Lavina Blossom is a writer and visual artist. She has an MFA in Poetry from the University of California, Irvine, but is largely self-taught as a visual artist. She has an art blog about her process, which can be found at http://lavinablossom.com/blog. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, The Literary Review, and Kansas Quarterly, as well as the online journal Poemeleon. Her short story, “Blue Dog,” appeared in the online journal Women Writers. She is an Associate Editor of Poetry for Inlandia: A Literary Journey.
Archive for the ‘Inland Empire’ Category
The Riverside Inlandia Creative Writing Workshop group and guest Timothy Donnelly, Columbia University professor and author of The Cloud Corporation, winner of the 2012 Kingsley Tufts Prize. Great session in which we created a collaborative bouts rime poem using the endwords from Robert Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night”. Thanks, CGU, for reaching out to the Inlandia Institute!
Do not go into the mysterious night
Or you will be drenched in the driving rain
in which we see no speck of light
as we try to avoid creatures that run into our lane
we have kidnapped Santa Claus and the beat
goes on, which our inferior brain cannot explain
and we don’t hear our capricious feet
as the cilia in our ears cement the ancient cry.
We tumbled down the inebriated street
and down some grotesque path, we said goodbye.
I walk solo, she looks down from a height
as gargoyles howl the night away, as ribbons uncoil in a dawning sky.
The asphalt tilts, the filthy water drains out, all is made right.
The speck bores a hole in the infinite night.
Deena and the Bear
Harrison’s already awake on a predawn Sunday morning when he gets the call from his boss. This kind of call would not usually go to Harrison, but no one else is picking up. The early hour is not a problem. The problem is Deena is the bear expert, and he hasn’t seen Deena since he got married.
Ten minutes later, Deena’s in Harrison’s car, coolly silent with her rifle and tranq darts. Ten minutes after that, they’re up in the little foothill community where the call came from.
Finding the bear might have been difficult. The suburbs always have looked the same to Harrison. Streets with row upon row of stucco houses. Harrison would have been lost in a second. It would have been difficult except it’s a quiet morning, and a news helicopter circles above, the center of its radius directly above the bear. Harrison follows the helicopter until he sees the police cruisers parked in front of a two story place. It’s painted that ubiquitous tan of the suburbs east of Los Angeles.
“Looks like it’s just up here,” Harrison says.
“Does it?” Deena stares at the side of Harrison’s face for a good twelve seconds. Then, with a single motion, she snatches her rifle from the back seat and swings out of the front door with it under her arm.
Harrison daydreams her death for a second. She’s got the rifle under her arm, trudging up the steps of the suburban home. The cops misunderstand what’s happening, and she’s gunned down, accidentally, tragically, but finally. She lies there twitching in her puke and blood for twelve seconds before she gasps her last. He’s not sure where the puke came from in his fantasy.
As she actually does start up the front steps, the daydream shifts to a memory of her. He pictures her as she was, lying underneath him as he made love to her. He can see her naked body, smell her womanly sweat, hear her moan. Somehow the remembered sex and the imagined death mingled themselves in Harrison’s mind creating confusing and exciting feelings in him just for a moment.
Sex and death have slowed Harrison down, and he has to jog to catch up to Deena who is pointedly ignoring him.
It’s pretty easy to see why the helicopter is circling. The bear is playing a splashing game with himself in a swimming pool in the backyard. He tumbles over on himself in the water, and Harrison knows this is a video people from Los Angeles to Tokyo will be watching for the next few days. A bear playing by itself as ten police officers stand just on the other side of a cinder block wall. No doubt the footage is going out now to every insomniac and early riser in Los Angeles.
Harrison and Deena will be a part of the tableau as well. He tries to imagine how she must look with that weapon in her hand and greeting police officers. Can the helicopter camera man see that look on her face? Can he get close enough to see how her love for Harrison has turned into hatred?
And Harrison flashes into another daydream. In this one, Deena becomes famous. She is aiming the rifle when the bear sees her. She fires and misses, enraging the animal, who charges her, mauls her, and kills her. The bear must be destroyed of course, but the television plays her death over and over again, and Harrison is allowed to relive the moment.
Harrison forces the daydream out of his head. He tries to focus on the current moment, the conversation about what to do with the animal. He’s here to coordinate efforts and call in transportation. He focuses on his job long enough to call the person responsible for taking the bear back to the wild after it’s unconscious, but he’s pulled out of himself and back to her body the second he hangs up.
