The Official Literary Journal of the Inlandia Institute

Archive for the ‘Desert’ Category

Alexa Mergen

In Desert, Poetry, Volume IV, Yucca Valley on January 16, 2014 at 2:00 am

Autobiography


In plexiglass pillboxes I collect samples of wind, align them
on spice shelves above the kitchen sink, a measure of my life.
The story goes I emerged in an Iowa blizzard. Snap
a chip of deep night, label: December 1967. DC in ’73. Into this box
set wet wind—summer thundershower. Augusts in Nevada. Dry
bluster off sand mark ’76 ’77, ’78 through ’84. I’m a teenager at Rehobeth, up
at dawn after bonfires and beer. Into this box a handful of Atlantic salt air
misted by porpoise exhalation. 1985. Berkeley fog bubbles the specimen label.
Wedding day, August 19, 1992. Forest fires scorch Volcano. A sooty sample.
Two years later we sail San Francisco Bay in a gale, scoop an armful of pulsing Pacific wind off the jib for my collection. Let’s include Kay’s final breath in ’97—it fell out as a sputter— and the bilious tempest of my brother who hollers stay away!
Label also whispered breeze of reconciliation.
Add delight’s gusts, desire’s zephyr, siroccos of ceaseless seeking. Doldrums. Then,
tickles of air on undersides of poppy petals. This a log of landscape felt as it touches other things. Everything a breath. All atmosphere cooled and warmed in layers.

The first month Alexa Mergen lived in Yucca Valley she learned how to respect rattlesnakes and scorpions and how to recognize a dust devil. She grew up in Washington, DC, making visits to family in the Great Basin and Mojave. She now lives in Sacramento. In addition to poetry, Alexa writes fiction and essays. Her favorite places are windy ones–mountaintops, deserts and seashores. A list of published work is available at alexamergen.com.

Max Randolph

In Desert, Poetry on February 4, 2013 at 1:11 am


California Desert Suite

Overture

Will I speak in the desert of other than dryness
glued like an unripe persimmon to my lips,
other than wind the clear sky has banished
to these dry rocks this fruitless terrain?

Can heat speak of anything but the sun
tanning hiker’s legs on cracked soil:
derelict sea beds fertile with saltbush
in a land where a smile will fossilize?

Still grasses speak of the wind’s hiatus,
how wind borrows the skirt of a breeze,
then casts it off when creosote bushes
dance their wild green thin-branched dance.

And the paloverde like bright green flames
lets spring consume her blossoms in frenzy
of shadows sharpening red rocks’ contours
enslaving a sun that remains undeceived—

until dryness tastes like a persimmon ripened,
sensual on evening’s downy lip;
stars shine like broken bits of earth,
Venus a shard of today’s indigo sky.

1. Before the Hike

Look at this rock shaped like a spear head:
an ordinary stone, but it’s meant to kill.
Our will like rock our hearts shaped
like an arrow that captures spring wind,
turns mill wheels into useless artifacts,
our bread to essential hungers
we overcome with bigger rocks
than those displayed in city museums.

Rocks shaped like mountains
you climb to laugh at the ascent,
to kiss your wounds, send your ambition
reeling over peaks you’ll never conquer.

On the desert floor a sun-bleached carp skull
come from the Colorado close by: souvenir,
symbol, of unceremonied days trekking sand
& detritus in search of thought’s burial ground.

In evening over mugs of Chianti,
under shining splinters of nocturnal bone,
by glowing coals, prowling winds,
we sit on a small rise, coyotes gathering below,
each of us wondering what to speak or sing of.
Campers who no longer hunt buffalo,
never rode wild burros into the river’s jaw,
we’ve mixed our passion for inhospitable terrain
with the waning moon reflected in our wine.

We sing not of hills climbed or unclimbed,
nor of bread or prehistory or heroic expeditions,
but of a life we are slowly reviving,
whose tune is the stillness only the restless find.

2. Hiking

Dry in a dusty land,
alone as the big horned sheep,
as elusive as unseen or rarely seen,
I am what you intended o sun:
memory and destiny of a naked sky.

I am not proud of my holy calling.
I militate only to the needs of vultures
who rip muscle from rock bone from sky,
deposit me in a spurt of undigested light
on some square feet of earth I’ve never known.

Not afraid to say I grow old with the eagle
or crag twisted and deathless on Picacho Peak.
Not too old to say I’m fresh as rainwashed lichen,
nor too sad to say the sun will dry out my fate,
winds will harden my ghost,
moon will polish my lover’s heart.

Dry in a dusty land,
ready as milk of unsucked breasts,
alone as children of a god that never was,
children who must eat their names,
who carouse with scavengers of light
and sleep like prayer on a few feet of sun.

3. Getting Lost Overnight

A rag of mountain hangs from the vulture’s beak . . .
The hill lying on its side apes a man . . .
When the crow caws the sky will be bluer . . .
For I’ve learned to love these animals,
protective spirits; and I’ve learned to love fear
alone, lost in the desert night, all night,
obsidian night, stars of quartzite, comfort
only of knowing I still sleep on earth,
bare legs buried in arroyo’s gravel.

Daytime creature, I am also of night,
of the frenzy of ants, deliberation of tortoises.
River of misguided pilgrimage,
composer of my own death sentence—
hiker to the peak that wont save me.

A splinter of determination, dead eagle’s feather,
sun-varnished crag bloodied with memory,
impales my exhausted hands, blistered faith.
Yes, I believe in the savagery of the sun
even while the sun refuses to slay me.
It has more howls in its jaundiced throat,
more blood to smear on my logbook.

I rise at dawn from wash into wasteland
to celebrate not the malice but the confluence
of animal nights with days of chanting and magic,
knowing radiance may yet kill before reaching camp.

4. Back at Camp

                                              Night is
sparkling mica. Day a green branch that sings
these weeks of living nomadic, half idle
captives of the elements that disdain praise
or censure . . . inheritors of America’s divine
average on a willing diaspora, self-exiled
to a country that is tent, hibachi, day long hikes,
eating outdoors except cold nights we dine
in the tent like two westernized Bedouins.

(She cooks in beauty who did not go with me
to climb the peak. She awaits tearfully news
of my fate knowing it was my will to go alone.
I return bedraggled, empty-handed, mindless,
with no god in my gut, just a hug for her.)

Day is a time for collecting unusual stones.
Night is a black serration of many hills.
Day is a jackrabbit that eludes the trap,
learns the trick of surviving to find life good,
to return to love after conquering his fear,
a raven’s wing jauntily tied to his brow.

Coda

Stones are torn from the mountain’s ribs
to create a woman craggy as desert peaks,
a man tender as a hedgehog cactus bloom;
stones torn like clouds from a hawk’s shadow
on dusty mesquite lining heat-struck washes.

Azure birdsong over earthen shoulders, buttocks:
shale, sand of my body bathed in its beginnings.
Terrain translucent, accessible as an easy death,
piling eyesight on affection for stone,
shadows and wind on the contours of stillness.

I have climbed the crumbled rock of my thought
where absent brothers peopled the eyescape.
Afternoon was spent in a dry arroyo where sun
knew no discretion . . . then back at camp
predusk winds and dove’s coo were the song

of myself, her self. Notes she heard on the wind,
cooking, as I sat silent on the rise looking west
toward the peak that almost claimed me.

——

Max Randolph is the author of “A Horse on the Moon and Other Dreamprose.” (2012, empty sky press, his own imprint.) Born in Canada, Randolph holds dual citizenship. He lived in southern California for 24 years before moving to Tucson, where he currently resides. He’s been published in The Lunatic Gazette, Grain, Poemeleon, The Sun Runner, The Intriguist, Connexions, has performed many solo as well as group readings, and writes a blog at emptyskypress.wordpress.com. His book “Autopsy on a Ghost” will be published in early 2013.

