine to give a voice to those who were talented and deserved to be heard.

Most other literary magazines / journals have a minimum response time of three to four months – please begin to expect the same from us. ESPECIALLY if I’ve told you we’ve accepted your work.

I’m the friend who listens to everyone else vent, is there as a shoulder to cry on for them, would do anything for them, but never receives it in return.

My throat is swollen and it’s painful to swallow. I’m going to bed.

I truly cherish the community that I’ve been able to foster here – but, sometimes, it’s hard to be everything to everyone while my own work is collecting dust in the corner. And, I’m still sick.

PS: I’ve mailed off everyone’s Pushcart Noms.

You know who I am.



Mouthpiece – by JENNY IRIZARY


My dad was leaning out the car window, catching up with Sofia’s mom, as I ran my finger from my Basque-Puerto Rican surname to the name “Mouthpiece, a Jet,” on the West Side Story cast list posted on the gym door. I ran down to the parking lot with the news that Sofia and Mia would play Sharks, but the rest of the Girl Scout troop and I would be Jets. Sofia’s mom sighed and my dad looked at her more directly than he ever looked at my mom, saying something so quietly he didn’t need words, and then he rolled up the window. The whole car ride home, I complained that I wasn’t Polish like the Jets are supposed to be, and he repeated, “I know, I know.” When my mom walked in the door, I tried to pull her into my well-articulated reasoning: “The Sharks have all the good songs,” and, “Well, red is my favorite color.” She stared into my hazel eyes just like hers and pronounced, “It’s typecasting. The play is a racist fantasy about gang violence ending in redemption.” My dad snorted and muttered that the Black Barts and Greasers at Balboa High were about no such thing when he was a teenager. Before I could hear what they were about, my mom interrupted. “They have an idea of what Puerto Ricans look like, and you’re not it. That’s why they chose Sofia to be a Shark; she looks the part. They don’t care that she’s Mexican.” It didn’t make sense that Sofia looked more Puerto Rican than a Puerto Rican. But it seemed downright bizarre that she got an anonymous chorus role without lines, even though she was a better actress at age twelve than the two eighth grade Anglo girls cast as María 1 and María 2 less for their singing voices than for their ties to “old families,” meaning rednecks that stole land when the U.S. took over California and never left. So instead I pointed out that Mia was, believe it or not, paler than I was, in skin tone and naturally platinum hair, yet she would get to perform the famous sung-out debate between the female Sharks who “like to be in America,” because life is “alright” and even “bright” in America, and the male Sharks, who counter with certain qualifications: if you “can fight” or “if you’re all-White in America.” My dad laughed at my shade-of-blonde, flesh pigment technicality, and my mom glared until he went quiet.

I thought that would reach him, me wanting to sing lines containing his own advice in the anecdotes he told me about growing up. In that scene, Rita Moreno’s character sings, “I’ll get a terrace apartment,” and her boyfriend, the leader of the Sharks, sings back, “Better get rid of your accent.” In the ‘50s, my dad’s family got a place in Bernal Heights, and after that, a friend’s family tried to get one nearby and couldn’t. “He never told me why,” my dad had repeated every time he told the story, “I found out years later that anybody Black was denied a right to buy or rent there. He thought I already knew.” I’d forgotten that the moral that ended narratives like this one could be sung as, “if you can pass in America” and “if you keep quiet in America.” I’d acted out that advice, repeated his silence almost daily with lines like, “It doesn’t matter that my grandfather’s from Puerto Rico; I’m only Spanish.” But now that being Puerto Rican was something everyone around me saw as fun and exotic, I suddenly wanted to reclaim my heritage. If I could play a teenager in a play set when my dad was a teenager, maybe I could finally resemble pictures of him smirking with a cigarette he’s only pretending to smoke.

During and after every rehearsal that year, white girls in our troop asked Sofia when exactly her family moved here from Jalisco, boasting about their humble “European immigrant roots,” all the while insisting that she prove the Americanness they considered inherent to their stories. And thanks to my mother’s blonde Nordicness and my “only-Spanish” story, I fell under one of the few rules the male and female Sharks agree upon: “Your mother’s a Pole, your father’s a Swede, you were born here and that’s all that you need; you’re an American now.” Sofia was “once an immigrant, always an immigrant,” although we were born in the same place. The more I tried to explain otherwise after twelve years of that other story, the more they thought I was lying out of pity for Sofia. She got sick of this and reminded me that she wasn’t ashamed of being Mexican and I didn’t have to lie to make her feel less alone. “And if you think that you’re making some sacrifice by pretending to be Latina, then you think just like they do.” Did I really understand what it would mean to not pass, or did I just want to put on a costume for a few hours and shout “Olé” like the Anglo girls, because red was a pretty color?

Either way, I resented that European-Americans at school had the power to push me farther from my grandfather, not based on how much I resembled him but on how much I resembled Natalie Wood, the daughter of Russian immigrants. Sure, my dad’s parents and hers both moved to San Francisco during the first two decades of the twentieth century, and soon after Natalia Nikolaevna Zacharenko (Natalie Wood) was born, her family moved to Santa Rosa, the city where Sofia and I were both born, but that didn’t make Natalie Wood Puerto Rican or me Russian. Natalie Wood accessed Hollywood at a time when most Latinos changed their names to downplay their non-whiteness. Rita Hayworth started out as Margarita Carmen Cansino. And although Natalie Wood changed her name to make it more pronounceable to Anglo-Americans, she didn’t do it to disguise African and indigenous ancestry. She could ignore the lynchings and kidnappings of Chicanos and mexicanos that had taken place in the ‘30s, people whose families were living in California before it was part of the U.S. and families who had recently moved here put in trucks and dropped off across the border or murdered by the kind of white terrorists still patrolling streets, deserts, and checkpoints, or, like my classmates’ parents, building sets for a play.

When the last rehearsal ended, Sofia’s mom and mine uncrossed their arms, rolled eyes at each other, reminded us that it was our choice to participate in this offensive musical, and instructed us to change out of our red and blue t-shirts. They knew that boys our age were being asked to choose sides with those colors, and one kid in our class who went by the nickname “Chango” and had dedicated truly atrocious pre-adolescent love poetry to both of us, had joined the Sureños. Although my mom panicked over me wearing blue, I knew it was the kids who “looked the part,” who were in danger whether or not they joined a gang, and I was so pale blonde that I was beyond those accusations, even if my Anglo friends asked me why I didn’t look quite like them.

At a school in California, formerly Mexico and still Aztlán, it was less threatening for a third grade teacher to explain that when I screamed at my friend, I should “put spit into the word ‘Spic,’ like you mean it” than it would have been to stage Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit or another play centering Chicano or mexicano characters. When I asked my mom why this was, and what the word “Spic” meant, she said, “It’s a derogatory word for people who are Hispanic,” and looked at my dad, who shrugged and gestured as if to say, “Go on.”

“It’s not like they’re going to put on a play portraying Latinos in a positive light. They’re being historically accurate.” My mom seemed surprised that I would expect respectful treatment in the world of middle school musical theater. Having been a white anti-racist activist in the ‘60s, she knew better.

The lights came up slow the last night of the play, and I punched past Sofia’s jaw as she threw her head back as if hit, my fist in front of her face, so that the audience wouldn’t see there had been no skin-to-skin contact. She pulled my shoulders down and brought her knee up to hide that she wasn’t really kicking me in the gut. We stomped inches above each other’s feet, because that was apparently how hard-ass gangsters rumbled in the ‘50s and ‘60s. I changed out of my cuffed jeans and into a royal blue ‘80s sequined cocktail dress because time periods were interchangeable depending on what I could afford at Goodwill. Sofia put on a dark red poodle skirt her mom made. Both of us could go through the motions, familiar from siblings’, parents’, and friends’ stories, but neither of us got the fashion chronology quite right. Leonard Bernstein’s dance music began. On opposite sides of the gym floor, Sofia and I reflected the same steps, her left foot back when my right foot moved forward. Lights dimmed, we slowed at the same time and then froze, as spotlights brought Tony and María together, the Polish guy trying to go straight and stay out of his friend’s white supremacist gang and the sister of the Sharks’ leader, who insists he’d rather go back to San Juan, even if over half its population is living in New York City by the late early ‘60s, cheap flights available to anyone willing to work, as “long as you stay on your own side,” as the Sharks sing.

After Tony and María’s first meeting at a community dance like the one where my dad met my brothers’ mom, Tony sings María’s name as a prayer and trills, “Say it loud and there’s music playing,” but it’s always fighting and not respect or adoration that upsurges the instrumentation for the remainder of the play.

During the condemnation and defense of America, the music rises again, and from behind the sets, I heard Mia and Sofia arguing that “buying on credit is so nice,” to which other Sharks reply, “One look at us, and they charge twice.” A stratified payment plan corner store owners on Valencia offered my dad, who replied throughout his childhood and adolescence that he could afford the whole Saltine cracker box, not just a sleeve, even when it wasn’t entirely true. The same interaction I’d watched through the ‘90s at the corner store in my neighborhood. Although “cadillacs zoom” and “industry booms in America,” Sharks reiterate that people live “twelve in a room in America.” And many of my friends did that May 2001, decades after the play’s Hollywood mirage of New York City had long since faded. A few people had told Sofia that not living like that was one more sign, along with her penchant for singing and dancing in American musicals, that she had allied herself with bourgeois comforts and white people. Since I passed for white and couldn’t speak Spanish, being friends with me was further evidence.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t blending in with the Jets as seamlessly as I had previously imagined. When we mocked police, psychologists, and social workers for pathologizing white teens as “juvenile delinquents,” “depraved on account of we’re deprived,” the kids with money sang the very sociological reductions they hurled at kids from my neighborhood: “Our mothers all are junkies, our fathers all are drunks. Golly Moses, ‘natcherly we’re punks.” My only line as Mouthpiece in West Side Story was in this song: “The trouble is he’s growing.” The next line is, “The trouble is he’s grown,” and that simultaneity was precisely my problem and Sofia’s.

We were both “queer for Uncle Sam,” as María’s brother accuses Rita Moreno of being. Since moving between and within gender expressions for even a few scenes was what drew me most to theater, this pejorative equivocation of queerness and assimilation was an accusation I was only beginning to realize would follow me the rest of my life. When one of my fellow Jets sang, “My sister wears a mustache, my brother wears a dress, golly, Jesus, that’s why I’m a mess,” and the Anglo girls in my troop turned and gestured at me for the benefit of the audience, that tipped me off.