He’s back to making love to her, and this time it’s all about her fetish for public sex. Deena, skinny dipping in a lake. Deena, sunning her naked body afterwards. Deena, leaning naked against a tree. He hasn’t thought about having sex with her for a long time, but it’s all back in the kind of half-awake dreams he has on cool Sunday mornings.
It’s the morning, he decides. It doesn’t have anything to do with lingering feelings. It’s not doubts about his new marriage. It’s just this time of the morning and time of the week. It’s just he’s entered into a dream world up here in the foothills.
Deena raises her rifle as the bear clamors out of the pool. She waits until the bear is out of the water and firmly onto the grass of the backyard, and then there is the popping sound of the gun going off. Harrison can see the dart strike the animal’s flank. A gasp goes up from the police officers, and the bear seems to be wobbling already. Harrison’s never seen this before, so he doesn’t know how long the tranqs will take, but they already seem to be having an effect.
Harrison turns to ask Deena how long it will take for the bear to go down, but he stops. Deena is aiming the rifle at him and smiling but only with her teeth. That glassy-eyed look is on her face, the same look he must have.
There’s a long silence between them, maybe twelve seconds, and then she says, “Boom.”
One of the police officers laughs nervously, but the rest of them are focused on the bear. Harrison wonders what the scene must look like from above and on televisions across the city.
Are the helicopter cameras good enough to capture the dreamy quality in Deena’s eyes? Can they see the heart break living there? Are they able to zoom in on the pain that has been festering in the long months after the death of their love?
John Brantingham’s work has been published in hundreds of magazines in the United States and England, and he has eight books of poetry and fiction. “Deena and the Bear” is a sequel story to his latest short story collection Let Us All Pray Now to Our Own Strange Gods, available now from World Parade Books.
I have some glue
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.
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.
Except for black rubber skid marks on the floors, the terminal was all white and sanitized; its huge walls reminded one young woman of very square, carefully-brushed teeth. It had high ceilings with long fluorescent bulbs and sunlight shining through the glass panels looming at the front of the building. On the second floor, several security personnel manned two arches and x-ray machines. Twenty people waited their turn to go through security. The young woman at the front of the line, Brier, walked through the archway. She set the alarm off.
“Please empty everything from your pockets, miss.”
“Yes, I did. Oh wait, maybe it’s my earrings,” Brier unhitched the studs from her ears and walked back through the plastic doorway.
It buzzed again.
“Step over here, please, Miss.”
“I’m so sorry,” Brier said, as she jammed her feet into her ballet flats, hurriedly smushing the backs down. She was meeting her boyfriend in Chicago while she worked on a movie set; then they’d both fly back to their respective universities.
Grabbing a container with the contents of her pockets, she dumped it in her purse. Coins and lip balm fell in between business cards, a skull wallet, pens, and Altoids. She’d had to throw out her pepper spray. A security guard asked her to spread her arms and legs like an X. Brier set the purse by a wall and held up her arms, flushing as he outlined her rigid body with a black metal wand. Though she considered herself to be of average height and weight, she wore button-up, size 3 jeans paired with her favorite size-small band t-shirt. Her hair looked like curled chocolate shavings.
Brier watched the guard screening her, narrowing her eyes on his very even teeth. She winced slightly when the wand beeped and flashed a red light twice. The guard went back over the warning areas, and again the wand beeped.
“Are you wearing an under-wire bra?” he asked, studying her chest.
She raised her chin, “Yes.”
He said that he thought her pants buttons and under-wire were what was showing up, but they’d have to check. Just a moment. Brier reached for her purse and dug out a necklace. Slipping it over her head, she listened to the muffled click clack as she ran a charm up and down its chain.
The guard flicked his fingers in the air and called over another security guard, a thick woman with a tight blonde ponytail. He introduced her as Valerie, and said that since metals on her person were picked up by both the archway and the wand, she’d need to be physically screened. Brier felt strange; her stomach made itself into a fist.
“Physically… screened?” She asked, beginning to roll the dinosaur charm in between her thumb and index finger.
He explained that it’s a standard procedure, probably nothing, of course, but they had to check — airport policy. “Valerie will take you into a private room and you can keep your clothes on; she’ll use the back of her hand to screen you for weapons or dangerous materials.”