Deanne Stillman

In Desert, Inland Empire, Nonfiction on February 4, 2013 at 12:54 am
THE LOST CHILDREN OF THE INLAND EMPIRE
Excerpt from Desert Reckoning: A Town Sheriff, a Mojave Hermit, and the Biggest Manhunt in Modern California History (Nation Books, 2012)

My heart is broke
I have some glue

- Nirvana

          They had names like Lizard and Paranoid Pam, and they were in bands like Let’s Go Bowling and Nazi Bitch. They hung out at a place called Spanky’s, a punk dive across the street from the Mission Inn in Riverside, California, the history-infused hospitality headquarters for presidents, foreign dignitaries, and well-heeled tourists. A lot of these kids were products of what were once called “broken homes,” but broken didn’t begin to explain it, and their stories spoke of a wreckage across the suburban lands of their home turf, the Inland Empire, that strangely named California region that is a corruption of a vanished real estate dream—the Orange Empire!—and has engendered all manner of jokes and disparagement—Conquer this!—and that no one can quite figure out the boundaries of, but most agree that it begins where greater Los Angeles bleeds into San Bernardino and Riverside counties and then the whole thing ends where a warehouse runs into the desert and people go shooting.

          One day in 1989 ninth grader Chris Smallwood was walking through this region, down La Sierra Street in Riverside, where he lived with his mother and sister, heading to school. He met a kid named Chuck, aka Charles Donald Kueck, who had just rounded the corner from Doverwood, where he lived with his mother, her boyfriend, and two sisters, one from his mother’s first marriage and the other from her third. Chuck was tall and skinny and dressed in black—black T-shirt, black leather jacket, black jeans, black boots—and he was pushing a ten-speed bike. He was a bit embarrassed about his impaired vehicle situation and later, by way of explanation, added some information about his family, off-hand comments that to an outsider would sound an alarm: “My mother’s wasted and so’s her old man.” But not here in this working-class neighborhood of small one- and two-bedroom homes, where the mothers were beleaguered and the fathers were broken, often absent because of divorce or jail time, or at home, barely hanging on, drowning in booze or drugs, lashing out at their wives and kids, at ghosts, trying to shake off a legacy of poverty and violence that dated back to the clan rivalries of their Scots-Irish forebears, some of whom came to America as indentured white slaves. On the day of that first encounter, the boys formed a quick bond, mainly because of the neighborhood that they lived in and the mutual knowledge of what that meant. As they continued on to school, they discussed matters of the day, discovering their shared love of certain bands—Black Flag, Social Distortion, the Dead Kennedys—and spoke of their own musical aspirations. From then they on were buddies.

          A few weeks later, a kid named Rande Linville was standing outside the window of a liquor store in downtown Riverside. It was 1:30 in the morning and he was about to break in. But he heard the sound of skateboard wheels on pavement and turned to look. “There were these two guys on boards,” he says. “I was surprised to see them because there weren’t very many skateboarders then. And most of them looked like me, blonde, clean-cut, with surfer hair. These guys were wearing black leather jackets and looked like punks.” They were Chuck Kueck and Chris Smallwood and along with Rande they were about to become a close band of friends who called themselves The Three Amigos—a reference to the John Landis movie with Chevy Chase, Martin Short, and Steve Martin, in which three actors who play gunfighters end up in a Mexican village where they actually have to fend for themselves.

          As they stood in the parking lot on the night of their first encounter, Rande asked, “What’s up?” He was wondering if he was going to have to fight two people off for the swag from the liquor store, especially because there appeared to be a serious tribal difference if you judged the situation by clothing alone. And then came the response: “What’s up?” For a moment there was a standoff, and then Chris decided to end it, reaching into his crotch—to Rande’s alarm—and pulling out an American flag. “Dude,” Rande said, “whaaa?” Chris explained that they were out stealing flags and were on their way back to Chuck’s house to burn them. The news was startling and hilarious, and Rande cracked up and then they all started laughing, and then Rande explained his break-in plans. Chuck and Chris approved and Rande picked up his skateboard and smashed the window. Chuck dove in and then the other two boys followed, returning with candy, cigarettes, and beer, and then they jumped on their boards. Instead of heading to Chuck’s, they cruised back to Rande’s apartment, a small, three-room unit he shared with his mother and sister in a nearby Section 8 housing project. Inside Rande’s bedroom, they cracked open a six-pack and started to drink. “Dude,” Chuck said as he looked around the room, “you like Black Flag?” He was referring to a wall poster and he was impressed. Then Chris joined in, noting a flyer for the Circle Jerks, and high-fiving
Rande. Surprised that the surfy-looking guy would be into punk rock instead of metal, Chuck and Chris exchanged a look, and then Chuck turned to Rande. “I play bass,” he said. “Chris plays lead. We need a drummer. Do you—?” Before he could finish, Rande was in— as it turned out, he was a heavy metal drummer transitioning into punk, and he had been playing for a long time. Soon after that they formed their first band, named one night after Chris and Chuck had seen the Oliver Stone movie JFK and Chuck, recalls Chris, “was all, ‘Dude, dude, dude,’”—mimicking his friend—“Oswald was set up, we gotta call our band Oswald’s Revenge and I said, ‘Dude, that is so right,’ and from then on, that was our band.”

          Chuck was now part of a world that was getting some serious attention; it included bands like No Doubt and the local outfit Voodoo Glow Skulls, regulars at Spanky’s and famous all over the country. In fact, amigo Rande Linville’s best friend was a member of the Glowskulls, the most revered band in the Inland Empire. Because of the association, Linville became a sought-after drummer, and his crew— Chuck, Chris, and all of their musician associates— assumed a high profile in the Inland Empire, their fame only adding to their street cred. When Gwen Stefani was in town, they could go backstage, and a couple of times they partied with one of their idols, Henry Rollins, along with his seminal OC band Black Flag. Along with outlaws like William Burroughs and Charles Bukowski, Rollins was a serious inspiration. Rollins looked and dressed like a skinhead, but he was anything but. Chuck often quoted from his book Pissing in the Gene Pool, with one passage holding particular relevance.

          “I’ve got a roach crawling on my hand,” it went. “Should I kill it? . . . I don’t know, let me think. It was the first thought that popped into my head. I raised my other hand to crush it but all of a sudden I stopped dead in my tracks. I thought about all the people who think of me the same way I think of this roach. All the people who see me as a filthy crawling piece of vermin that should be destroyed. Hah! The roach is my brother and long may he prosper!”

          Heartened by kindred spirits and part of a flourishing nationwide scene, Chuck and his friends were in demand as musicians, playing gigs around Riverside and once or twice at clubs in Los Angeles.

          After a while, Oswald’s Revenge became other bands, as bands have a way of doing, but the three amigos were always in them, adding and subtracting other personnel, and they were always together, in spirit or in person, bonded forever by the fact that, as Rande recalls, they were “three fully abused kids who loved the same music.” In the annals of rough upbringings, this was not an exaggeration; they were indeed fully abused, but underlying that was a theme that ran through their lives, which could be summarized by way of one question: Where’s Dad?

* * * * *

          In 1928, the Daughters of the American Revolution commissioned a series of monuments called the Madonna of the Trail. There was one in each state along the National Old Trails Road, which extended from Maryland to California—twelve in all. The idea was to commemorate the pioneer woman whose strength and courage helped conquer the wilderness and make a new home in the Promised Land. Wrought from granite, the towering sculpture portrays a bonneted woman in full pioneer dress, baby in her arms and youngster at her side. She is in mid-stride, resolute, clutching a rifle. On February 1, 1929, the second to last of the Madonnas was dedicated in Upland, California, at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Euclid Avenue, a few miles from Riverside, where the first white trappers had entered the Golden State by land. The women who soon followed had not been acknowledged in such a way until this unveiling. “They were just as brave or braver than their men,” President Harry Truman had said at the ceremony for an earlier monument. “In many cases, they went with sad hearts and trembling bodies. They went, however, and endured every hardship that befalls a pioneer.”