Onstage in front of two hundred audience members, including my own family and Sofia’s, I didn’t have to fake tears in the last scene when María cradles Tony’s body even after he’s killed her brother to avenge his white friend’s death in his quest to be the good White ally boyfriend. She shouts at the Jets, the Sharks, and perhaps most of all the people watching the play, “How many bullets are left in this gun? Enough for you, enough for all of you? You all killed him” (to paraphrase). I’d spent hours practicing calling my friend epithets my dad ran from as a kid, down Capp Street, Valencia, Howard, and Mission. Terms that precipitated real, un-choreographed fights at Balboa High when the trouble was that he was growing and grown. After people that could have been my dad start to die in the play, the Jets advise each other to “keep cool” around cops to avoid being indicted for murder. But in all my dad’s stories, when the cops cornered and questioned his cousins any time anything happened in the neighborhood, they rarely got out of it by “keeping cool.”

I’d worried through rehearsals and multiple stagings of the play that my hair and eyes didn’t look quite like Natalie Wood’s instead of listening to what my dad had tried to tell me, in that silent way he communicated with Sofia’s mom. Un-ambivalent longing and nostalgia for sets and props didn’t belong to my father. For him there was no fixed boundary between art imitating life and life imitating art, the way there was for my friends who were “all-White in America.” Sometimes it’s possible through silence to be a Jet “from your first cigarette ‘til your last dying day,” but it comes at a price. My dad had laughed at my confusion about gradations of Whiteness and lightness and who played who in a musical because the only curtain call in his stories about colorism was that final one, without stage lights, sometimes with songs and people you love, but sometimes under the street lights and cop flashlights that end West Side Story.



Jenny Irizary grew up in a canyon that flooded every winter and now resides in the city of Oakland, California. She holds a B.A. in Ethnic Studies and an M.A. in literature from Mills College. Her work has been published in Label Me Latina/o, Atticus Review, Duende, Snapping Twig, Tipton Poetry Journal,Communion, and other journals.

A Special Tribute for the Month of September- Now, My Birthday Sucks by Lynn Sollitto

Now, My Birthday Sucks

The morning of my twenty-sixth birthday began with a phone call from my boyfriend. It would change my birthday forever.

“Lynn, have you been watching the news?”

I don’t watch the news; it’s too depressing. He knows this.

What I was about to see would burn in my mind and give a whole new meaning to the news is too depressing.

“Why would I be watching the news?”

“Just… Turn on the TV.”

I sat on my bed and flicked on the TV.  The television played footage of an airplane crashing into the North Twin Tower. The South Tower came down shortly afterwards.

I grabbed my head and moaned, “No…”

Immobile, I watched the news replay the horror of the buildings collapse. These towers were a symbol of the time in my life that made me, well, me.

I moved to New Jersey from a small town in Northern Wisconsin when I was eighteen. I lived twenty minutes from “the city.” (Friends constantly needed to remind me as to which city they were referring, as the whole area was one big city to me.)

Each weekend I went by bus on the Garden State Parkway, through the Lincoln Tunnel and into Manhattan. As we exited the tunnel, The Projects loomed above us. Continuing on, the Twin Towers rose up in the distance, the majestic king and queen looking over their loyal subjects.

I would stare at the towers, craning my neck to see them as long as possible. The people hiding behind their newspapers or leaning against the window with their eyes closed perplexed me.

How could anyone take that view for granted?

The towers symbolized a time of finding myself. In my year on the East Coast, I gained confidence as I learned to navigate public transportation, drive a stick shift on highways with more than two lanes, and apply make up so expertly that I passed for twenty-one.

Most important, I realized that although I came from a small town, I was capable of doing large things.

This time in my life was a turning point: There was Lynn pre-New York City and Lynn post-New York City. The magnificent towers reminded me of this whenever I saw them.

Nearly eight years after I lived there, I watched them crumble into a pile of memories.

Later, I would mourn the lives lost. I would donate money in a firefighter’s boot.

And I would grieve for the towers that lived in this great city, inanimate yet just as alive as any New Yorker.

But in that moment, as the world watched together, all I could feel was shock.

My birthday plans were to meet my boyfriend for breakfast and then go to school. I was on autopilot walking to the restaurant, eating, and driving to school.

The weight of this tragedy hung in the air.

Campus students walked around in slow motion, statues come alive and uncertain how to proceed in this new world.

The news was turned on in my English Literature class. There was no chatter in the classroom, no commentary about what we watched. The students were silent; their gazes fixed on the screen as the destruction played over and over, a recurring nightmare.

That evening I went to dinner with my boyfriend and another couple. My favorite restaurant was usually packed with people and loud murmurs, but that night it was subdued.

I began to look at things as pre-Twin Towers and post-Twin Towers.

My children’s births were post-Twin Towers. They’ll never get to see them, and this breaks my heart.

An old movie with the Towers could elicit a tightening in the chest.

A memory of my time in New York could tie a knot in my stomach.

A year ago I visited Manhattan to celebrate my fortieth birthday. It was the first time I’d gone back since my coming-of-age experiences twenty-two years earlier.

My mom and I visited Ground Zero on our last day. As soon as we stepped into the memorial, the atmosphere changed.

Just blocks away, taxi horns honked and people yelled, but within the walls of where the Towers once stood, the air was solemn. People spoke in heavy whispers, respectful and reverent.

A well of emotion overcame me. I was grateful to be wearing sunglasses, which hid my eyes.

At the memorial, Reflecting Absence, I traced my fingers over the engraved names. The names reflected the diversity of all the lives lost that day – women and men who were not only American, but also Hindu, Jewish, Russian, and more…

…And Muslim.

The terrorists destroyed buildings and thousands of people, but they hadn’t destroyed what made and continues to make America great:

Open arms that welcome anyone wanting to become part of our diverse family.

And we must remember this to honor those who lost their lives and those who are weighed down by that day’s loss. We will stand together as a symbol of America’s greatness.



Lynn Sollitto lives in Sacramento, California, with her husband and three children. She has been featured on Carrie Goldman’s 30 Days of Adoption at Chicago Now and has been a guest contributor for Transfiguring Adoption. Lynn blogs about her foster adoption journey at www.lynnsollitto.wordpress.com and about the writing life at www.bittersweetadventures.com. She can also be found on Twitter or hanging out at lksollitto@gmail.com.

Want to go Back in Time? How About for Your Medical Care? Come to Fort Worth, Texas; they don’t care one bit. Especially if you’re a woman. – Kelly Coody, Editor-in-Chief

I’m looking at and talking to you, HARRIS METHODIST SOUTHWEST EMERGENCY ROOM in southwest Fort Worth, Texas, to be exact. I just want to make sure EVERYONE KNOWS how ABYSMAL THE QUALITY OF CARE IS THERE.  

How would you feel if you showed up to an Emergency Room, with your mother on her deathbed, only to get a staff full of physicians who couldn’t care less about her? All they wanted to do was to get her out of there and I AM APPALLED.

I drove her there today because she had a severe bowel blockage – after X-rays, all they did was come in and pump my mother’s abdomen full of fluid, neglecting to fill her in on the X-ray results.

As she was being discharged, I happened to see a screen shot of said X-ray slides as a nurse looked over it while my mother writhed around in her hospital bed, screaming. And I casually brought it up again, discussing it with our main nurse on our way out.

They let her leave with copious amounts of backed up stool filling her abdomen. They didn’t offer surgical removal as an option, and, instead, made my 57 year old mother sit on a makeshift toilet until she couldn’t feel her legs. She was crying, screaming in pain, and pleading with them to just stop and help her. And let me tell you something – my mother is tough as nails. She NEVER cries. NEVER.

“I can’t breathe,” she kept telling the nurse. “My chest feels heavy.”



Putting her through such a rigorous physical ordeal that I felt could have been avoided if they would have LISTENED to her and stopped minimizing her concerns was APPALLING. IT WAS DEPLORABLE. My mom has severe back injuries (documented, multiple back injuries – as well as multiple, documented back surgeries and procedures) – all of the eight hours we were there, it seemed as though my mom was being tortured.

“I’m starting to lose feelings in my legs,” she cried weakly to the nurse.

Empathy? Solutions? Answers?


Apathetic, disillusioned, empathy-lacking medical staff far outweigh the opposite. They’re overworked, don’t care, and if you cry in front of them, they frown and hand you a box of tissues.

No wonder America HAS BEEN CONSISTENTLY LAST among developed nations in terms of care quality, results, treatment over the years. And it’s only continued to get worse. I saw it today in front of my own eyes.


My mother is no stranger to traditional western medical practices – she’s been an LVN in the state of Texas and in the state of Florida since 1978. She understands that they have their marching orders, but today, they crossed a line that I refuse to let them get away with.

I received better medical care in Paris in the ’80s when I had a stomach bug. That is the truth.



Get your shit together. Care less about your pharmaceutical buddies and care more about the person in front of you who’s lost feeling in their legs and whose lips are white, while you’re looking at an X-ray full of bowel blockages.

YOU’RE BAD AT YOUR JOB. YOU’RE BAD WITH PEOPLE. You don’t have a God complex-you have an asshole complex. 

Told you I was going to shout this from the rooftops. 

Kelly Fitzharris Coody





Rock Fever


“Every time I take a life, I cut my locks.”

            It is between 2 and 4 in the morning on an island in the Caribbean. Your lover has been gone for hours. He fucked you furiously and deeply and in that perfect nightcap kind of way which makes you zonk out immediately after. Then he dressed and left, without ceremony, cuddling or explanation, which is rude, even for him. And when he comes back to your room at the Windward Passage hotel, he plops himself down in a chair overlooking the patio, which overlooks Waterfront Drive, and lights a joint and sighs.

Island nights are surreally bright, with the streetlights and the stars and the moonlight on the water, a gloss that refuses to peel, and the water on every side always like a warped funhouse mirror. It is never dark dark here, but that peculiar, velvety hyperblue that strikes your stateside eyes as artificial and makes you feel like you are living on a movie set.

They call it ‘rock fever,’ the angst and melancholy that sets in when a land person comes to live on an island. It is a geographically induced form of claustrophobia. Your editor tells you even before you arrive on island that it is a phase. Then every other statesider you meet says this. You start to crave weird things just because you can’t get them on island: Starbucks, bowling. It gets worse, then it gets better, they say.