No. The idea was out of the question. “Yeah, sorry,” she told them, rubbing her pinky knuckle. “I’m not doing that.”
Four years ago, Brier had gone to the dentist for x-rays and an estimate. Before she had even opened her mouth, he said that he’d get her braces if she was his child.
A few weeks later, she was again reclining in the big chair with blue plastic upholstery, waiting for the dentist and hygienist to return. They were going to extract one of her teeth before gluing on brackets the brackets.
The dentist walked in and greeted her. He began fiddling with a syringe on the tray near Brier’s head.
“That’s a cool picture,” she pointed to a drawing on the wall. It was a cross-hatch drawing, something she’d learned to do in her ninth-grade art class.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” he said of the drawing. “I love women. They’re all beautiful.”
Brier raised an eyebrow.
The dentist apologized if it hurt as he injected the anesthesia into her cheek. He said the hygienist was with Mrs. Coleman in chair five, and she’d be back in ten minutes to help him extract Brier’s tooth. Then he took off a glove and felt Brier’s jaw, saying that at least her bite was correct. She tried to keep her tongue in place while he poked around, but felt distracted and a little drowsy. Then his un-gloved hand brushed her neck and meandered down to her hip. Brier gasped. His fingers played with the hem of her shirt. She clutched the armrests, trying to push herself up. Instead of an adrenaline rush, she only felt sleepier.
“I know the first time is scary and uncomfortable, but you won’t feel anything once the anesthetic sets in. Don’t worry. You’ll be asleep in a second, or almost asleep. Now open up wide.”
Brier had to fight. She had to stop him. She tried to scream and bite his fingers, but he pushed his large hand into the back of her mouth, gagging her and holding her head firmly against the headrest. The tips of his fingers gently edged under her top. Brier’s eyes fluttered. She flung her legs up at his head and pawed at his hands. She panicked as the clear lines of the cabinets and blinds melted into each other. She aimed a wild punch at his face, but her hand only fell back in pain.
Please, don’t. Please, stop. Her body relaxed against her will. Expecting the mercy of unconsciousness, her eyes drooped shut. She tried to calm her chaotic mind, tried to enable the anesthetic. If she was asleep, she wouldn’t feel him and her mind would be spared part of the memory. A hand ran softly over her hip. Please, I’m not asleep yet. Please wait till I’m asleep. She could feel her clothes getting tugged off.
“Hm,” she heard him. “Besides that bicuspid that needs to go, these aren’t in bad shape.”
She had to stop it, she had to save herself, but she couldn’t move and she realized that she couldn’t even sleep. Still, she had to jump out of the chair, she had to push him away and open the door and run down the stairs and out of the office and across the sidewalk and past JFK Street and Gilmore. She had to move; if only she could move a finger, just one finger.
Something pushed in. A soft heaviness pressed her into the chair, and she knew she wasn’t dreaming. Oh my God, stop! I’m a virgin. I’m a virgin. I’m a virgin. I’m not a virgin.
He was warm like a fever. Crushing pressure on pelvis and stomach and chest and face — he was all over her and she couldn’t breathe.
She didn’t believe it. She had just been studying Algebra at the table an hour ago. She hated him. She had to bite his fucking lips off; she had to scream and cry and rip out his hair and stab him with needles and dental tools and kick him in the head over and over and over and over until the blood splattered and his teeth were gone and he was as still as she was, only dead.
Something tingled. Get him off me! I don’t want this. I don’t want it even… I… it.. why is that… She felt a burning. Her own heat. No, I don’t want to… please stop. This was a part of herself she didn’t know about, a darker part. It shocked her. She hated that she betrayed herself. She was so ashamed that she thought maybe she had deserved this. She wanted to die. She wouldn’t be able to feel him if she died; she wouldn’t hate herself if she died. It would all stop if she died.
Still rubbing her knuckle, she tapped her toes on the airport floor in an attempt to ground herself. I am at the airport. I am here.
“All right,” the guard said. “Then you’ll have to go back to the waiting area. I’m afraid we can’t let you on the plane with unidentified metals on your person.”
Shit. Shitshitshit. If she skipped the plane, she’d miss the call. She had ten lines! Ten! She thought of all the auditions she went to; she would have to do another twenty-eight, if not more, to get a part again.