          Over 150 years later, little had changed on the frontier. Yes, it was modern and crowded, but still brutal, with women trying to hold the line. Amid a world of violence, on LaSierra Avenue in Riverside, Virginia Smallwood maintained a safe place—not for her, as it turned out, but for the kids who gathered there. Even while sometimes bruised and visibly battered, Virginia was everyone’s mother, or in the words of her daughter Amanda, she was “the community mom”—a comparatively stable parent with a steady job (she had resumed working as a dental assistant), a person who liked to take care of others, not so she could receive foster care payments from a government agency (as some who abused the system, and the kids in it, were known to do), but simply because she felt so inclined. Sooner or later, in this land of want and need, the children who wandered the malls looking for their own kind, or just drifted through because that’s where the trails led, made their way to the Smallwoods’ house, gathering ’round the table for dinner on any given evening, nurturing their weary bones with the burritos or chorizos and eggs cooked up by the generous Mrs. Smallwood, stretching her small salary to feed an army of haunted kids.

          There was one kid who seemed a bit different, more troublesome, a tornado really; as soon as he started coming home with Chris, Virginia noticed that his energy was more chaotic and yet very intense and everyone seemed to fall under his spell. He was living with his mother at the time yet sometimes stayed on the streets, or at the homes of other kids, and soon, as always, his good looks, wit, and explosive charisma won the day, and Mrs. Smallwood permitted him to become a member of her household and move into her garage. Over time, she and the other members of her family learned the details of his personal story, and it was one of the worst she had heard, becoming more harrowing with every revelation, confirmed eventually by relatives and friends who had already fallen into his orbit.

          Who can say when the trouble began? Certainly the fact that his father had walked out of his family’s life was a factor, opening up a fissure that would not come together again in spite of attempts by both father and son to reach across it after not having seen each other for over ten years. There were other factors too—a mother whose troubles were a mystery to outsiders and her involvement with a strange man whom Chuck and his friends came to call Ranch Dressing Rod, after his fondness for slathering food with this particular condiment. And by all means, we must consider genetics, which now show that nearly all aspects of personality, seemingly, are hard-wired (though susceptible to refinement in one way or another), and certainly we must acknowledge the general malaise that prevailed in the late twentieth-century cities of the Inland Empire, where the natural world was fast becoming a dream.

_______

Stillman Deanne (Mark lamonica) (3)Deanne Stillman is a widely published, critically acclaimed writer, often writing about the modern and frontier West with the Mojave Desert as a main character. Her latest book is Desert Reckoning, based on an award-winning Rolling Stone article. It was just named a “Southwest Book of the Year,” was a Rolling Stone “must-read for the summer” (2012), and was praised in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Los Angeles Magazine, Oregonian, Denver Post, Tucson Weekly, and elsewhere. She is also the author of Mustang, an LA Times “best book 08,” and winner of the California Book Award silver medal for nonfiction. In addition, she wrote the cult classic Twentynine Palms, an LA Times “best book 01″ which Hunter Thompson called “A strange and brilliant story by an important American writer.” Deanne is a member of the core faculty at the UC Riverside-Palm Desert Low Residency MFA Creative Writing program.

Anita Harmon

In Desert, Poetry, Volume II Issue 2 on August 22, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Between the rocks at Joshua Tree

For some reason I think of Egypt.
The wind there, they say, is the
sound the dead make, as they flow
between the stone hills, out
of the Sahara. Pharaohs, scribes
farmers, the diggers of wells
tall fathers shouting across fields
mothers singing.

This voice then, the only familiar
whistles itself up, then dies away.
The buzz of a fly, bore of a plane
cry of a bird. Silence is always
welcome.

The dead trail behind each one of us.
They have followed me here, stacked
high in the strata of rock, gusted in piles
of boulders, whispering in the pinion.

They could have no voice without
these impediments. Like wind
the dead must have their instruments
to claim our attention – their right
to haunt our movement
to quiet places.

Humming Bird

Loneliness has
no antonym
worth a damn, unless
you count
being with other

people: little bright
iridescent birds,
very bold, immensely fast
needle the jasmine

the sky hurries
past with you gone

these delights
hurt

Two Haiku

A pine cone rat-tats
on the Buddha-hall roof
- delivers the moment

A Stellar’s Jay
rasps the winter evening
smooth and quiet

__

Anita Harmon retired to the desert from London six years ago. She lived in London for 60 years so it was a bit of a shock! In her working life she was an actress, a psychologist and a Business consultant. Now she works on memoir in various forms, as well as poetry. She has studied and practiced Zen Buddhism for twenty years.

Lorine Parks

In Desert, Poetry, Volume II Issue 1 on April 24, 2012 at 6:39 pm

the man who wrote in his hat
   I kept saying     it’s a miracle    Ed Rosenthal

because he is a poet
he always carries a pen for jotting down phrases
but now he is lost in a desert of grotesqueries
Joshua trees contorted like tongues tasting salt
he forgot to top off his water bottle
that was six days ago     when he left the resort
he thinks   thirst is rocks   sand and rocks
which he wants to write down but he hasn’t a pad
he will do without paper and still write his poem
he drags a stick in the hard-crust dirt to draw letters
then sketches on orange rocks with a black stone    then
erases his illegible lines with the back of his trembling hand

he wanders farther   he tries to drink his urine
but the output of his body disgusts him
he won’t dig a cool shallow pit in the sand
because it looks like a grave
he tries to remember the Sh’ma 
but only a few syllables of Hebrew
remain in his cupboard of prayer

he hallucinates he believes he has won the Nobel for Poetry
and the Peace Prize for Achieving Understanding at Sinai
till at last   from the low reptilian stem of his brain
an instinct claws its way over his city mind
the desert insists on economy   the kestrel and buzzard
do not flutter in their search   they glide
there is wisdom in staying still and letting it come to him

he stops moving in circles and collapses
flat as parchment    parched as his hat
he takes off his headgear to write on it
he still has his pen    his stylus for poetic inscribing
but instead of a new Xanadu    distilled from delirium
he scribbles his ethical will and testament in his floppy hat
naming his pallbearers   giving advice   leaving love and
now he recalls his Hebrew   shalom to daughter and wife
his witnesses a long-tailed pocket mouse chewing a seed
and a basking gecko    his notary a night moth
his signature validated by a black blob of a spider
sprawled like sealing wax on the hat’s brim

he waits    near expiring   the sun like a burning bush
for whichever piece of paper comes first
a coroner’s certificate   or a tabloid with rescue headlines
or a banner of light made by night stars over the desert
saying mazel tov   good fortune
a great miracle has happened here

___

Lorine Parks knows the high desert from having lived on an Indian Reservation in Nevada for a year.  In 2008 she took a plein air Tebot Bach Foundation poetry workshop in Joshua Tree National Forest and stayed at the legendary Twenty-nine Palms Hotel.  From that it was easy enough to imagine the trials of the poet-hiker who was lost in the Joshua Tree wilderness.  One must always respect Mother Nature, especially so in the strict economy of the desert.

Tisha Reichle

In Desert, Fiction, Volume II Issue 1 on April 24, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Safe in the Arms of Jesus

           Sitting in the passenger seat of Chris’s Ford truck, I watch his softball game from the comfort of the parking lot. If I was sitting on the metal bleachers this long, my cheeks would be permanently numb from the desert heat. Melting in here is only slightly less painful. I am such a dedicated girlfriend. I should have gone home instead, but Chris insisted on picking me up when I returned from my trip. Every year First Baptist Church sends a group of high school students to help build houses in Sonora, Mexico during spring break.