Your rock fever began as soon as you set foot on island and has lasted a very long time. (The last time you were in a psychiatric setting and dared to ask what was wrong with you, the attending physician made vague noises about something called ‘adjustment disorder.’)

Your editor picked you up late at night from the airport, and your first impression of the island was from the passenger side of his Jeep. The air was clotted with humidity. A beekeeper’s spotted mask. The hillsides were mounds of black where the houselights had poked fingerlights. The roads were stacked and ran willy-nilly like an anthill. They said it was a small place, run on gossip.

The waterfront is always dead calm after 8. If someone passing by were to drop a quarter, you would hear its every ping and revolution. This quiet surprises the tourists, that and how run down Main Street is, with its weathered, beaten pastel shutters all drawn up behind cast iron curlicued bars like an unsung French quarter. The sun sets early all year round, and the nightlife is minimal. The only cheesy, raucous outlets cluster on the East End, where it is like Spring Break every week.

You and your lover avoid the East End. The Windward Passage has a series of jewel toned lights along the height of its exterior that blink in ascending sequence, and you can see them clear from the other side of the island. It is the only display of its kind, a singular attempt at the kind of garishness the tourists expect and which announces from the outside that it contains a casino. You would like to say that’s where your lover has been, the past four or five or six hours, but you know better, and you know he knows you know better.

On your second date, your lover stopped mid stroke and told you he had something to confess. The meat of his front deltoid was freshly sliced. He told you he didn’t know if you would like him enough, because you couldn’t see him all week because of work, and he weakened, he needed a “wife,” he said, and he slept with an old flame, and when she found out about you, she bit him, then she cut him.

“Did you use a condom?” you ask.

He has his back to you. He is smoking that joint and looking out at the ocean. The patio doors are wide open. The balcony is small. You are in bed still. He greets someone he sees passing on the street, and every word reverberates up. Then, to you, quieter:

“I cut my locks three times, b.”

              Velocity, n., the speed of something in a given direction. In economics, the rate at which money changes hands in an economy.

When people drive on the island it is a lot like the way pedestrians negotiate a crowded intersection, more ambling and intimate than driving in the states. Signals and right of way are not as cut and dried. You top out at 30 mph and tend to blow a tire every three months. The West End is still mostly rural, deep bush, no cell reception in large swaths. People abandon cars on the side of the road, and they engulf in flames so commonly that in Bordeaux it is like another form of graffiti. The lover goes to Bordeaux to make deals, meet up with connections, play Dominoes at rum and hamburger stands.


Later you will tell a DEA agent that you were just happy to be able to take a bath in a bathtub and sleep on a comfortable bed. You leave out the air conditioning and the fact that at the Windward Passage you can expect to fall asleep without being pricked in the face or hands by mosquitoes, or dive-bombed in the cheeks by flying cockroaches, all regular amenities−along with a mildewed, crumbling, feebly streaming shower, and a stove that doesn’t light−of your efficiency. The efficiency sits on top of a hill which overlooks a bay. A steep dogleg of choppy, crumbling concrete leads to it, and when it rains your Chevy Aveo slides right back down it like a beetle down a rock.  Black rats bottleneck and stampede in the gaping, hut-like eaves, fighting and fucking. The squealing and clawing starts as soon as you turn the light out. One of them dies behind the bed, and you think the sheets are strangely sour for weeks before you find him. During a rainstorm, because the landlord has misdirected the cistern into a water pipe directly above your toilet, you spend an afternoon taking buckets of water and tossing them out the front door. You hold the phone to the flood pounding the floor and yell at your mother, Can you hear this?

You are not on vacation. This is your real life, but even your West Indian boyfriend has had enough of your flimsy futon and offers to spring for a hotel room. You put the room on your debit card; he will pay you cash later. Why do you never go to his place? Because he lives with his parents, like all 44 year old drug dealers.

You will mean this bit about the air conditioned hotel room to sound much less unfair to yourself than it actually does. Later you will think you maybe came across as much cheaper and more damaged and reckless than you actually are, the idea that you could resign yourself to a local who is in the West Indian way−that is, he has a good government job but makes up the gap between what he thinks he is worth and what he gets from the territory’s socialist shithole Banana Republic-type government, by dealing−because he sprang for dinner at Old Stone Farmhouse and hotel rooms. But there it is. You say it anyway. Velocity. You don’t have time to pad your reputation like a warm Cadbury egg ensconced in plastic grass shavings in some precious Easter care package for the folks back home in Texas. In particular, you don’t have time because none of these explanations ever take place in the setting of a formal interview. You never even get the courtesy afforded a regular snitch. Instead, you end up trying, through a series of deflected asides, to broach the topic of your ‘personal life’ with one of your sources, because you are a reporter and you cover, among other things, drug trafficking on the island.




In the moment, in the immediate aftermath of the man you have been sleeping with for months confessing that he has killed three people, you bifurcate. You pretend that everything is normal. Po-po-pokerface. In his speaking, he wanders off into other quarters of his scattered, machismo-saturated, hothouse Caribbean existence. Four exes. Five known children. One grandchild. Vast, West Indian clan name with an intricate network of patronage and corruption to uphold. He has told you that his father used to be a police captain. He told you this on your second or third date while careering down the only decent stretch of road, running red lights, after a crab dinner in which he consumed way too much alcohol to drive safely but flirted with a baby girl sitting at a nearby table in such a way that, in spite of yourself, made your womb dump fluids into your vagina.

You started to call the Resident Agent in Charge a couple of months later, after your lover told you he “blazed” a man when he was in his twenties over a $3000 drug debt but got away with it because of his father’s position. The man he shot “squealed” but the department went deaf, and he had to pay for the victim’s medical expenses. He said it like it was thing he once did, but he’s glad he’s legit now.

You understand now that your lover was testing you. To see how you would react. He laces his tone with faux world weariness and regret. It seems this kind of behavior is a rite of passage for men in the world you are now in, shrunk to a rock. You know you are acting “out of character” but can’t stop yourself because the play is over. Your dreams are no longer set in Connecticut. You no longer startle when you wake up to the sight of the bumpy, bright white varnish of the efficiency’s walls. At night you stand on your hilltop porch, stare down the bay, and you feel in your homesickness and loneliness that you are trapped inside the cover of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. The waves crashing is so much and so near and so constant you want your heart to stop if only for the precious silence it would entail.

You work harder than you ever have. You know that you can’t go to the states, even for a week or two, even if you had the money to do so, because you would not come back to the island. You work even harder, longer hours. You develop serious investigative intent. Ambition buries your spare time. You do what you came to the island to do. You break open a couple of scandalous, contest-worthy stories. People call you with tips more often, but you are acculturated enough to tell when they give you fake names. At least twice a month, you work back to back days on the weekend, churning out story after story about how fucked up the island is. It doesn’t stop the waves from crashing.

You can’t pay your student loans or your car note, but the latter doesn’t matter because it would cost the bank more to repossess and ship your car for resale than what you owe or than the piece of shit is worth.

If the ocean is a cosmic womb, you are permanently breach.

You wonder how long the vine that has grown up through the floor under the bookshelf in your apartment will take to reach the stove. If you pull it up, some of the tiles might shatter and then there will be even less of a barrier between you and the detritus of what appears to have been a years-long stream of tenants. When you came to view the place, an undocumented mother and her baby and her toddler were squatting there. Her only earthly possessions were blankets and toiletries. The children were sleeping on a mat on the floor. Under the house, it looks as if people inhabited the place for a few weeks at a time, then somehow the unit flipped upside down and discarded all their casual belongings like old, crusty French fries out of a fryer vat basket. A mini landfill of flipflops, bottles of shampoo, toilet seats, candle ends, stray drawer handles, broken brooms, picture frames, forks, old rugs, magazines, clumps of Latino hair from brushes, garbage no one drove into town.

When tourists balk at sudden rainstorms, you patiently explain that living on the island is like living in a terrarium. You will be drenched about once a day, but briefly. A three to five o’clock spasm. Some of the showers are so tiny and localized that you can outdrive them. Some of them will only shed on one side of the road. You imagine a cross sectional display of the moment you are in: hardened volcanic magma, humus, decaying bodies, garbage, shit, feral cats, vines, pizza-thin tile, you, better-constructed floor material, pot-bellied, Guyanese contractor landlord with his nice family, curried vapor, clouds, ozone.

Looking at your lover’s face while seated on a bar stool is hard because his face causes you to have a falling sensation, literally. You want him to snort you into him. Walking with your arm on his is like being escorted by a ravine in human form. He has an elephant tattooed on his chest. During sex, he says things like “Open your cunt.” He says to you once, “I want to breed you,” and every vestige of class you have ever had abandons you. You actually come to the thought of getting pregnant. You wonder why this has never happened before. You have a sense that your body is betraying you.

You wonder if this will change now that he is telling you he has killed people. You suspect it will not.

Yes, you say, to your lover, that night at the Windward Passage, you don’t understand why his son chose to name his baby boy ‘Nolan’ as it is a white, yuppie name.

You think that he cuts his dreadlocks every time he kills someone because of some distorted Ratafarian ritual of atonement. Later it occurs to you that it has nothing to do with atonement and everything to do with disguising himself and confusing potential witnesses. You will then use this too-late insight to beat yourself up, tell yourself how could you have spent years reporting on crime for newspapers and still you don’t know a cobra from a bull even when said animal has been inside you? Do other people use their own intelligence to make evidence of their own stupidity?

Like an overstimulated, unwelcome child at a party for adults, you grow sleepy. Like you could doze soundly face down in a pair of empty high heels while disco beats twerk the floorboards and people ash on your head, that’s how hard the lover’s confession has hit you. Like dope if you did dope. But before this primal panic reaction slides into your bloodstream full-force, your primary emotion is not fear or anger or revulsion or even disappointment; it’s annoyance. At the level of the soul. It is the same annoyance, the same deeply aggrieved, self-important, all-enveloping, jerkfaced existential howl that you feel at work.