But she could never get it again. In this movie, she was set to play one of Laura Dern’s students. Laura Dern had been her all-time favorite actress since she saw Jurassic Park when she was eight. This was her dream job. It would springboard her into the acting world. She twiddled her necklace as she glanced at the other people going through security.
“But didn’t you say it’s just my under-wire and buttons?” She bit the inside of her cheek. She wasn’t a dangerous person; she tried to cajole the guards into letting her through. They insisted that the screening was a strict security policy.
“I…. er..” She said, squirming. “I have… I really can’t do that.” She couldn’t tell them, she still couldn’t tell anyone. It wouldn’t make a difference anyway. She tried to take a deep breath. It was just another one of the coping methods her old psychologist had recommended. She had also pushed Brier to talk about what happened, but if she had, the psychologist would have be able to analyze Brier and know what she was thinking — giving her the upper hand, like the dentist. Nobody will ever have that much power over me.
Six days after the dentist, Brier sat on the living room ottoman, her right hand in an ace bandage. Her parents on the couch, grading biology papers and scrapbooking. Brier stared at them for a long time. She had only told them that she banged her hand into a wall, nothing more.
She shut her eyes and set her jaw forward; she was about to torture their imaginations, slashing up their brains with words like scissors, and chopping out every other thought.
“Mom,” Brier had to tell them.
“Yep,” she continued to flip through a set of last year’s vacation photos. Brier’s father circled a paragraph on an essay’s third page.
“When I was getting my tooth pulled… um…” Brier started, and stopped, and talked her way around it several times. Finally, she managed to say she wasn’t going to the next dentist appointment.
“Uh, yes, you are,” her mother raised her chin and squinted at a group picnic photo.
“There’s a fee for canceling on less than 48 hours notice,” her father informed her, dropping the essay on the stack of stapled pages next to his knee.
“I’m not going back,” Brier said. “Ever. At the dentist’s, on Tuesday…” Her throat hurt, and she stuttered, as if her own body was working against her again, trying to keep her from saying it. “Something happened. He…” She strained, clenching the ottoman. She dug her nails far into its upholstery, squeezing the stuffing out along with the words she was going to have to pronounce. “He…” She stared at the beige carpet and concentrated on shoving out the next two syllables. “Touched me.”
“What?” They both said. Her father clenched someone’s term paper in his fist, deeply creasing it. “Who’s he? What did he do?”
“Nothing,” Brier cried on impulse. Everything.
“What’s ‘nothing’? Who’s ‘he’?”
“The dentist… he…. he,” Brier felt like she should be screaming.
“Touched me,” she repeated, hoping they would understand because she felt unable to expand on it.
“What happened?” Her father yelled, still holding the crinkled pages in his hand.
Brier torqued a wrist out on the upholstery.
Her mother raised her voice. “He didn’t touch you,” she sounded frightened. “Anywhere… private, did he?”
One sentence had been hard enough, and they couldn’t even believe that he touched her anywhere private. She couldn’t explain that he’d stroked, rubbed, and kissed her everywhere private.
Her mother stood up, “Brier, I… I should have sat with you. It wouldn’t have happened… Why didn’t I even check on you?” She walked over and knelt down, hugging Brier close. Brier couldn’t move. She felt the skin of her mother’s arms locked tightly around her, pinning her own limbs down. Their shoulders touched. Their knees bumped. She squirmed against her. He’s on me again, maybe he’s on me again. Stop. Stop! “Let go!” She said, pushing her mother away. She slid off the ottoman and away, hyperventilating. Her head throbbed. She needed the air and space around her. She needed to see everything in the room.
“Baby…,” Her mother’s eyes and mouth were wide open.
Brier backed against an old chair. Its rough cover rubbed against the back of her legs. She didn’t want it to happen again in their minds. She didn’t like that if she told them, they could see it for themselves whenever they wanted. She hated the thought of them imagining her rape behind her back, without her permission. They would make it their business, they’d think of her differently. She would forever be the damaged daughter, the one with a past.
“Did he rape you?” Her father yelled, crumpling the essay even more. “Answer me!”
Brier’s hands shook. If she told them, she could never pretend it didn’t happen. And she couldn’t ever see or control exactly how they imagined it.
Now, Brier wanted to say no, of course not. Nothing like that. She pressed her lips together, struggling against her body to keep the lies in. “No,” she rubbed her nose with the wrist of her bandaged hand, glancing at the arrangement of carnations on the wooden side table. But she wouldn’t go back. She wouldn’t ever go back. “Yes.”