           Through half-open eyes, I see Chris’s team take the field for the bottom of the ninth, their cleats kicking up red dust. Or is that me in need of a shower? The low electronic buzz of the announcer is incomprehensible from this distance, but I see the boy on the scoreboard change the number of total runs for Chris’s team. Now they are tied. Either this is going into extra innings or Chris is going to come back to the truck in a bad mood. Either way, I would rather be somewhere cooler, somewhere cleaner.

           A voice in my ear interrupts my dozing off. “Hey, Lisett. Terrible about Jacob, isn’t it?”

           I look up to see Sheila, standing next to me in shiny blue biker shorts and an over-sized Chargers jersey, her bleach-streaked hair wild about her head. Her Aqua Net aura chokes me, so I know she just finished making herself cute.

           “Huh? Oh, hi Sheila.” My dad was her dad’s boss for most of our elementary school years, so we were forced to play together. She is also a Baptist, but not my favorite person in the world. Too gossipy and too flirtatious. “Sorry, I was falling asleep. I just got back from the Sonora trip.” I yawn, exaggerating my stretch and shifting my body away from her a little so I can lean over to rest my chin on the window frame. “Why didn’t you go?” I ask Sheila.

           She ignores my question. “I just can’t stop crying.”

           When I don’t respond, she misunderstands that as an invitation to continue confiding in me. I take a sip of the now warm water from my bottle.

           “Because of Jacob, you know.” She pats her lower abdomen, getting all squinchy-faced. “He might be the father.” She leans forward and I move out of the window so she has a place to rest her forehead while she sobs.

           The shape of her hair remains the same, not a strand falls forward with her face. I can see dark roots on the lightest chunks of hair. I know she’s lying about something. “I’m sorry?” I’m not sure if to congratulate her on her pregnancy or offer condolences for her condition. “Jacob who? My best friend, Jacob Davis?” If Jacob was with her, I would have known. I’ll give him shit on Monday in sixth period. “Uh Sheila, I still don’t understand why you are crying.”

           She looks up, sniffs, then sneers, “You don’t know?”

           “Know what?”

           “Jacob’s dead.”

           “What?” The cheer of the opponent’s fans at the game’s end obliterates whatever explanation she offers.

           I picture Jacob the last time I saw him when school got out last Friday. He was dancing across the Pizza Hut parking lot. Just us two.

           “Lisett? Did you hear me?” Sheila is choking on her sobs now. “They say Francisco is going to jail for a long time because he was driving.”

           As Chris approaches, Shelia turns her attention to him, hoping for more sympathy than I am providing. “Hey, Chris. Good game.” She sniffs. “You know, right? About Jacob?” She chokes on his name.

           I don’t give Chris a chance to answer. “Sheila,” I articulate with dry mouth and fat tongue, “maybe you should go.”

           She tries to protest, but I turn to Chris and just listen to her steps crunch across the gravel.

           A car pulls out, spewing dust between Chris and I. He walks back to sit on the tailgate, slowly removing his cleats one lace at a time. I turn around in my seat and talk through the open back window. “Chris. Why didn’t you tell me about Jacob?” But I knew the answer. Jealousy. Ever since Chris found out that I had kissed Jacob in ninth grade, he has felt threatened. “Is that why you insisted on picking me up from the bus? Why I couldn’t go home to shower or see my folks before your stupid game?” I smack my palm against the glass to get his attention. He looks over his shoulder but continues with the damn shoes. “Is that the real reason you suggested I watch from the truck?” With each question my voice gets louder and deeper. People stop loading ice chests and bat bags into their vehicles to stare at us.

           Chris, usually calm and quiet, throws his own equipment into the back of the truck, jumps inside the cab with me, and slams his door.

           “Chris, answer me!” I scream.

           “I wanted to tell you myself,” he growls,

           “but after the game. God, I hate Sheila.”

           “Why after the game? Why wait?”

           “I knew you’d be upset.”

           “And you didn’t want anything to stop you from playing?” I am appalled at my own realization. “Selfish bastard!”

           He puts the truck in reverse.

           “Are you kidding me?” Before he can guide his oversized monster out of the space, I grab my duffle of dirty clothes and my back pack and jump out.

           “Lisett,” he whines. “C’mon. I gotta take you home.”

           “I’ll take myself home.” And I leave his truck door open so he can’t follow me immediately. I cross the street and walk so fast a slight breeze dries my angry tears.

           About six blocks down and three blocks over, my best friend Angelica’s parents own a small panaderia. They are Catholic so she wasn’t on the trip. Even if she isn’t working in the store today, I can escape from Chris for a while and I’m halfway home. By the time I fall in the front door, I am sobbing more than Sheila had been.

           “Que paso mi’jita?” I cannot tell Angelica’s mom why I’m crying because my vocal chords are not cooperating. First, she inspects me for injury. Satisfied I have not been mauled by wild animals or hit by a car, she gets me a bottle of water. I collapse in a folding chair next to the tortilla press and lean against it to cool my forehead and cheek. She calls my mom before helping her next customer.

           I hear the ding of the store entrance six times and the murmur of familiar voices that I try to ignore before my mother rushes across the linoleum.

           “Mi’ja, are you okay?” She squats next to my shaking frame and strokes my hair. I am five again with a scraped knee and my mouth waits for a grape popsicle.

           When the sweet concoction does not arrive, I sniff and look up. “Jacob,” I whisper, feeling my rage rebuild under that one word.

           “Oh, mi’ja, Chris told you?” She looks around. “Where is he?”

           I sniff more and take a sip of my water. I clear my throat, trying to make the words appear. I try to tell my mom about selfish-ass Chris and stupid-ass Shelia, but I get all choked up again and can only squeak out, “Why?” through my tears.

           My mom hugs me, shushing me so I do not scare away customers. “Pray, mi’ja. Pray for his family and pray for his soul.”

           That is her answer to everything. Test coming up? Pray. Not enough money for bills? Pray. Friends stabbing you in the back? Pray. Boy you liked dies? Pray. But I am a realist. No heavenly father or holy blessed mother can bring Jacob back.

           I try to smile at her so she thinks I’m okay. But I’m not. I am angry at Chris, Sheila, Francisco, and Jacob. I stand up, put my arms around my mom, and walk back towards the entrance.

           We are startled by the short, dark flurry of tangled hair that enters, panting. “Lisett! I was calling your house for the past two hours. I thought your bus must be late. Then, my cousin, Chuy, said you came running in the store looking all crazy.” Angelica, my other best friend, tries to catch her breath between sentences. She looks at my face directly. “You know about Jacob? About the accident?”

           I feel the tears start climbing back up my throat. “Were you there?”

Her eyes widen as her mother approaches our conversation. “No. I spent the night at Isabel’s.”

           That is code for my mom doesn’t know I went. She and her cousin Isabel must have snuck out because Isabel’s mom doesn’t hear too well in the left ear and after she falls asleep, they roll her over onto her right side. Then they just walk down the street where Isabel has arranged for her boyfriend, Jack, to pick them up.

           With one arm anchored around my mom’s waist, I half hug Angelica with the other arm. “I’ll call you later.” I’m still sad but a little less angry; I just want a shower and my own bed.

           I stay in my room a long time, looking at the stuffed Ninja Turtle that Jacob won for me at the fair in ninth grade. How can I pray if I don’t know what to say?

           My thoughts are interrupted by a light knock. “Are you sure you don’t want to eat dinner?” My mom asks when I open the door. She has not forced me to talk about Jacob, but I did hear her explaining my afternoon to my dad when he came home from work.

           “No thanks, Mom, I’m going to call Angelica and then go to bed.” I hug her then take the phone into my room, careful not to pinch the spiral cord in the door as it closes behind me. After about six rings, I start to hang up then, breathless, Angelica answers. “Why do you always sound like you are running a mile?” I ask her.