About ten years ago, you wrote a poem about tranquil but suicidal ideations intruding on mundane action chains, or vice versa. The poem was called ‘Housecleaning.’ Most of it was about dusting and washing dishes and how for some people wanting to die is a natural impulse that has to be guarded against with active observation of the physical world. Since becoming a journalist in the Caribbean, you wonder how it is possible to envy your former self so much the envy is almost lethal. You think of that poem, and you think of the housewife who wrote it, and the irony gives you brainfreeze.

On the island, you work from 9 in the morning until 10 almost every weeknight, then take calls from your editors as they work into the wee morning. You keep Bandaids and safety pins in your desk drawer, to dig your cuticles up and peel them off in bloody strips. Your ears start to ring at night, like they are muffed in a high, fuzzy whine, like you have been at a concert but the concert is actually your head as you write four or five stories a day. You take deep breaths in the car and won’t go in your apartment until the ringing stops. It is a ritual to separate working from home. It takes longer and longer. The government owns everything: the ports, the university, the beaches, the hospitals, the waste and electrical companies, the cemeteries even. There is no adequate clearing of roadkill, and patches of stench bloom so strongly on the road home, you could mark your way with your eyes closed. The legislature takes all summer long to craft a budget. A funeral parlor mixes up the bodies of two elderly ladies. The hospital dumps boxes of medical waste onto a loading dock in the parking lot, to rot in the sun. A senator makes national headlines when she says she can’t understand why the territory needs to formally codify marital rape, because she doesn’t understand how a married man can rape his wife. A gas station explodes and for hours a tower of flame rises above Bovoni, near where they fight cocks. The island’s only bookstore closes. You find yourself straddling rusty decks in patent leather high heels, taking pictures of half-sunk boats that are being vultured for scrap metal, close to $1 million in scrap, even with copper prices down. Cops get arrested for selling coke and you think you have uncovered a chain of bribes and shake downs among contractors and these same cops and officials. Certain statements lead you to believe there is a fake fund for cancer victims or disadvantaged children or disadvantaged children with cancer that the governor and his friends use to launder the drug proceeds and bribes. The DEA pretends to give a damn about that, also the Office of the Inspector General. You start to leak interview recordings to both offices, because you don’t care anymore about walls of objectivity. You want the rich and bleach-white-teethed and dirty and scornful-powerful to fry.


From http://www.urbandictionary.com:

Inside job

1) A crime commited by an individual who is in a position of trust and has access to “inside” knowledge in relation to the crime commited.
2) Also a song by American rock band Pearl Jam.

1) The FBI agent used his knowledge of law enforcement to cover up his tracks after he murdured his wife.
2) Im listening to Inside Job right now.

#cop #fbi #trust #crime #pearl jam


People call to say that the remains of their relatives have been stored for years in a concrete barracks with no names on the squares, and the Director of Public Works screams at you on the phone that you cannot be allowed to call the graves “unmarked.” What then should you call them?  He gives no answer but screams some more in his backward, ungrammatical jumble, a high-handed bureaucratic West Indian verbal haze.

One morning you get up and ask yourself whether today you would rather die than have to go to work one more day. Actually you do this every morning before you shower. Just once, you take a large kitchen knife and hold it to your neck. You feel the pressure you have felt for months condensed into the slim cold line of the blade. Then you put it back. For the rest of the day it is the best day you have had since you arrived. You are calmer. Because it feels like you chose it instead of just letting it happen to you.

A Google search of “Caribbean slang” + “inside wife” still returns “About 0 results (0.34 seconds).”

An ‘inside wife’ is one who stays inside with kids, a load bearing female, a drudge, while the ‘outside wife’ is one who gets to go on romantic dates, is displayed to the public, faces insecurity, does not hold a house, but forms a public persona. Arm candy. 


You cover a parade that is the climax of Carnival week, and it is like a combination of Halloween and Mardi Gras, except more explicitly sexualized than either mainland holiday. Senators and businessmen and all of the island’s social strata, top to bottom, don racy costumes and start drinking at four or five a.m. and fake bumping uglies in the street to soca music. Tourists love this part. ‘J’Ouvert’ is a big draw for them. Derived from the French, contraction of jour ouvert, literally ‘day opening,’ or daybreak. Originally, this was the one day the masters gave the slaves to get drunk and mock them. Not even a whole day. From 6 a.m. to noon, six hours of revelry and social satire meant to diffuse centuries of homicidal rage. People on stilts with ballooning pants revive the folkloric spirit called a ‘mocko jumbie.’ Jumbie is a scapegoat figure, kind of. He is a clown who steals your socks from the dryer. Jumbie is why you can’t find your keys or your homework. He covers up minor peccadilloes and mischief among the oppressed. You marvel at the tropical flowers, the size of them, the almost alien springiness and neonness of them, mutant emblems of how the world’s craving for sugar was so intense that it was the yin to the yang of the world’s craving for bloodletting. Sugar is diamonds in the veins. Even the rubber trade is just lynchings or the threat of them made into commodities. Is pain and torment and forced sweat the ultimate fertilizer? Why do the most beautiful places have the ugliest histories? Does protracted genocide constitute haute cuisine?

You interview locals about “What J’Ouvert means to them?” A skinny man in his early twenties wearing a long, white baggy t-shirt and black jeans and a veritable wreath of gold necklaces and rings is pushing a tiny coffin he has mounted on a beverage cart. The coffin is black and has a small white cross upraised and glued over its center. There is a clear hose leading out of the coffin. The man lifts up the coffin lid. Inside there is a full plastic bag of rum that takes up the entire volume of the coffin. He is drinking the rum out of the hose. He is already clearly quite high.

“This is for my son who died a few years ago. He was two,” the man says.

You ask him what his son died of. He doesn’t really know or won’t say. He grins and drinks his hose rum and holds his hand over his heart and mumbles some inarticulate stoner bullshit about how ‘J’Ouvert’ is a time for taking pain and grief and making merry with it as a cathartic act.

You meander with your notepad and your reporter’s bag, smoking the length of the parade route, gathering less macabre, more user-friendly quotes. The music trucks are blaring Patrice Roberts’ “A Little Wine Never Hurt No One” when three people get shot. You run to the center of the route from the almost end. You see the ambulance doors close, and thronging, bellowing, queen-fat women made to look all the more imbecilic by the fact that they are ‘dressed’ in thongs and fishnets only as much as a stack of melons in a netted bag is ‘dressed,’ face plant in panting despair the ambulance windows.

You stop seeing your lover after he stands you up all day one Saturday and leaves you searching for a dive bar in Contant that only locals go to, the kind with no name and no glassware. You were supposed to go to the beach with him and his two daughters. It was a big step, him letting you meet his daughters. It is raining, his car is in the shop, you have offered to pick him up. He ignores your texts and calls the rest of the day, so you go to the office. He agrees around 11 to let you come get him. You find yourself driving in circles, parking, getting out and wandering up an unlit, overgrown dirt road. A man in a pickup is hawking you. He drives up next to you, but the headlights are so bright that his bass, black, disembodied voice is a cliff edge. You won’t be able to id him. He asks you if you are okay, and you say yes, but he parks at the end of the road, blocking it, and won’t stop watching, waiting. You call your lover and tell him you are lost. All you have is a purse and an umbrella. Your lover starts to give you directions, and you cut him off, insist snappy-Princess-like, that he walk out the bar and find you and escort you inside. He hangs up on you. Months later he says he did this because “I didn’t walk with my gun.”

You swear the lover off.

A man from Buffalo comes to the island to live the dream. He is tall and kind and was in the Marine Corps for seventeen years. You meet him at a waterfront coffee shop. You are immediately smitten with the normalcy of him. He has the charm and wholesome sexiness of the Jolly Green Giant. He calls you ‘Small.’ You call him ‘Giant.’ You gasp on the phone when he reveals that he reads books. He reads Heller and Hemingway and Dostoevsky, and his favorite book is high up on your to-do list: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. He loans you his copy, the paperback spine of which is held together by clear medical tape. You have a sense of urgency driven by your smothered literary ambitions. You have a feeling that you need to get this man to be your new lover, and it is not unlike needing to shower and change into clean underwear after walking around all day in bikini bottoms sea soggy and heavy with sand. Sand on the inside.

For five weeks, you read to the giant at night from your novel. For five weeks, he listens. He can listen. You listen to his stories of being a Marine. He spoons you and tells you you are working so hard and taking in so much nicotine that you are dehydrated. He watches Pirates of the Caribbean on cable and fetches you water and food and stays in with you when you have diarrhea. Together you weather a Chlamydia scare that turns out to be an overblown yeast infection. You damn the lover to hell anyway. He takes it so well, the giant, that you reconsider your staunch, underlying atheism. Maybe there is a thing called grace. You take him all around the island. You take him to North Side Bistro, a piano bar that is the closest thing to “Casablanca” you will ever enter. You are not loving him when you are sleeping with him. You are not loving him when you are dining with him. You are not passing time either; you are suspending it. You entertain notions that he is immortal and was sent to the island to deliver some message to you. He tells you tall tales about how he has identical fingerprints and is adopted and no one in the enlistment department of the Corps could account for the abnormality that is supposed to be impossible, by the standards of that science we currently classify as genetics. To your naked eyes, they are indeed identical sworls.

You know exactly what you are going to do when he leaves.

                By the time he does decide that island life is a crock, he has heard all of the novel. You cry at the airport and pretend it is because he is leaving instead of because of a gratuitously snarky email your editor sent you that you read on your smartphone while he was checking his bags. You hate that reporting makes you behave like an asshole Millennial. You feel every day of your 33 years.

The next day you put all of your important files and personal effects in your car and put your press badge and key card in your editor’s office door slot. You don’t even say anything to anyone.

Poverty is suicide in slow motion. For five weeks, you sell popcorn on the street while waiting for the bureaucratic wheels of the Human Resources office to turn at a local Marriott.

A pack of feral kittens ranges under the porch, in the landfill space. First, there are three, then two. The girl is black and white, the tom orange tabby. You start giving them the remains of tuna cans you eat with Coronas for dinner. The tom is always pushing the black and white out of the way, but he also defends her during the night time skirmishes you can hear when they are ambushed by the adults from the island’s feral pool. You think they are big enough to require shots, and you undertake to do it yourself as an experiment in civic duty. You buy long, elbow length garden gloves and plan to grab them by the neck scruff and inject them yourself. Does Ebay have veterinary vaccines?  Will it ship to the island? The kittens let you come closer and closer, since the feeding started. Then one day you wake up from a nap, and find that the orange tom is in the middle of the floor, even though the front door is closed. He is looking at you with his adrenaline-dilated feline eyes as if to say, What the fuck are you doing here? He darts into the top of the closet. If you piss on my work clothes, you say, remembering the expensive suits you bought for reporting, I will slit your furry throat.   