They stared at her. “Bri-” her mother said. She covered her mouth with her hand, turning Brier’s name into a horrible sound. A horrible shame. Her mother shut her eyes. Brier’s father pushed his glasses up on his head and went to her mother.
There, Brier cringed; she knew they were picturing her splayed out under someone, limp and naked, or maybe she was writhing and screaming in their minds.
“Oh, sorry,” Brier said, beginning to breathe faster. “Um.. could I just change into something from my bag? Something without metal? Something–“
“Ma’am, I’m sorry,” Valerie interrupted. “You don’t have to comply with the screening, of course, but we cannot let you on the plane if you don’t. Even if you switch clothes.”
Brier remembered a small souvenir shop in the other half of the terminal, by a McDonald’s. She hurriedly suggested that she take the tram over there, buy some other clothes, and come back for the screening.
Valerie looked doubtful.
“AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT 166 — DEPARTURE IN 30 MINUTES,” announced a loudspeaker.
Brier froze. Oh God.
“Ma’am, if that’s your flight, I’m sorry, but there’s no way around it. Do you want to do the physical screening?”
Brier breathed in sharply. No. She tightened her grip on the bags. Think. Be rational. Maybe she should go. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. She could move and see what was going on. She could just leave anytime, right? And she would be clothed. But Valerie would actually touch Brier’s chest and crotch. No.
She really needed to get on that plane. She knew Kale would want her to do it. They had an agreement that someday she would touch people. That someday they could touch.
She wanted to run out of the airport, to blow Kale off. But how could she? He was her best friend. He never called her a freak, like her past boyfriends had. He never hurt her. He understood her, and when he didn’t, he tried to.
A year and a half ago, Brier walked out of the dressing room with the rest of the cast, her duffel on her shoulder. Families and friends kissed and embraced their performers in congratulations. Brier found Kale and halted in front of him. “Hey,” she said, looking at the ground and the space between their sneakers, unsure of how he’d react. She’d had a kissing scene with Darien, the male lead.
“Hey. Good job.”
Darien walked up behind them and slapped Brier on the back. “Hey, great job, Desdie. You really broke that leg.”
“It looked more like she broke your lips,” Kale said.
“Oh, yeah,” Darien winked at him. “Kale, right? Lucky guy.”
“That’s right,” Kale pointed at his chest. “Because-“
“Kale,” Brier interrupted, but he talked over her.
“-when there’s a script nearby, she’ll let you suck her face all night long, but I, I don’t even know wh-“
“Kale, stop,” she thought she was going to cry. She pulled on his hand, turning him away from Darien. “Kale.”
She dragged him over to a wall and tried to explain again that she’s not herself on stage. She’s a villager, she’s the Girl in the Red Dress, she’s Waitress #3, she’s Mrs. Shaw, she’s Mushu, she’s Annie Oakley. And when I kiss him, I’m not Brier-the-girl-who-got-raped. I’m Desdemona-the-wife-of-Othello.
They stood off from the crowd, by the rough, brown brick wall. She tried to explain that on stage, she was always in control. If she wanted to stop kissing, she stopped. No questions asked. Nobody was mad. Nobody was hurt. Nobody thought something was wrong with her. Nobody called her a freak. She could kiss if she wanted to, how she wanted to, for as long as she wanted to. She was in complete control.
He stared straight into her eyes. “You mean, you think I’d make you kiss me if you didn’t want to? You think I’d do that?”
“No,” she looked at chalk marks on the floor. But it’s different because it’s real. The blue-chalk S in “Seniors” twisted around their feet. She couldn’t explain it to him any better than she already had.
He stepped in and leaned down, breathing close to her face. They were standing in the same S-loop. Her heart fluttered about. No, no, no, this is why I only do it on stage. She felt sick, and yet she wanted to prove that she trusted him. Just a little. Just a little touch. She lowered her eyelids, lifted her trembling chin, and touched her lips to his. I’m touching him, he’s not touching me. I can run if I need to.
She started breathing too fast. I need to. She stepped away and began running towards the double doors. I could’ve stopped it on stage. Her head throbbed once for every step she took, but she kept running through the doors, across the concrete, into the parking lot. She skidded up to her car and fiddled with the keys. She opened it, slid onto the seat, and slammed the door. Leaning her forehead against the steering wheel, she wiped her eyes. She’d felt him again, she’d felt the dentist’s flesh on her mouth. She groped for the handle and swung open the door. Leaning over, her she threw up on the asphalt. Vomit and phlegm dripped from her mouth. It wasn’t the dentist it was Kale but still he touched me. He touched me, and I let him. She gasped for air and brushed her hair away before her stomach contracted again.