           “Hey Lisett. My stupid brothers keep trying to get the phone. Nobody calls for them anyway.” She yells the last part, trying to insult her younger siblings. “You okay now?”

           I smile because more than anyone, Angelica knows I’m not. But what do you say when someone dies? “Tell me everything.”

           “Are you sure? Okay, hold on.” She tries to cover the mouthpiece but her tone could pierce steel. “Mom, I’m going to talk to Lisett in your room. Keep the boys out. I’ll finish my dinner later. I don’t care if it’s cold.”

           “Angelica, you can always call me later.”

           “No, girl, this is more important.”

           “So it was at some party? Whose party? Where?”

           “Slow down. Are you gonna let me tell the story?”

           “Sorry. Please.” I’m usually superstitious when it comes to talking about death. For Jacob, I hope it will help me make sense of it all and find a way to pray.

           “I went to Isabel’s because Jack heard some guys from LA, college guys, were having a rager by the river. He thinks we want to go for free beer, which we do, of course, but really, college guys. C’mon. I met this really cute gringo from Indiana.”

           “Angelica, can you tell me that part later, when I can enjoy it?”

           “Huh? Yeah, sorry. I didn’t even know Jacob was there until some other white boys started loud talking Francisco and his homies. You know how they are, they show up already wasted and try to start shit.”

           “But Jacob is cool with them because of baseball.”

           “Yeah, yeah. So Jacob had been talking to this chubby college girl, one of the guy’s sister I think. Oh, sorry.”

           “It’s okay, he’s not my boyfriend remember?”

           “Oh, yeah, Chris. Wait, where is Chris? Have you talked to him?”

           “Angelica!” She can never just tell a story without distracting herself and while I love her like a sister, it infuriates me when I need information.

           “Okay, so Jacob goes and tries to chill everyone out. He says, ‘My boy here will take me to town we’ll get some tequila shots for you.’ We got all this free beer and he wants to take the Mexican into town for tequila. What’s that shit about?”

           I hear banging on the door from Angelica’s end of the phone.

           “What dad? Okay. Sorry.”

           “You gotta go?”

           “No, but he can hear me cussing. I hope he didn’t hear tequila or beer.”

           “You usually get louder on the bad words,” I tell her. I never used such language until I started partying with my Catholic friend. The Baptists tend to frown on such things. “That’s how we always get in trouble in first period. Maybe we should meet at Carl’s Jr.” My stomach is finally protesting.

           She yells to someone in her house again. “Okay, in a minute.” Quieter to me she says, “My stupid brothers think they need the phone for homework. You know they’re lying. Homework over spring break. In junior high. Liars!” Louder but without covering the phone she says, “Why you wait until the last minute for that sh-stuff? Okay, let me finish eating and help my mom clean up and I’ll walk down to Carl’s about nine.”

           I look at the clock. “Okay. See you in thirty.”

           I hang up and reach over for last year’s yearbook. The grainy black and whites of my classmates stare back at me. I open to the junior section and turn past Angelica and Isabel Becerra. I hesitate, knowing Jacob Davis is on the next page, not sure I’m strong enough yet.

           I close my eyes and see him kissing me at a desert party then drinking more beer from his red solo cup. I open my eyes and turn the page slowly to reveal his sideways grin. He is wearing his Padres jersey and his hair had just been lined up on the sides. This is the picture I pretended with when I thought I wanted him to be my boyfriend. He’d signed the space below his photo: To my best girl, Thanks for the best times. Love, J. I run my fingers over the words he wrote and feel the indentation of the blue ballpoint on the thick glossy page. I close my eyes again, too late to stop my tears from dripping down.

           “Mom,” I cry out, waking myself from the painful memories. I sit up dropping my book open on the floor and walk out to where she and my dad are watching television. “Mom, Dad, I need some air. Is it okay if I walk to Carl’s and hang out with Angelica?”

           My dad looks at my mom; she looks at me then back at him. He closes the leg-rest of his black leather recliner with a loud thwap and stands up. “This is a re-run. I just got a call about some power lines down on the west end of town. I’ll drop you off.” He is an electrician for the city, on call every other weekend.

           “Thanks, Dad.” He tries to be understanding in his own gruff way. I’m sure he doesn’t know what to say anymore than I do. While my mom thinks prayer is the answer to everything, my dad thinks everyone should just tough it out. Doesn’t matter what “it” is. Stove your finger playing basketball? Tape it up and keep playing. Geometry too hard? Keep doing it until you get it right. Don’t like what mom made for dinner? Eat it anyway. Boy you liked dies? Be grateful it wasn’t you.

           Outside the fast food restaurant, I thank him again. “I’ll call mom before I walk home.” I slam the door of his truck a little too hard.
My dad looks up and down the nearly deserted street and adds out the window, “Or I’ll pick you up if you want.” He waves when he sees Angelica approaching the restaurant door.

           I don’t respond, but walk away quickly.

           Angelica waves back and waits for me. We hug. “You hungry?” she asks.

           I shrug. “Just a soda. Maybe some fries.” The whole place has the lingering odor of disinfectant mixed with whatever was burned during the dinner rush.

           We order and find a booth in the back but not too close to the bathroom. I sit so I can watch who comes in.

           “Okay, where was I?”

           “Jacob playing peacemaker and tequila,” I say.

           “Yeah, so he gets in Francisco’s Jeep. That new one he bought over in Phoenix, you seen it?” she asks.

           “Green, no top?”

           “Yeah. They get in and start driving too fast down that dirt road, you know, the one that goes up to Second Avenue.”

           “You were way out there?”

           “Way out there.” She reaches over to nibble on a few of my French fries then takes a huge slurp of her chocolate shake before continuing.

           “They kicked up all kinds of dirt and everyone was coughing, spitting it out. Even Francisco’s friends were threatening his tail lights. That one that just moved here from Indio with his Tio, he’s cute.”

           I sip my Dr. Pepper. “Angelica?”

           “Sorry. So we see them driving away and a few hours later, some one said, ‘Hey, where’s that guy who went to get tequila?’ and no one answered him. There is still beer, so who cares. I’m buzzed, everything’s all hazy.”

           “Angelica, how long did you guys wait for the tequila?”

           “Jack didn’t want to wait anymore and you know if we stay out too late, that damn rooster next door to mi Tia starts making all kinds of noise and mi Tia wakes up and then we get caught.”

           “Was Jack drinking too? Dumb question. Why would he go out there if he wasn’t going to drink?”

           “Shh, let me finish. It gets better.” Angelica must have forgotten she was conveying a fatal tragedy and she starts telling me what happened like she was watching it on television.

           “I hear Isabel behind me getting all mad at Jack because you know how he always tries to get her to do it when he’s drunk.” Angelica slurps the last of her shake. “So I think we are going soon and I try to drink my beer as fast as I can.”

           I interrupt her because I know what happened next. “You threw up, didn’t you?”

           “Right on Jack’s shoes.” She cracks up like the movie has a happy ending. “He is still pissed at me.”

           “Wait, when did all this happen?” I had been operating on the assumption that it was the night before I returned, Friday. But with no eight am bell to force people into class the next day, it could have been any night.

           “Wednesday. Listen. We leave and see three cop cars blocking the road. Jack turned off his lights and stopped so we could see them, but they couldn’t see us. They pulled Francisco out of the Jeep and put him into the ambulance. Then we see them looking around across the irrigation ditch. Jacob had been thrown from the Jeep, onto a cement block, killed instantly.”

           “You could see all that?” The barrage of details makes me want to barf.

           “No, I read it in Thursday’s paper. But we didn’t wait there for the cops to see us. Jack put it in reverse and we took the long way home. Man, we are so lucky we didn’t get caught.”