Once you are a cocktail waitress at the Marriott, you retrain yourself in personal hygiene habits that you have snuffed out as a reporter. Your hair and skin soften. You don’t look as cracked from the inside. You threaten to sue the paper for the $17,000 in overtime they owe you. They agree to give you about $2700 in a Department of Labor negotiated settlement.

You are just a cloud contemporary with other clouds. For a time, you go to the beach, do yoga, wander in and out of stalls and stores run by Hindhus with kitschy coins and jewelry. Shipwreck doubloons, shit like that. You peruse reversible sarongs and fake Michael Kors purses. You buy bugspray and a blue ceramic Buddha and candles. You nest. Then the settlement gets your confidence up, and you call the lover. You have a plan, a plan for getting details.

You make your fucking of him exactly the same, bare and primal, sprawling and unterritorial and basic, lots of grunting and licking and biting, Jungian kink. In spite of your mission, you do not have to fake ecstasy. It is all remarkably easy in a way that you know will only later enhance your self-loathing, with or without the plan’s succeeding. You have constructed a timeline of the deaths based on pieces of overlap in biographical information and what he has told you about the killings: the ages of children, the identities and relationship histories of the mothers. Credibility is more important to you at this point than respect. Fuck the DEA. This time, you will get the names, the goddamn names.

Things will have to be ruled out. That your lover is not being coy about being a killer, not, as the RAC suggests, “just talking smack” to you. That the deaths were not line of duty deaths, because the lover as well was once Army and because that, too, would account for the hair cutting. That the lover is not already an informant, and that that’s not why the RAC is so dismissive. You know the lover is not a UC because no one works undercover where they actually live and have family. One of the lover’s baby mamas runs the Rasta café where you get cassava and black beans and fresh juices and shea butter and scented oils.

If you get the names, you can leave the island. You will be a free woman, you think, then wonder what you did to get here that was so god awful and wrong. So damn…damnable.

On your first date, the lover told you he was an architect. His job is to rehab houses for sale to islanders who qualify for first-time homeowner’s assistance programs.

You stick with the plan for about six weeks, you fuck and you fuck, the architect, but you get no names. You suspect the lover suspects. He is even more erratic and unresponsive. Your 34th birthday approaches, and you start to bleed randomly. Your Depo injections are either not working or responsible for the breakthrough bleeding. Plus there are these new, low, rolling spasms that don’t hurt. You are either pregnant or diseased. Or both. Or perfectly healthy and experiencing normal biology playing peek-a-boo with your birth control method.

You text the lover, who has also turned spotty in his affections, disappearing when you need him the most. He refuses to come jump you when your car battery is drained, when someone rips the key lock out of the driver’s side door handle while you are at work at the resort, and you spring for a cab home. When you walk six miles in the heat on orange juice and milk because you are too broke to take a Safari cab back and the resort can tow your car after three days.

You text him because he won’t answer when you call.

“I’m bleeding. I’m not supposed to. I could be pregnant. I could be having a miscarriage. I could have AIDS.”

“You have AIDS, b.” he texts back.

“You gave it to me.”

YOU: “When do you find out you were positive?”

HIM: “In January.”

August plus four equals January. You gave him AIDS? He knew by the time you called him again?

You were negative when you arrived on island. Negative in August when you began seeing the lover. Negative in October when you tried to get into the National Guard but couldn’t yet because of an allergy to penicillin that requires more paperwork, a waiver. It was February when you started seeing him again. You were filling out apps for graduate schools, planning a Masters degree in International Relations.

Almost April, and you go to the clinic run by Dr. Flower, an old hippie. She actually wears floral broom skirts and tank tops to the office.

YOU: “I’m at the clinic. If I am pregnant, I will have an abortion.”

HIM: “You are so stupid and white.”

HIM, about ten minutes later: “You are white not only in looks but in action.”



From http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Stupid%20Wife :

Stupid Wife

A black hole that grows inside your life sucking in everything that ever mattered to you. Without even knowing it, you lose your mind and feeling to this void of damages and pain.

Like some monolithic creature from a Lovecraft tale, it warps reality from the corners of love and time, to the shadows of hate and deceit. Madness ensues and lays claim to your money, friends, family, and soul.

This is the danger of meeting a stupid wife, and the worst part is, that most men invite this deathly grip on normal happy life all on their own.

Stupid Wife comes into the house and yells about issues that NO ONE gives a dam about but her and then yells at the house for existing while she still has dick and Gin on the breath.

#stupid #whore #bitch #marrige #spouse #wife #woman #monster

by DamonX9 August 20, 2011



Dr. Flower is gentle and kind and not too politically correct as she draws your blood. At some point, she actually uses the term ‘jungle fever.’ You know her and her fiancée from Hull Bay Hideaway, a beach bar at the base of the hill you live on. They like to play pool there. The fiancée is a Frenchie fisherman, a real live descendant of 17th century pirates. He and the other Frenchies are leathery and white trash thin. Most Frenchies are golden blond, and they have mullets and sound like Bayou people.

The lover’s best friend, Boogie, is also a Frenchie fisherman. He has three daughters and a son, all under the age of ten, and he is raising them by himself because their mother ran off and went back to New Hampshire. The lover once took you to dinner at Hull Bay Hideaway with them, and the girls were ferociously beautiful and inquisitive and polite, and you could tell they really enjoyed talking to you by the way they trained their blue eyes on you. Boogie dropped them off at the house and then the three of you all met up at the waterfront’s edge, where Boogie’s boat was docked. Boogie smoked with the lover.

“Sorry, I rolled a white man,” he said, passing the joint, and they laughed.

He talked about how his father was a fisherman and his father before him, and he was teaching his daughters and son, but the cottage industry was being crushed, the waters overfished by large-scale enterprise, regulators like NOAA and the EPA constricting the open zones, carving up the seasons, making it impossible for traditional line and trap fishermen to make anything above a meager subsistence out of it.

He said he didn’t know if any of his kids will be able to survive on it, that it’s hard enough to feed them as is.

“They don’t want us to even have kids,” he said. “They don’t want the poor to multiply. They just want us to go away quietly.”

Then he lifted his hand and gestured over the starry sky and the sea like he was casting seed. “Fuck it,” he said. “I’m gonna have ten more, twenty. I’m gonna fill the whole world up. They ain’t never gonna stop us.”

Dr. Flower is from the Midwest but has spent thirty years on the island, and she tells you that you probably don’t have AIDS. Still, it will take two days to get the results from the lab, and then, of course, six months to reconfirm. Dr. Flower says she has done this, counseled panicked white women, dozens of times, and that almost always, when the lover initiates it, the lover is lying. According to her, it is a not uncommon trick.

“Because you are nothing to them here. You are a white woman from the states. You are the lowest on the pecking order. I have seen women go through this for no other reason than that they keep other wives on other islands, one here, one on St. John or Tortola, and they just don’t want to do it anymore. She might have found out or might be having a baby. Who knows.”

At the end of the appointment, she pats your arm and tells you that she hopes you find a nice Frenchie man, because they are Catholic, and they have morals and “compassion.”

You go home and call your best friend, who concurs with Dr. Flower, except for the part about landing a nice, Catholic Frenchie man.

“This might be it for me, T.”

“I really don’t think so.”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

You sit on the floor and chain smoke and do a jigsaw puzzle of a map of the Caribbean Sea.  You pray for wiretaps. You pray for a network. You pray for vindication.

It is so hot that the resort shifts its dress code to include khaki and white shorts and t-shirts. You are in the staff locker room, applying makeup and whisking away tears when a security guard comes in. She is intimidating, has the look of a mad goose in her eyes. She wears her security guard garb tight and her butt is big and high, like someone cut a donkey in half and sewed her black slacks around it. She has the cagey, hairtrigger air of a convict on that show “Orange Is the New Black.”

She sees you crying and says, “You a cocktail?”


“They used to be all black.”


You blink a beat and say, “You mean, our uniforms?”

“Now,” she says, “now you are getting the way I speak finally.”

Your results come back. Negative. On all counts.


The lover is still not taking your calls. You let fly with a string of vituperative texts, accusing him of having multiple wives, of setting you up to conceal that he is ‘breeding’ someone else, of using too much of his own product.

Fuck the plan.

You can’t even type correctly. The rage comes all at once. Autocorrect keeps changing “fuck” to “duck.”

YOU: “You should go to rehab, if you have not already been compelled to by your family.”

YOU: “You know who else has a father/God complex? Julian Assange, who had to be trained by journalists like me not to KILL people. Such my dick, Cito.”

YOU: “Tee hee, Ho ho. It’s my birthday. HIS negative for now. Not pregnant, nor miscarrying. Tee hee ho ho. If you don’t love me, go make babies on Santo Domingo!”

“Oops. Type. HIV -”

HIM: “Happy earth day Gristelfink.”

YOU: “Did your wife have her baby/ies yet? Are you a happy Dad? Did you smoke a big fat spliff in celebration?”

“Did you see Zero Dark Thirty ? Do you think that woman has time to change diapers”

HIM: “What the fuck are you speaking. How crazy n sick are you?”

YOU: “Come over to my house and duck me in the ass, then tell me you have AIDs. Low down. Classless.”

HIM: “We have no business together.”

HIM: “What you told me you have AIDs. Why r u not happy.”

YOU: “No kidding. But if you gave me HIV then you may have some business with the law you have to take care of, among other things.”

HIM: “I never ever told you I have AIDs.”

YOU: “Because I don’t.”

HIM: “You ate a fool. I don’t have aids you are sick n if you text me again I will take out a restraining order on you. Stop contacting me. Your sick n I can’t help you. Leave me alone please.”

HIM: “I have saved all our text to show the authorities.”

YOU: “Great. Good for you. They will say you want to do everything by text because you are a coward. The Dr was right about you you just wanted a conquest. And because I am a white woman from the states and I am the lowest of the low here. And black women won’t put up with your crap anymore. Show the authorities. Be my guest!”