They discussed this afterwards, and made an agreement that someday they could touch. It made sense; if they ever decided to get married, of course she’d have to be okay with touching him. Still, she dreaded the process.
Kale encouraged anything that would help her recover, like movies with hospital scenes and sets with big, close crowds. Sometimes they even practiced a little. She would let him rest his hand on her shoulder for a little while at a time, but only when she was standing up and staring at him — comparing every one of his features to how it was not like the dentist’s. She hoped she’d eventually be comfortable with it.
She thought they made some progress — they held hands if he asked permission first. She even kind of liked that. They were touching, but she could easily pull away if she needed to. Also, the dentist never bothered with her hands.
Although Kale knew it would be a long time until she was comfortable with him, Brier thought he got impatient sometimes, especially around spring and fall — play season. He went to all of her plays, even though she sometimes tried to convince him out of it. She knew it killed him to watch her make out with the actors, but he kind of tried to convince himself that it might help.
She fiddled with her dinosaur necklace. What was she thinking, she’d be getting touched again. Of course it would be bad. But, what was she thinking? She already knew that waiting for the next plane was not an option, and even the nearest airport was too far away to drive to. What would Kale say when she missed her first small role because she refused to be searched by a security guard? What if he broke up with her? If she’d give up an acting break before she’d be touched, he might think that she’d give him up before being touched. He would think that. He might be right. She shut her eyes. He would be right. I’m not letting that happen.
“Okay,” she said quietly, staring at the creases in the front of Valerie’s light blue pants. The other security guard left. Brier stood up very straight and followed Valerie into the back of the terminal. She took a deep breath in an attempt to stave off the hyperventilation overtaking her. She tried to pretend everything was all right, but soon failed. Drumming her temple, she stared at Valerie’s heels and frantically ran over all the causes for the screening and every way out of it and all the reasons why they wouldn’t work. Metals, under-wire, buttons, change clothes, new clothes, another airport– no time.
She saw a straight row of white doors with metal lever handles. Her head started to hurt. Valerie pulled a gold key from a string around her waist. She stuck her hip up near the handle and unlocked the door.
Brier walked inside the small, grim, grayish room; it had a darker gray carpet that was snagged near the door. Two dull blue plastic chairs sat near each other. They had round, metal legs, and no arm-rests.
Brier lowered herself into the chair, knees clenched together. She set her bags by her feet; it was so brightly lit in there that it looked like an operating room. She shut her eyes and took a few deep breaths. She needed to get to Chicago. She needed to act. She needed to prove to Kale that she could recover. She knew she couldn’t ask him to exist like this forever; she needed his love. She tried to fold her hands in her lap, but her fingers shook against each other.
Valerie looked a little distracted, but she explained again that it was nothing, really. She would only use the back of her hand to feel around Brier’s breasts and crotch. Oh, no. Brier’s vision blurred. Her forehead and stomach ached. She couldn’t do this screening. She couldn’t handle it. She simply would not be touched. She swore that this wouldn’t happen again; that’s how she got better — by consoling herself, promising herself, swearing that that had been the last time. Four years later, and she wasn’t even recovered yet. This would just make it worse. She already hurt horribly inside. She hated it. She hated the shame, duplicity, her own doubts and reservations.
She tapped frenzied, shaking fingers on her jeans, hating the crazy-person looks she got. She hated the Dares she ended up performing to avoid the Truths she was tired of lying about; she hated the crying that she couldn’t stop when an Avon lady brushed her face with powder; she hated the shivers she got when people talked about doctors, or when ambulances passed her on the road. She was tired of the crying.
Valerie knelt down by her side. Brier pressed her toes into the carpet. She hated that she wrestled with her mind every time it was referred to as “rape,” because some little thing in her head kept asking her if she secretly wanted it, if she deserved it, and another little thing said that if you liked it, it wasn’t rape. She hated that she’d had to resist his body as well as her own, but she could not stand how much she’d hated herself for it afterwards.