           “Lucky.” I can’t say anything else. Stupid Jacob. “Why didn’t anyone stop them from driving all drunk like that?”

           “What? Who? No one stops anyone. Ever. They just, I don’t know.” Angelica is clearly not traumatized even though she was there. Why wasn’t I there instead of building houses for people who I don’t even know? I bet God doesn’t even have an answer for that.

           “I would have stopped them.”

           “What? No. You might have tried to keep Jacob from leaving because you were jealous of the other girl he was talking to. But you would have been the most excited about tequila.”

           Angelica is right. I love tequila. My mom would die if she knew. She blames alcohol for her brother’s and her father’s deaths. That’s why she left the Catholic Church and joined the Baptists. They are more critical of such habits.

           “Angelica, school on Monday is going to be awful.”

           Angelica lowers her voice. “I know. The funeral is not until Wednesday. The paper said they had to bring somebody in special to take care of the crime scene. Can you believe it they are calling it that, a crime scene? Nothing exciting like this ever happens here.”

           I want to be angry with her for thinking all this is exciting. I want to scream at her and Sheila and Chris and Francisco because I cannot scream at Jacob.

           I call my mom about a quarter to eleven but tell her not to have dad pick us up. Angelica and I want to stroll. We live in a town where it is still safe to be a young woman alone at night. Police patrol the streets at regular intervals, mostly to protect people from themselves. That’s why we all know to party outside city limits.

           “You think anyone is out there tonight?” I ask Angelica as we cross the main drag and walk east towards the car wash. I went there with Jacob when he first got his car for Christmas.

           “Out where? Second Avenue? Probably.”

           “I want to go out there.”

           “Why? How?”

           “I just want to see it for myself.” I look at my watch. “It’s not too late. We can see if anyone getting off shift at Safeway wants to go out.”

           “You don’t want to call Chris?” Angelica asks.

           I glare at her and give her the quick version of his jealous stupidity. “How much cash you got?” We would have to buy a twelve pack in exchange for the ride.

           Angelica reaches in all her pockets and pulls out a five-dollar bill which surprises her. “Look!”

           I have a five too and we hurry past the T-shirt shop, a hair salon, and a bank before we cross back over to the partially-lit grocery store parking lot. Shelia’s cousin Ralph is getting into his Nissan 280Z.

           “Ooh, Lisett, not him. Remember how he got all touchy with Isabel at the fair last year?”

           “Yeah. His whole family is weird.” I frown, remembering Shelia’s obnoxious hair and clothes at Chris’s game.

           “There’s Ramiro,” Angelica says.

           “Who?”

           “My cousin Chuy’s friend. He’ll take us. And he’s cute.”

           As she walks faster, ahead of me, to catch him, I mumble, “I just hope he doesn’t have a girlfriend who’ll want to kick our asses later.”

           Ramiro takes the ten dollars and agrees to drive us. “But I’m only staying one hour, then I got to get home. I’m back on at eight tomorrow.”

           I use the pay phone and tell my mom that we are going to watch a movie at Isabel’s. Angelica calls Isabel to make sure she isn’t going to get us in trouble later.

           It takes twenty minutes to get all the way out to the party. At first, I stand away from the crowd, the damp smell of the weeds surrounding the river are more pungent than the campfire smoke from this position. Stars are brighter and more plentiful when there are no street lamps or traffic signals to interfere with the path of their light. Angelica walks over to mingle with the unfamiliar faces. It is as if she has forgotten why we are here, what I need to do. I watch everyone drink. Cigarette tips move in and out of the shadows that their bodies cast with the help of the flames. Someone’s truck window is open and “Pour some sugar on me” fills the party zone. I want to enjoy it, to forget about what happened when I wasn’t here. I want something stronger than beer to numb the pain. I want to ask God, Why? But I know there won’t be an answer.

           I fall to my knees in the sand and cover my face with my hands. Two more Def Leppard songs play through until someone decides to change the CD. Without the music, I hear people laughing and talking. My anger begins to surface. I look up at the circle of chattering young people and imagine myself pushing them all into the pile of burning wooden pallets. “That’s what you get for letting Jacob die.” I growl to no one in particular. They seem far away, acting like nothing ever happened.

           I pick up the sandy dirt and let it fall through my fingers slowly to the other hand. Back and forth I continue my sifting. With each handful I pick out a few sticks or a rock too big to pass through the narrow openings. Then I begin throwing small rocks and sticks just a few feet away from my squatting self but in their general direction. I throw bigger chunks of hill and tree. Then I grab handfuls of earth and fling them harder. I feel myself walking towards them and see myself knocking beer bottles and cans out of people’s hands and taking their keys.

           But really, I am still kneeling by the car, too scared and empty to move. Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” comes on. I yell over the noise, “My friend died.” And like a six-year-old, I whisper, “I loved him.”

           I fall forward; my hands protect my face from the rough terrain but nothing protects my shins and knees or the tops of my sandaled feet. I cry, the steamy snot sticking to my hands and face until I feel two small hands on my back.

           “Shit, Angelica, she’s fucked up,” Ramiro says.

           “No, she’s just sad,” Angelica says matter-of-factly. Catholics must learn to mourn differently. “Let’s take her home, Ramiro. I’ll clean her up there.”

           By the time Ramiro pulls into my driveway, I am calm again. All the lights are off; my parents must have gone to bed, assuming I stayed over at Isabel’s. “Thanks, man.”

           He looks at me like I am still crouched and crying. “You gonna be okay?”

           I nod and hug Angelica. “I’ll call you after church tomorrow.”

           She grins and tries to make me feel like a normal girl again. “We can plan our outfits for Monday.

           I can’t smile back. “Monday is going to be hell.”

           She nods and slides closer to Ramiro as they drive away.

           That night I wake up from my dreams holding Jacob and shaking us. I say to him, “If I hold on when I wake up, then you won’t really be dead.” I wake up crying and by morning I have no voice left.

           My mom interrupts my last dream with the smell of bacon frying. Jacob says he’d rather eat pancakes and slips out of my embrace. I don’t want to get up. I don’t want to go to Sunday service where I might see Sheila or other annoying people who will ask if I’m okay. Do I look okay? My reflection in the bathroom mirror says no. I try to wake myself up with a cool shower, my second one in the last twelve hours. If I stay in the pulsating stream long enough, maybe it will wash away my pain. I still can’t find the words to pray.

           “Lisett?” I hear my dad’s voice through the bathroom door. He knocks, then calls my name again. “Are you okay in there?”

           “I’ll be out in a minute.” He is probably more worried I’ll use up all the hot water than he is about my emotional state. “Hurry up. Breakfast is getting cold.”

           When I emerge with my hair combed and a long comfortable church dress on, I just want to crawl back under the blankets. Chris is sitting at the kitchen table talking to my dad about the NBA playoffs. Mom is whirling around the kitchen with a bright red apron on, serving them both plates full of scrambled eggs, bacon, and hash browns. I feel like I’m stuck in a bad 1950s film. I put on a fake smile and look at the clock. How can they all pretend nothing happened?

           “Good morning, Lisett.”

           “Good morning, Chris. Good morning, Father. Breakfast looks delicious, Mother.”

           My voice is half an octave higher than normal. My dad raises an eyebrow. I never call them mother and father. But we never have this all-American breakfast so it seems appropriate to play along.

           “Please pass the juice,” I say.

           Chris looks at me with his head tilted to the left and isn’t listening to my dad’s question about the Phoenix Suns. I blink back at him and try to keep my smile pasted to my face. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m afraid to pick up my fork and take a bite. The scratch and clink of the others’ eating motions echoes in my brain.