YOU: “The woman who owns the store where I buy my lunches and the mother of your daughter told me you called me a white devil when I did not want to see you because I was down and out. Do you think I have ever even in my head called you or anyone else a nigger? No. Because I have more self-discipline than that.”

YOU: “f you. f your whole f-ing family. Your dad is retired, Cito. He cannot protect you forever.  happy carnival.”

HIM: “I never had any conversation to anyone about you much less call you a white devil. That sounds so Corny. I would never use that term. I would have said White Motherfucking Bitch. You always been kind to me y wild I have said that.  I haven’t spoken to jahlijah in 4 months u crazy ass white bitch. Stay safe around my island.”

YOU: “Lovely hate speech. Just lovely.”

HIM: emoticon with frog sticking tongue out

HIM, about thirty minutes later: “Where are you now? Let’s go beach.”

YOU: “Do you have AIDS Cito? Were you telling the truth?”

YOU: “I am at home.”

HIM: “What the fuck are you talking bout. AIDs?????”

YOU: “You texted me that you had Aids.”

YOU: “I switched carriers but I was texting this number. Did someone steal your phone?”

HIM: “You are very very foolish. And a major waste of energy. You asked me if I had aids for whatever reason so I said yes cause I could not believe how stupid you were. I am not sick in any way.”

YOU: “Did you lose it at any point?”

HIM: “Stop fucking questioning me. I owe you nothing. Let’s go to the f n beach n shut the fuk up.”

YOU: “You have five kids by four different women, and you told someone under a lot of stress whom you had just had an Al sex with that you have AIDS. If I am sick, you are worse. You are cruel, and you hate women.”

HIM: “Someone that asked a stupid question how come you are dumb n stupid at the same time.”

YOU: “I feel so sorry for your daughters.”

HIM: “Thanks for caring.”

HIM: “I feel sorry that I saw you.”

YOU: “Do not contact me anymore ever. I will get a restraining order.”

HIM: “Do you need my mauling address.”

HIM: “Mailing address.”

YOU: “Yes.”

HIM: “Fuck your dumb asshole. The text string is clear as to who is the aggressor. I have been telling you to not contact me. You waste your parents money going school.”

YOU: “I waste none of my parents money going to school. I have assumed the overwhelming majority of my debt and I am proud of that. My parents are old and relatively poor. I need to be able to take care of them now.”

YOU: “No. I am just fine, Cito. I have a job, a car, a place to live. People who love me and care about me.”

HIM: “Ok.”

YOU: “Glad we got that out of the way. I will block your number whenever I have a spare moment and I am in town.”

HIM, about ten minutes later: “Let’s have sex.”

HIM: “Let’s fuck.”

YOU: “No leave me alone.”

YOU: “Seriously.”

I loved you better when you had AIDS, you write, then erase it without sending it.



Next thing you know it’s J’Ouvert!

You roll up late because you worked the night before. You enter the crowd and flow with it. You bump into a college kid dressed in a foam ketchup bottle. He has a Camelback backpack for his alcohol. You trample the route like you’ve never been there before. Like you are having a good time.

You hope you see the dad with the miniature coffin of rum this year. Your costume is a fairy costume. This year, you will drink from the same hose and apologize to him for being so judgmental prior. But he will not remember you.

How would he recognize you?


Nothing marks the spot anymore.


        Gaslighted. Fool. Islander. Earthling. Native via suffering. Pretender. To be white is to be faceless and to be free, a housewife turned suited skirt with a notebook turned tourist turned shameless, drunk slut in lacy, black boy-short panties, haughty head five feet above the concrete above the same sun-drenched canker of land, the same rock, wherein the real son is really buried but possibly without something to mark his name.



Penelope Gristelfink’s first novel has been accepted by Propertius Press. She is a recovering newspaper reporter. Her fiction, essays and poetry have appeared in or will appear in the following journals: The Potomac, Eclectica Magazine, Bird’s Thumb, Adanna, Foliate Oak, The Seattle Review, The Pedestal Magazine, and Arlington Literary Journal. Once or twice a year, she holds forth on her blog:ungloved.wordpress.com.

Forbidden Fruit – by DON TASSONE


by Don Tassone


I don’t remember how she looked.  Of course, I was only four years old.  Who remembers a face you saw at such a tender age, so long ago?

But I remember her name.  It was Mary.  She was my age.  She lived two doors down on Culver Avenue.  That’s as far as my mother would let me wander.

I don’t recall ever knocking on Mary’s door to see if she could play because she was always outside.  I guess she liked playing out there.  I liked playing outside too.  But most of my earliest memories are of being inside.  Mary drew me out.

I had my own bedroom.  It was at the end of the upper floor of our split-level home.  It had a window.  From there, I could see the house next door, beyond our white picket fence, and the backyard of the house beyond that.  That was Mary’s backyard.

In the morning, I would look out to see if she was there.  When she was, I’d ask if I could go outside and play.  I’d cut through our next-door neighbor’s backyard and be with Mary once again.

I don’t remember all the things we did together.  In fact, I remember doing only one thing with Mary, and that was picking things off of plants in her yard and eating them.

We picked blackberries.  We picked cherry tomatoes.  We picked flowers.  And we ate them.  We didn’t just stick our tongues out and give them a little lick.  We put them in our mouths, chewed them up and swallowed them.

The berries tasted sweet, the tomatoes sour and the flowers spicy.  I especially remember eating the flowers.  They tasted liked they smelled.  There wasn’t much to them.  It was like eating an aroma.

I never would have thought of doing something like this or tried it on my own.  But Mary seemed thrilled to be showing me around her yard and grazing this way.  And she seemed happy that I was with her.

Somehow, my mother found out what we were doing.  I suspect I told her.  Either that or she saw blackberry stains around my mouth or maybe a flower petal stuck between my teeth.  At any rate, she told me not to do it again.

“Those things could make you sick,” she said.

Mary kept picking things and eating them, and I did too.  Not that she told me to or even asked me to.  But I had grown to like the taste of these wild things, and I loved being with Mary.  I wanted to go where she went.  I wanted to do what she did.  When I spotted her through my bedroom window, I had to be with her.

We moved away just before I turned five.  I remember seeing Mary out in her yard just before we left.  I don’t think I said goodbye, and I never saw her again.

I wonder if she kept picking wild things and eating them and, if she did, if she ever found anyone else to join her.

Mary was my first love.  She drew me outside.  She showed me a new world and gave me a taste of something exotic.  She tempted me but let me choose.  She made me happy.







Don Tassone lives in Loveland, Ohio and teaches public relations at Xavier University in Cincinnati.  His stories have appeared in a range of literary magazines.  They’re posted at http://dontassone.com.

*This is Tassone’s third work published with Sick Lit Magazine*

*Photography from contributor Brian Michael Barbeito*


 The Ascent Of Feminist Poetry- by Charles Bane, Jr.

(Cover art by Laura Grover)



The germ of this book lies in essays that appeared online at That Lit Site, The Washington Independent Review of Books, and New Black Man, curated by Mark Anthony Neal, Professor of African and African American studies at Duke University. Professor Neal has never failed to make me feel welcome as a contributor. I feel gratitude also to Dustin Pickering, Publisher of Transcendent Zero Press who accepted the following work for publication before it was completed.

For Ann, always





“And she laughed secretly, saying: After I am grown old, and my lord is an old man, shall I give myself to pleasure?”
Genesis 18: 12


Not long ago, noted literary scholar Harold Bloom read the passage above and realized it could not have been written by a man. Bloom, sensitive as a tuning fork, recognized the writer’s wry mockery of the eternal male belief in his prowess. In November, 1991, Bloom published The Book Of J, called his finest book by the New York Times, and in which he identifies one of the key authors of the Hebrew Bible, “J” ( for her reference to her Creator as “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” ) as a woman. We cannot know J or her times but we can marvel at the special place of women to the Hebrew sages who wrote in the Talmud that ” God counts the tears of women.”

It is the argument of this short work that feminist poets have not merely exploded the traditional male, all- white Western Canon but are creating a golden age of new verse that is being ignored, sometimes willfully, but more fully because Americans no longer read contemporary poetry. We are literally lost without it, because the ancient Greeks recognized that poets serve as our historians, and secular prophets.

There are many reasons for poetry’s collapse: children are required in the classroom to read poets who do not speak in their voice, or to their times. This is tragic because there are serious, working poets in virtually every community or nearby who would gladly visit and beckon them to poetry’s recesses.

The corporate power supporting wealth inequality decimates legions. Only Farrar, Straus And Giroux among major publishing houses remains interested in poets.  And the large- scale publishing firms that produce popular fiction and nonfiction are themselves part of media conglomerates the media that advertise their authors, and  against which small presses can’t compete.  The fastest way to have a query ignored by a literary agent is to write in the subject line ” My book of poetry.”

Finally, academic poets are a separate class who continue a tradition of believing the general reader will not understand their work ( “Yeats”, T.S. Eliot remarked in an interview with the Paris Review, “that Gaelic writer). After E.E. Cummings’ death, his wife, Marion wrote a friend, ” Academics hated my husband because he only wrote short poems, but above all, because he was popular.”

But poets , working as cashiers or waitresses, or juggling multiple jobs as they pursue a Master’s degree, still write, even knowing that the indifference of  the public overspreads them like winter cover, and, unlike J, whose radical gift was harnessed  to a narrative, gaze up and long to be pleasured by the cosmos:



“Stargazing” by Ariana Nadia Nash

The stars are all the skin

I’ll never touch. They are

the bright points of years

I have not lived, the names

I do not know. They speak

to worlds inside myself

I will not learn. They shock —

this spread of stars, these motes

of fireballs, this milky

conflagration. In their depth

and beauty, they are

the most intricate map

of the unknown, the most

wild moan of silence.






When a recent CNN poll noted that only 7% of Americans had read a poem in the last year, a  new introduction , using all the language of polish on my shelf, is where I look for remedy. I do not want feminist poets whose gifts are dominating contemporary letters, to be spirits, flickering near us unseen:



Vastness of dusk-after a day.

what is a person? Too late

to ask this now. The court has ruled

a corporation is a person.

Persons used to be called souls.

On the avenue, a lucky person

stands in a convenience store

scratching powder from his ticket —

silver flecks fall from his thumbs

to galaxies below.