She’d sworn she’d stand up for herself, and she had, so far. She’d been disappointed, lost things, but she’d gotten through it before and she could do it again. She was not going to get touched. She still tapped her knees. I won’t hate myself for letting this happen… I can’t hate myself that much again. She rubbed her pinky. I can do another twenty-eight auditions. She made fists. But I can’t be touched.
Brier lay on the mat doing situps while Roxanne, a junior, held her feet down.
Quatre-six, quatre-sept, quatre-huit… “Okay, thanks,” Brier leaned forward, over her knees.
“Ten more,” Roxanne urged, nodding her head.
“No, no, I’m done, thanks,” Brier put her hands down to stand up.
“C’mon, you gotta push yourself,” Roxanne still clasped her white and pink athletic shoes.
“No, sorry,” Brier stood up and wiggled her feet out from Roxanne’s grasp. Walking away, she raised her shoulders up and forwards, towards her ears. Her blue T-shirt looked empty, hanging off her concave shoulders. She walked over to the side of the gym and stood near the scale and an exercise bike. She put a dusty hand on the wall above her head, letting her arm dangle between the wall and her shoulder. She took quick, shallow breaths, trying not to expand her ribcage.
“Hey, you okay?” Her gym coach asked.
“Yeah,” Brier said, still concentrating on her breathing. “I’m good.”
“Yeah… I’d have that breathing thing checked out if I were you.”
Coach Gerri wrote out a note and instructed Brier to go to the nurse’s office.
Brier dragged her feet to the 300 building, trying to breath regularly and figure out any way out of it. She’ll ask me to sit on the bed, she’ll listen to my heart, she’ll listen to my breathing, she’ll put her hand on my back, she’ll ask me to take off my shirt… she will not touch me. She will not touch me!
By the time she got to the square, tan building, she only felt a sharp prick in her chest when she breathed in deeply. I can’t get off campus. If I’m reported for not going, then Coach will tell them I was supposed to go because I was breathing funny… and then my parents will force me into going to a doctor… so… I need to be sick, but not with whatever it is I have. By the time she leaned into the glass doors, she also had a plan. If the nurse had to touch her, she would only touch her extremities.
She began limping down the hallway to 318. The hall was painted beige, and lined with blue-framed doors. Each door had a small plastic plaque stuck next to it.
317, 318, Brier pushed in the door; she started to breathe raggedly again, worrying she’d be found out. The nurse greeted her and took the note.
“Are you okay? You’re breathing hard.”
“Oh, yeah, no,” Brier gasped. “My ankle hurts really bad.”
Brier rolled her eyes around the room gray room and took in a deep breath. Valerie reached out her hand and Brier’s eyes jerked back to hers..
“Actually,” Brier stood up, bumping Valerie’s hand with her thigh. “No. Sorry.”
Brier was so relieved. It felt good to say no without anyone challenging her. Just one word — no. Her breathing seemed to steady. She lifted her chin and picked up her bags, turning towards the door. Let them try and touch her. Just let them. There was nothing you could stop her from doing once she made up her mind. There was nothing you could do to her if she didn’t want it done, and there was nothing you could make her do if she didn’t want to do it. She didn’t want to do the screening, and she wasn’t going to.
She put her fingers on the metal door handle. How she hated him. He’d fucked her up. She wouldn’t have had to make this decision if it weren’t for him. It was his fault that she was like this. It was because of what he forced on her, in her. It wasn’t just his dick. He forced this hatred, this life. He controlled her life. She pressed down on the handle.
From her boyfriend to her acting career, to her own thought process… He was the reason she couldn’t be touched. He was the reason she had her hand on the door. If it weren’t for him, she’d already be on the flight. If it weren’t for him, she wouldn’t be like this; she wouldn’t be doing this. No. I am leaving; I made the decision. You can’t touch me. They can’t touch me. But… if it weren’t for him to begin with, she wouldn’t have a problem. It was because he had… Say it. Rape. Raped me. I don’t know.
“Let me escort you out,” Valerie said from behind.
Raped her. It was because he’d raped her that she feared contact, hated contact. She died of contact. Because of him. And now she was missing her future because of what he’d done to her. He was fucking controlling her life.
She slammed her shoulder into the door to open it.