           My mom turns to me and says, “After church today, Chris thought we could all go –”

           I explode. “Are you crazy. How can you all act like nothing happened? Like today is a normal Sunday?” I throw my chair back behind me as I get up and I don’t know where to go. My room is the most obvious choice but I feel like I’m suffocating on the dense air concentration inside our house. I open the front door, letting all the flies in, and rush out into the bright heat. I only know I’ve stopped moving when I feel my dad’s hands on my shoulders. I hear his voice behind me.

           “Lisett, even if you had been there, there was nothing you could have done.”

           I turn around and cry into his white undershirt. He doesn’t try to stop my sadness. He doesn’t shush me and tell me to pray. He lets me cry until I can’t make any more tears. He holds me up as we walk back to the house. Chris isn’t there when I get back inside and I don’t ask why. My mom has cleaned up breakfast and my chair mess and she is sitting at the edge of the couch with a ladies magazine, trying to look patient.

           My dad announces, “I’m going to get changed and we’ll go to the later service.”

           I bite the inside of my cheek and take a deep breath. So just like that I’m really supposed to wear my regular face and pretend it is a regular Sunday and eat regular food like a regular person.

           Pastor Johnson is sweating before he even walks up to the pulpit. He watches as the choir finishes the last verse of “Rejoice in the Lord.” He uses a small white towel to wipe his shiny bald forehead; he cools his gravelly voice with a swig from his water bottle; then, he looks out at his congregation, pausing at particular people to offer a smile of recognition. I usually avoid direct eye contact, but today he catches me in his gaze and does not smile. He leans into the microphone, emphasizing the letters t and p for dramatic effect. “Today, I want to talk to our young people.” There are shifting noises, pants on the pews. “Today, it is possible that some of you do not feel like rejoicing.” Parents agree with a murmur. “Perhaps you are angry with God. Perhaps you think he has abandoned you.” Each “you” is drawn out longer than the previous one and he loses his breath on the last one.

           I want to stand up and scream, “Of course I am angry,” but my regular self stays in control.

           “Take a moment, young people, and look at what the Lord has given you. See your mother. See your father. The Lord has blessed you. Rejoice with me.” He motions to the choir who sings the chorus again and I feel rage tickling the back of my throat; my tears are not staying inside my eyes. Pastor Johnson looks directly at me again and motions for the choir to stop. “But something stops us from singing.” Every “s” is followed by a spray of his hot sticky breath and I want to be anywhere but in this pew, my arm rubbing my dad’s arm and my mom’s sweaty hand on my leg. “Something has caused us all some pain. Some of you say, thank God it wasn’t me. It is in this time of sorrow and loss that must show our strength. We must rejoice.” The choir repeats the chorus of the song with no visible cue, but I watch Pastor Johnson. He sips water from his secret stash behind the pulpit. He tries to smile but his forehead has those tight lines of concentration that make a V between his eyebrows. He doesn’t know what to do or say either.

           “Excuse me.” I climb over my dad and exit the side door. I slide down the stucco wall, causing my dress to rise up in the back and I feel my legs exposed. I don’t care. I keep sliding until I am sitting in the shade on the cool cement. From the open door, I hear the choir finish that song and Pastor Johnson continues as if I never left. As if I had not just spent the last seven days with him pounding nails and sawing boards under Mexico’s excruciating sun rays. “Is this what it’s like, Lord? Is this normal?”

           Sheila comes out of the nearby bathroom and walks towards me, shading her eyes. “Lisett? Who are you talking to?” She looks around. “Why are you on the ground?”

           “I don’t know.” I hear the harshness in my voice and realize she doesn’t mean to be so stupid. “I just needed some air.”

           “I’m not pregnant.”

           “What?”

           “I just got my period.”

           I am not sure how to respond. She reaches down to help me up. I accept her hand.

           As we walk back towards the door she says, “Pastor Johnson told my mom he wants you to read the scripture at Jacob’s funeral service. He said you have the best voice.”

           I look into the open door and see Pastor Johnson still sweating and wiping, but he is finished talking. The ushers are passing the basket and the choir starts slowly singing, “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.”

           I join my parents back inside the church, trying my best to sing and to believe the words I’m singing. I try to forget the horror that Angelica witnessed. I look at my mom. I look at my dad. Then I look at Pastor Johnson who is also singing along. I look down to where Shelia has returned to sit with her own mom and notice for the first time they have matching sculpted hair. Beyond them I see Jacob’s cousins, Isaiah and Esther, with Jacob’s mom in between. She is trying to sing too, intermittently dabbing her eyes with a pink lace handkerchief. Isaiah wears a hard down-turned moth and a dark blue button-up shirt. He doesn’t sing but with his eyes closed he sways a little, keeping time with the hymn. Esther sings; her rich alto voice finds my ear and makes me feel safe. Safe in the arms of Jesus.

___

For 14 years, Tisha Marie Reichle has been teaching reading and writing to 100 plus not-always-willing teenagers and struggles to find time for her own work. For 10 years, she has been writing and revising a novel about the Chicana/o Student Movement at UCLA. Her stories utilize the desert landscape of her childhood and the urban chaos of her adulthood. She earned her MFA in 2009 at Antioch University Los Angeles. Some of her writing has been published at Annotation Nation, Travel by the Books, and The Splinter Generation; a short story is forthcoming in 34th Parallel.

Michael Dwayne Smith

In Desert, Fiction, Inland Empire, Riverside, Volume II Issue 1 on April 24, 2012 at 6:39 pm

The Breakfast Tree


New neighbor’s hanging over my fence, avocado face yammering about his bread and butter, bread and butter, Why don’t my boss understand this how I make my quota? My spring morning quiet, sitting under my orange and lemon trees in my lawn chair, has flown off with the flustered sparrows and towhees.

He’s only had the house a few months, after Pop Bartlett died, 91 years old. No idea where they stole in from. Not Oriental. Not Mexican. Brown skin, black haired, too many kids to count.

The man admires a fat orange on a branch of my tree that’s grown out too near the cinder block wall that divides us.

This whole valley was citrus farmers when I was a kid, I tell him. We sped our Schwinn bikes through dirt rows and around smudge pots, grabbing fruit, old men with rock salt in their shotguns chasing lamely behind. Lemon juice, orange juice, lime, it flowed to us free and fresh, like water from the aqueduct our grandfathers built. This was desert. They made a paradise from barren land. Before it was overrun, bankrupted by freeloaders.

I’m looking him dead in the eye.

There was people here, he says, gawking the near-to-burst fruit. They lived the land before missions come. They knew it. They had, you call, tribes. Indians to your cowboys, no? He laughs a little.

The last standing navel orange tree in the valley sits on my property. A plump, sweet, juice-spraying orange hangs in his sight, a breakfast promised by old California. He’ll pluck it as soon as I turn away. I could just snap it from the tree, white blossoms filling the air, and I could offer it, a prize for my late wife’s sake. She always took pity on these creatures.

But I do not. Will not. This is not humanity, it’s California. And I am not his bread and butter.

___

Michael Dwayne Smith proudly owns and operates one of the English-speaking world’s most unusual names.  Not counting a year in Alaska, he’s lived in or near the Inland Empire his entire life.  No one knows why.  He’s a long-ago graduate of U.C. Riverside’s undergrad creative writing program, where he studied with Stephen Minot, Maurya Simon, Susan Straight, and was honored to serve as editor-in-chief of UCR’s literary journal, Mosaic.  Michael’s poetry and fiction materialize at Monkeybicycle, BLIP (formerly Mississippi Review), Pirene’s Fountain, Right Hand Pointing, Northville Review, Red Fez, Quantum Poetry Magazine, Orion headless, Phantom Kangaroo, Four and Twenty, and other mysterious locations.  He lives in the high desert with his wife, son, and rescued animals—all of whom talk in their sleep.  He can be conjured using the spells michael dot blackbear at gmail dot com, michaeldwaynesmith.tumblr.com, or michaelthebear on Twitter.