Brenda Hillman*




Poetry begins, and I’m writing from personal experience, in the unconscious and those who are chosen randomly to write it begin their craft in childhood. ” ‘Dragoon’ ‘”, Dylan Thomas said to his sister as small boy, “isn’t that a wonderful word?”  Sylvia Plath was published at eight.  Susan Sontag self published her poems at nine (“I got through my childhood in a delirium of literary exaltations.”).  At fourteen, Edna St Vincent Millay wrote: “in the hush of the dying day, / The mossy walls and ivy towers of the land of Romance lay. / The breath of dying lilies haunted the twilight air / And the sob of a dreaming violin filled the silence everywhere.”

I believe the unconscious  – which we know from dreams does not record time – stores a culture’s collective memory of its art. This explains the impetus and inexplicable confidence every poet feels as they write.  There’s more: when a poem is finished, its writer – and this is a common experience – often feels they are not its creator.  The poet reads a superior artwork but feels no part of it, though he/she may have wept through its setting down, so deep were the feelings stirred.

Without doubt,  women felt this impulse and longed to “wrestle with the polis” (a critic’s compliment of Brenda Hillman’s work) throughout the worst  of times.  “Whenever you read anonymous at the end of a poem”, said Virginia Woolf, “it is woma


poets have not only overcome the suppression of traditional Western literature, they are adding new discoveries to its foundation stones. In the 1970’s, “Songs Of The Troubadours” appeared in print, translated from Provencal by Anthony Bonner. The work of the jongleurs had first come to the notice of Ezra Pound, the champion of all that is worthwhile in literature. Pound was astonished by the modernity of the poems which would not be equaled until the appearance of Yeats. And there scholarship might have ended were it not for Matilda Bruckner’s seminal  ” Songs Of The Women Troubadours”, published in 2000 ( Garland Library Of Medieval Literature), followed in 2013 by Meg Bogin’s ” The Women Troubadours ” ( Norton Paperback ).

But for the male lot : critics, academic advisors and peers who wish to smother feminism as it’s expressed in poetry, the way is closed:


We Never Remember The Last Argument | Sarah Bartlet

The smell of your mom’s dress is closed.

A magnolia’s heavy unlatched tongue is closed.

The bitter scratch at the back of your throat is closed.

Your childhood’s rebuttal is closed.

The road holding up an arc of trees and their strange covenant is closed.

Disappearing on schedule is closed.

A field of rabbits spreading their fur around is closed.

I am easing myself daily closer to the ground is closed.

I am easy on paycheck night is closed.

Lying next to you in a box of bourbon-soaked cherries is closed.

I am almost the same taste and timbre as the empty field is closed.

Our eyes staying closed in proximity is closed.

Telling me this child isn’t my child is closed.

Telling him he belongs where belonging means absence is closed.

When you try to identify the poison it is closed.

The ravine raising its mouth up to the sky and swallowing the last horse is closed.

A review of the maximum leverage available here is closed.

My hands asking to release this fistful of air is closed.

Try and make another decision without me and you’ll see what I mean is closed.

Reporting back on a dream’s dialogue with awakening is closed.

I want to get on an airplane for the last time is closed.

I want to never come back here except to you is closed.

Crows dropping chestnuts and letting us crack them is closed.

Fists of flowers punching through the dirt no matter what the air says is closed.

You plus I plus you plus I plus you plus you plus constant fucking is closed.

Like a tail in the door being able to take it all back is closed.

The olden days where ships hefted the seas apart like god is closed.

Access to regret too pristine to share leaving its knife out is closed.

An element of surprise is closed.

Ask yourself where your blood is and say it’s right here is closed.

Your grandmother’s curtains refusing to move for a casual breeze is closed.

My great-grandmother swallowing her death down is closed.

Taking the land for ourselves is closed.

Erasing an entire year of a bed nailed to the floor is closed.

Making you the bed is closed.

Making you an object of forgiveness or sparkling teeth is closed.

Making this unremarkable is closed.

Narrative that reflects absolute truth is closed.

Believing in truth as fact under trees at night after a fire takes the stars away is closed.

The scissors we use to make snowflakes stay sharp is closed.

Another year of windows softening our gaze is closed.

Holding my breath under water to panic the heart is closed.

Tell me one last time please is closed.

Our mouths together dredging words thick as oil is closed.

The hatch over the mouse in your chest is closed.

Being small in the arms of myself is closed.

Holding on to a rock with a child holding on to me in a running tide is closed.

Looking for mistakes like feet look for glass is closed.

Body as fist as ship as celestial navigation is closed.

Brick by brick this hole in the side of our house is closed.

Won’t you wait somewhere just out of sight while I do this is closed.

Which of us was left holding the bag is closed.

Believing it’s possible to run the clock out is closed

Please oh please oh please oh please oh god is closed.



So far, I’ve painted a bleak portrait of  feminist contemporary poetry and its lack of place in the life of the American reading public. I have a particular gripe with public libraries that have given themselves up to the tidal wave of detritus ( shelves of eight copies of the same unread book ) that floods them from major publishers, and which neither seek out or give space to the amazing poetry being offered by small presses. Nor do libraries subscribe to many of the literary journals that are the lifeblood of American poetry.

But against this weight, we can balance the lighted open spaces of the internet where important work can be found and where its authors can find a sense of support and community on social media. They are there as one, on Facebook or Twitter or both: Sarah Blake, Susannah Nevison, Erica Jong, Jamila Woods ( recent winner of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship. They are all here, as well as literary journals publishing in English around the globe. Submitting to these journals is only a keyboard away, and American women poets are appearing, online and in print, in Sweden, Thailand, the Philippines, and Australia–which has a close-knit feminist community.

In the United States alone, there are (at the last count) over 400 small presses, some long standing (Copper Canyon Press was the first to publish Pablo Neruda in North America) and others as new as bread from the morning oven. And these in turn are branching out, publishing exclusively the voices of women, queer, bisexual and transgender and gender-fluid poets, some making themselves heard for the first time in literary history:






Can’t Sleep


Can’t sleep

sitting up



at tears

(shed for fears)

My fingers bleed.

I don’t know who i am

I don’t know what to say.

Each day

I am different

and have to meet myself

for what feels like

the first time in a long time.

I battle with the boy

inside me

The boy within

who can’t seem to see

a way

to emerge/become

submerge/just be.

I am he

as much as i am me.

I can’t sleep for the fear,

my heart murmurs

and strings pull deep

and sinew

inside of me.

I ache

as i rest

body quiver,

I am displaced


lost and weary.

To sleep

in peace,

to be

and be free.

He cries silent



heart and mind and body and soul

He makes me whole


He is beside me.

Cloaked and daggered

he weeps tears

for all the years

he has spent

in the dark

and without

an identity

to identify.

He is me

and together we sit


and silently.

In the darkness we cry.

– Jacqe Matelot


These “prophets of the invisible” ( Wallace Stevens) find solidarity in their talks across the ether with women who are experiencing the same struggle. And they are fed courage and creative nourishment from the works of other poets, posted daily by journals or fans.

This reminds me of an imperative of  creating poetry I did not mention earlier, but which is its high- borne standard: a master- poem is beautiful. A poem cannot be malignant and be a poem. It cannot be read and understood by only a few but must affect every reader with the same touch:





Sea Foam Palace

(Bubbling and spuming

as if trying to talk under

water, I address you thus:)

Must I pretend not to love

you (in your present bloom,

your present perfection — soul

encased in fleshly relevance)

so you won’t believe me

just another seabed denizen

vying for your blessed attention?

Some of us (but not you)

are so loosely moored

to our bodies we can

barely walk a straight line,

remaining (most days) only

marginally conscious.

We stagger and shudder

as buckets of   blood or sperm

or chocolate mousse or spittle

or lymph or sludge sluice

continually through us…


I love the way you wear your

face, how you ride this life.

I delight in the sight of you,

your nervous, inquisitive eyes,

though I try to act otherwise.

Being stoned out of thy mind

only amps up thy fearsome

brain wattage. Pardon my

frontal offensive, dear chum.

Forgive my word-churn, my

drift, the ways this text message

has gotten all frothy. How was it

you became holy to me? Should

I resist, furiously? Is this your

true visage, shaken free, flashing

glimpses of what underlies

the world we can see? Do not forget me

murmurs something nibbled

by fish under the sea.


After dark you’re quick-silvery,

wet /slick /glistening. Don’t

make me chase you, dragging

my heavy caresses, a pair of

awkward, serrated claws,

hither and yon. Give me a swig

of   whatever you’re drinking,

to put me in tune with the cosmos’s

relentless melt, with the rhythms

of dish-washing, corn-shucking,

hard-fucking, bed-wetting, and

the folding of   bones of other loves

into well-dug graves…    may we

never become lost to the world.

By Amy Gerstler







“Some problems we share as women, some we do not. You ( white women) fear your children will grow up to join the patriarchy and testify against you; we fear our children will be dragged from a car and shot down in the street, and you will turn your backs on the reason they are dying.”    Audre Lorde


In its June , 2014, issue – made available online, The Atlantic published Ta- Nehisi Coates’  “The Case For Reparations.” It electrified Black America and the public at large as had nothing since the 1968 Kerner Report which declared that White and Black America lived lives separate and unequal.

It would not be enough, Coates eloquently argued, to balance the ledger for the descendants of slaves who had created America’s enormous foundation of wealth under the lash for two hundred and fifty years. What had followed “Reconstruction” was a systemic racism that virtually assured that African Americans would remain a permanent underclass, with no recourse to finance or political power.  The payment of large scale reparations to Black households would not be only just, but the only measure that would allow African Americans to eliminate inequities in employment, housing , health services and education in a single generation.

Nothing about the dangers of being Black in the United States was piecemeal  and the murderous impulse to body and spirit of racism was evident in the tens of thousands of Black men, many non- violent offenders, who historically had worn chains and now were locked behind iron bars. In the street, unarmed Black men were being shot or choked by the police.

Over these  grounds flared poet Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen: An American Lyric”. It illuminated the soul crushing reality of her experience:

from Citizen: “You are in the dark, in the car…”

By Claudia Rankine




You are in the dark, in the car, watching the black-tarred street being swallowed by speed; he tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there.


You think maybe this is an experiment and you are being tested or retroactively insulted or you have done something that communicates this is an okay conversation to be having.


Why do you feel okay saying this to me? You wish the light would turn red or a police siren would go off so you could slam on the brakes, slam into the car ahead of you, be propelled forward so quickly both your faces would suddenly be exposed to the wind.