Roger Camp

In Desert, Image, Volume II Issue 1 on April 24, 2012 at 12:02 am

Roger Camp’s images have been published in over 100 magazines, most recently on the covers the The New England Review, Redivider, Kestrel, Lumina as well as in the NYQ, Antioch Review, Southwest Review, Chicago Review and the Harvard Review. He is the author of three books of photography, Butterflies in Flight, Thames & Hudson, 2002, 500 Flowers, Dewi Lewis Media, 2005, and Heat, Charta/DAP, 2009. His documentary photography has been awarded a Leica Medal of Excellence and a Graphis photographer of the year award. He has taught photography at The University of Iowa, Columbus College of Art & Design, and the Cite Internationale Universitaire de Paris. Additional examples of his work may be found at rogercampohoto.com. His work in this issue can be viewed here.

W.F. Lantry

In Desert, Poetry on January 19, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Desert Wind


What now? The air is filling with sweet sounds
and I renounce my laboured pain. Some words
unheard til now, consume me. Can the wind
unaided, carry shimmerings like this:
a voice, or many voices glistening
as if vibrations mimicked watered silk?

Composite patterns here consume sunlight;
or moss rose petals flourishing one day,
then folding, but reflect the slanting rays-
yet I have seen, at evening, some blooms
which yield their own light, as if a flame
could burn within their sepals, and send out

consuming interwoven waves of light
much like commingled echoes of a voice
or voices I can hear almost without
constructing words or sentences. My mind
gives up its struggle, harmonized by this
strange madness of reflective patterned sound.

Maureen Foley

In Desert, Fiction on August 10, 2011 at 9:01 pm
Tuesday

     Door slams, I’m walking.  Loss a kind of insanity. Lee left out a glass of lime juice. Still sitting on the counter by the sink. I can’t wash it.

     Last week, my husband Lee squeezed a bowl full of limes from off our tree. Said they were about to rot. Said freeze the juice for future margaritas. Futures. But I left out the juice, overslept, he drove off to New Mexico with no goodbye. 80 percent of catastrophes are weather-related.

     But let’s not confuse facts with statistics. Here’s an alternative to the facts:

     I drive to Santa Cruz to search for Lee.

     I find him smoking out with his college bros.

     I confront him with the facts.

     He says he loves me.

     I say it’s not enough.

     He begs to drive home with me.

     I throw everything, his bong, writing papers, screenplay drafts, worn-in Levis, avocado green Karmann Ghia, his affair and Queen Charlotta, all of it, I toss them into the Pacific.

     I move to Italy and marry a dashing ex-pat jeweler named James.
Or maybe Lee’s in Mexico. Definitely an affair. He took the high road. Who is irrelevant. Or one day he’ll walk into my punk rock club, Elevator, while that night’s band is warming up and we’ll have a scene and call it quits.

     I sipped the lime juice right when I woke up. Fizzy. Fermented. I failed miserably. Whatever. Another jet plane, another con trail.

     In the Grinder, no one says a word, they all know. Roxy, feisty barista with large Mexican jewelry, foams me up my usual and I’m out of there before I get caught in those endless returns.

     Another sip of my latte hold in the only hand I have left after the accident, looking for a place to sit. Outside I can see the ranch where my California pioneer ancestor James Blood was an apricot grower on fertile land here in Carpinteria, California. My grandfather farmed the same land until he died. Along the foothilss, above The Grinder’s sign. Blue silhouettes and stalks of trees. Hey there’s Queen Charlotta. She’s fingering a napkin out front. Sit by her. Best not to be alone at the moment.

     Charlotta’s balancing the weekly newspaper, a cup of coffee, a cigarette and lighter in one hand, while she picks a rock out of the bottom of her flip-flop. Four inches of brown roots grown into flyaway dyed blonde. Her crowning scalp, tilting up. Hello girl with the face. Strange.

     “Hey,” I say.

     “Hey Olive, my pumpkin chicken noodle, boss extroidinairre. What’s up?” Queen Charlotta says, English accent lilting.

     “It’s my birthday,” I say.

     “You look like shit,” she says.

     “Thanks. Just found out you’re engaged to Jan,” I say.

     “Oh. Insanity, right?” she says.

     “Totally. Jan and I go way back. You know we dated in high school?” I say.

     “No,” she says.

     “A million years ago,” I say.

     I stare into dissolving milk foam and look up. She’s wearing a pink cardigan sweater over a tank top, jeans. Pink cardigan. Pink cardigan that I found in the trunk of the Lee’s Ghia two weeks ago, forgot about. Maroon lipstick stain on inside of collar. Wondered whose sweater. Left it there and forgot. Let’s see how this one plays out, just for fun.

     “You’ve heard the latest with me, right?” I ask.

     “No,” she says.

     “Lee’s gone,” I say.

     “What do you mean gone,” she says.

     “Missing. Got a call from the sheriffs this morning. He never got back from New Mexico. Found a car, no body. Out in the California desert,” I say.

     “Shit,” and her face says it all. Even her blush pales. “I mean, you must be totally disturbed–”

     “Some prick cop from Needles told me at four this morning. Lee called from a pay phone at one last night, said he’d be back by this morning.” Tears. Easy to get lost in it. “Charlotte. It’s like– they. They. They don’t just disappear. People. They don’t just poof. You know?”

     “That’s fucking insane– He– I just talked to him. And. And I dreamt about him last night. Lee. I woke up and–” Staring off into space. She fingers the buttons on her pink sweater. Pink sweater, fucking pink cutsie-tootsy sweater with little fucking pearlite buttons.

     “How long have you and he been-” My elbow knocks over my latte. Dive under table to grab fallen cup. Take a last swig as I stand, hurl the cup at Charlotte’s head. She ducks, cup misses, rolls into gutter. I collapse into a chair. “You left that sweater in the trunk. What a fucking–”

     “Olive- He was just giving me a ride home from work-” she says.

     “Don’t even. No. Don’t. Not today,” I yell.

     “He told me you knew. That things were open between you,” she says.

     “They were. Are,” I say.

     “Is he dead?” she asks.

     “Don’t know,” I say.

     Hey over there. I know that skinny guy walking up the street. Six years later and nothing changes. Not really. Jan wears huge retro sunglasses pushed back on his head, a button-up white linen shirt, green shark skin slacks. Dark circles under eyes, so skinny its like he’s losing himself behind ribs. Or could be heroin. Skinnier than last time I saw him, even.

     Charlotte smiles. “Hey Jan.”

     But he ignores her, wraps me into a hug and says, “Hey stranger. So good to see you.”

     “You, too.” I close my eyes.

     “How are you holding up?” he asks.

     I look up at him, on the verge of bawling,“Okay?”

     “I want to hear all about it. But, hey, on a happier note I’ve got some news, too. I just got engaged.”

     “To who?” We’re staring intensely now.

     “Queen Charlotta?”

     “Her?” I look over. She’s smiling. Does he know about her and Lee? “How long.” I can’t stand it.

     “Together? Just a month. Engaged two days ago,” he says.

     “And how long have you been back?” I ask.

     “A month,” he says.

     “Shit,” I whisper.

     And in one breath we lose our shit. Right there. On Linden Ave. Make a scene that gristles through the local rumor mill for weeks. I tear out landscaping. I yell. Jump the fountain. Stop cars. Screams. Charlotte’s crying and Jan is bellowing at her to shut up. And there. That’s me. That’s my girl.

     Screaming, eyes closed, I see my amputated arm floating. No, dancing. Salsa moves across the floor with Lee. Missing husband, stolen arm. What’s that one song about being lost and loving it? Birds navigate the earth by reading electric currents.

     Open eyes. Insults. Incantations. Apologies. Threats spill out so loudly I dull the sound of Raymond playing mariachi rifts on his trumpet at the barber shop up the street. Flailing body, cursing like a sailor.