As usual you drive straight through the moment with the expected backing off of what was previously said. It is not only that confrontation is headache producing; it is also that you have a destination that doesn’t include acting like this moment isn’t inhabitable, hasn’t happened before, and the before isn’t part of the now as the night darkens 
and the time shortens between where we are and where we are going.




When you arrive in your driveway and turn off the car, you remain behind the wheel another ten minutes. You fear the night is being locked in and coded on a cellular level and want time to function as a power wash. Sitting there staring at the closed garage door you are reminded that a friend once told you there exists a medical term — John Henryism — for people exposed to stresses stemming from racism. They achieve themselves to death trying to dodge the build up of erasure. Sherman James, the researcher who came up with the term, claimed the physiological costs were high. You hope by sitting in 
silence you are bucking the trend.




When the stranger asks, Why do you care? you just stand there staring at him. He has just referred to the boisterous teenagers in Starbucks as niggers. Hey, I am standing right here, you responded, not necessarily expecting him to turn to you.


He is holding the lidded paper cup in one hand and a small paper bag in the other. They are just being kids. Come on, no need to get all KKK on them, you say.


Now there you go, he responds.


The people around you have turned away from their screens. The teenagers are on pause. There I go? you ask, feeling irritation begin to rain down. Yes, and something about hearing yourself repeating this stranger’s accusation in a voice usually reserved for your partner makes you smile.




A man knocked over her son in the subway. You feel your own body wince. He’s okay, but the son of a bitch kept walking. She says she grabbed the stranger’s arm and told him to apologize: I told him to look at the boy and apologize. And yes, you want it to stop, you want the black child pushed to the ground to be seen, to be helped to his feet and be brushed off, not brushed off  by the person that did not see him, has never seen him, has perhaps never seen anyone who is not a reflection of himself.


The beautiful thing is that a group of men began to stand behind me like a fleet of  bodyguards, she says, like newly found uncles and brothers.




The new therapist specializes in trauma counseling. You have only ever spoken on the phone. Her house has a side gate that leads to a back entrance she uses for patients. You walk down a path bordered on both sides with deer grass and rosemary to the gate, which turns out to be locked.


At the front door the bell is a small round disc that you press firmly. When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house. What are you doing in my yard?


It’s as if a wounded Doberman pinscher or a German shepherd has gained the power of speech. And though you back up a few steps, you manage to tell her you have an appointment. You have an appointment? she spits back. Then she pauses. Everything pauses. Oh, she says, followed by, oh, yes, that’s right. I am sorry.


I am so sorry, so, so sorry.





In its first four months of publication by Graywolf Press, Citizen sold 40,000 copies, an astonishing number for a small press. The book was a Finalist for the National Book Award, and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry. There is nothing comparable to Rankine’s talent, save perhaps for the poetic-artistic genius of Matthea Harvey. The two have in common that both had collections entered for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. But the anonymous panel of judges gave the award to a male poet, from an all- male list of Finalists.

Latina poets, Native American and Asian- American women, and a constellation of others: their body of work has reached the critical mass that will add diversity to anthologies and swell the Western Canon:




regarding the yellowface poet

[ Poem in response to m.d.h., white poet who used a Chinese pseudonym to get published in Best American Poetry. ]


choi jeong min

for my parents, Choi Inyeong & Nam Songeun

in the first grade i asked my mother permission

to go by frances at school. at seven years old

i already knew the exhaustion of hearing my name

butchered by hammerhead tongues. already knew

to let my salty gook name drag behind me

in the sand, safely out of sight. in fourth grade

i wanted to be a writer & worried

about how to escape my surname – choi

is nothing if not korean, if not garlic breath,

if not seaweed & sesame & food stamps

during the lean years – could i go by f.j.c.? could i be

paper thin & raceless? dust jacket & coffee stain,

boneless rumor smoldering behind the curtain

& speaking through an ink-stained puppet?

my father ran through all his possible rechristenings –

ian, issac, ivan – and we laughed at each one,

knowing his accent would always give him away.

you can hear the pride in my mother’s voice

when she answers the phone this is grace, & it is

some kind of strange grace she’s spun herself,

some lightning made of chainmail. grace is not

her pseudonym, though everyone in my family is a poet.

these are the shields for the names we speak in the dark

to remember our darkness. savage death rites

we still practice in the new world. myths we whisper

to each other to keep warm. my korean name

is the star my mother cooks into the jjigae

to follow home when i am lost, which is always

in this gray country, this violent foster home

whose streets are paved with shame, this factory yard

riddled with bullies ready to steal your skin

& sell it back to your mother for profit,

land where they stuff our throats with soil

& accuse us of gluttony when we learn to swallow it.

i confess. i am greedy. i think i deserve to be seen

for what i am: a boundless, burning wick.

a stone house. i confess: if someone has looked

at my crooked spine and called it elmwood,

i’ve accepted. if someone has loved me more

for my gook name, for my saint name,

for my good vocabulary & bad joints,

i’ve welcomed them into this house.

i’ve cooked them each a meal with a star singing

at the bottom of the bowl, a secret ingredient

to follow home when we are lost:

sunflower oil, blood sausage, a name

given by your dead grandfather who eventually

forgot everything he’d touched. i promise:

i’ll never stop stealing back what’s mine.

i promise: i won’t forget again.

— Franny Choi







bird’s nest by Jamila Woods


after max sansing


when daddy says my head is a bird’s

nest, he means a momma bird might find it

inviting. my hair: a place to raise her first eggs,

a place her first babes might call out to her, a place

she might fly back to from the wet morning dirt, chewing

a worm in the side of her cheek, so her baby might swallow

it down easy, so her baby might fall asleep with a full stomach

and never dream of falling, so i might rise from sleep

on a Sunday morning, come downstairs dressed

for church with a head full of morning songs,

uncombed hair, hear my daddy chuckle,

search for words, and call it wild






The internet is many things, but its extraordinary, all- encompassing power is on display at any mall where young people walk with their faces glued to I-phones. It is also home to the counter culture of feminist poets who, shunned by traditional publishing, must become marketers of their work, and slip around the corner and ahead of major media outlets who are too monolithic to take notice of individual social media phenomena. “Major” authors don’t appear on podcasts, that reach thousands. Desktop publishing allows a poet to create “ads” from Google images that they can post on  their Facebook, Twitter accounts  and their own websites to let the public know that a poem has been accepted by a journal, with links, and that a manuscript has been sent out, and then accepted by  small press. Every achievement is a victory, and the web is no place to be modest about them.A network on social media, for every poet, should be more than just cliques of other wordsmiths, and literary bodies. It should include all who long for culture, the beautifully expressed and the substantive that bears no resemblance to the tabloid present.

Small presses have no marketing budgets or public relations staff. The poet must take on the role of partner in their dreams with the publisher who accepts them. Copies must be sent out to reviewers, not of major newspapers or magazines that ignore poetry, but to the growing legion of book bloggers/ reviewers on the web. Whatever large or small town the poet lives in deserves the added luster of a poet-in-residence and laureate. Publication of a first book of poetry ( and no pleasure equals the first box of copies of  one’s first book delivered to a home address) is only the start of a promotional journey that requires the same energy and imagination that sparks creative artistry. Readings are often welcome at public libraries ( that frequently pay the author) as well as independent bookstores that are thriving.

Poets must beat major publishers who distribute poetry collections fractionally, at their own game. Poets should insist that their manuscripts, however and whenever possible be published, in the same volume, in Spanish and English, not only to address America’s changing demographics, but to have the ability to sell their books to the Latin American market, in whose culture literature is prized. In Spain, Cervantes’ birthday is a national holiday and banners celebrating it hang from lamp posts in Madrid ( Would that we did it here for Emily Dickinson or Mark Twain). China Mobile.com distributes English language books to the millions o English- speaking Chinese who crave to read books from the West, and where English is mandatory in grammar schools.

” Poets”, wrote Shelley, ” are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. ” This is not hyperbole. Jamila Woods, whose poetry was quoted here, and who was profiled in the online Blavity:The Voice Of Black Millennials,  is the Associate Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors, and a founding member of its Teaching Artist Corps. The revered Nikki Giovanni has acquired so many awards for her activism that they take up a full page on her website.

Poets are notoriously insecure about their craft and many starting poets worry they will not be published: they will,  and later poets brood and worry also that their legacy will not be remembered. It’s a baseless fear, as the dynamics of poetry creation prove. Once it is expressed, a poem cannot be lost;  and if the Western Canon must be hugely expanded to not become obsolete, it nonetheless contains poets who unknowingly sensed a future more welcoming than in the past. Tennyson’s Ulysses was content to ship off into obscurity, but Virgil’s pen brought another band to a foreign, unknown shore. At first, the men of Aeneas are afraid of the strange landscape but then their leader finds a stone- carved artwork. ” Do not be afraid”, he says, ” these are mortals such as we, and mortal things touch their hearts.”



About the author:


Charles Bane, Jr. is the author of three collections of poetry including the recent ” The Ends Of The Earth: Collected Poems ( Transcendent Zero Press, 2015 ) as well as “I Meet Geronimo And Other Stories”  ( Avignon Press, 2015) and ” Three Seasons: Writing Donald Hall ( Collection of the Houghton Library, Harvard University). He created and contributes to The Meaning Of Poetry Series for The Gutenberg Project.


About the artist:


Laura Grover believes art is for everyone.  She enjoys drawing animals, people, and flowers but her true love is comics.  Laura lives in the woods of Maine with her roller derby life partner, just enough cats, and a baby-on-the-way.  You can see more of her finished work (or hire Laura) at www.lgroverdesign.com and also follow her misadventures in pregnancy at her comic diary, “Unexpecting” : apregnancycomic.tumblr.com



charles bane jr - bust

Charles Bane, Jr. is the author of three collections of poetry including the recent ” The Ends Of The Earth: Collected Poems ( Transcendent Zero Press, 2015 ) as well as “I Meet Geronimo And Other Stories”  ( Avignon Press, 2015) and ” Three Seasons: Writing Donald Hall ( Collection of the Houghton Library, Harvard University). He created and contributes to The Meaning Of Poetry series for The Gutenberg Project. His most recent publication is “The Ascent Of Feminist Poetry ( Transcendent Zero Press, 2015 )