He began controlling it four years ago, the second he gave her the shot. He’d been making her decisions ever since. He’d decided who she’d first have sex with. Then he decided who she could date and what activities she’d do, what movies she could watch, even how well she could breathe at times. And the fucker decided her own feelings for her — he determined what made her happy and what made her upset. She knew the books said that rape was about power, not sex. Her rape gave the him complete power over every moment of her life after he pulled out. And she had thought she was free when he got off her, when her eyelids fluttered and her fingers moved.
She looked out down the blank hallway, at the white walls and the floor, dirty, like plaque.
She felt nauseous. I won’t be raped again. I won’t be assaulted. I won’t be touched. She didn’t trust many people, and not being touched was her one way to stay in control. She squeezed he eyes shut, furious. Or rather, his last way to control her. Because of him, every choice she made erred on the side of avoiding human contact.
Half in and half out of the doorway, she clenched the handle as if she wanted to crack the thing open. But not this choice. I’m not letting him fucking control my life anymore. He made me lose my virginity; he made me lose my self-respect; I’m not losing control.
She yanked the door back shut. Quaking with anger, she slowly eased the handle up. It latched. She wouldn’t cry over him anymore after this. She hated him. Four fucking years of my life belongs to him. Four years of my life, nine months and fifteen days. No more. Not another year. Not another month, not one more day. Today’s the day I break it. Today’s the day it ends.
She turned to Valerie. “Sorry,” she focused on the words. She would do as she wished. She would take the call. She would keep her boyfriend. She would take back the needle. She would take back control. “I — will do it.” Stiffening her jaw, she flung her purse and small duffel across the room. She sat.
“Okay,” Valerie hesitated, waiting for Brier to stand up again, then squatted by the side of the chair and apologized a second time, looking like she probably meant it. Brier tried to ignore her own head. She glared into Valerie’s eyes; they were light blue with white specks splattered throughout. She had short eyelashes with mascara that didn’t help much. Small and angular, they were set far behind the brow bone. Brier ground her fists together and pushed them into her legs. She hated her almost as much as she hated him, almost as much as she hated herself. Valerie rubbed her hands together and grasped her own knees. Her hands were medium-sized and a little wrinkled; they looked rather motherly. She had wide knuckles and short nails. There was a blood clot on the nail of her left index finger. She shook her head slightly, “Are you ready, then?”
“Yes,” Brier hissed, hoping her nails would make her own hands bleed, because some people said it made you feel better. Her eyes narrowed.
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Just do it,” Brier yelled, thinking that Valerie might waver.
But Valerie lifted her right hand, palm facing inwards. She touched Brier’s chest. Brier’s shoulders jerked.
“I’m so sorry, honey,” Valerie said again, patting her down.
Like hell you are. Brier’s nostrils flared. I hate this! I hate him! I hate him for raping me! I don’t want to think about it I don’t want to think about him I don’t want to remember his hands on me, hands that wouldn’t come off, hands that I feel right now, I know where they were, I know where he had them on my hips on my legs on my waist hands on my chest they don’t come off because I can still feel them, her hands feel like his hands, her hands are his hands!
Valerie moved to the other side and gently pressed her hand into the crease between Brier’s ribs and left breast.
Brier tried to calm herself and channel her fury into convincing herself she was at the airport, not the dentist’s. But the chair’s even blue. Shut up.
She took in the hard chair and smashed her feet into the floor, bubbling the carpet. I am in control. I am not with a dentist. I am not with a dentist. I am in control. Her hands are her hands… At least I have clothes on. At least I have clothes on. The tendons in Briers wrists bulged out; her face was pinched and her throat constricted. Valerie pulled her hand back from Brier’s chest, cleared her throat, and stood up. Brier’s mouth twitched. She didn’t move. She didn’t turn her eyes.
“Sweetie, I’m sorry, but your plane leaves in about fifteen minutes…..” Valerie’s square eyes softened at the edges, and she wiped one of them. Brier’s breathing came regular and paced, though loud. It’s not sexual at all, she rationalized. It wouldn’t effect her anymore. It wouldn’t control her life. He would not control her life.
She spread her legs and wrapped her feet backwards around the supports. She slid her fists down and clenched the sides of the chair. She held on as if she was being tipped over the edge of a cliff, and holding on to the seat was the only thing that could save her. She could do this. She could stay in control.
Valerie leaned over and touched Brier’s crotch. Brier stared straight ahead, concentrating on the second joint in the door’s lowest silver hinge. She told herself nothing was wrong; she was in control; she’d chosen this; she’d made the decision. But she could feel the light touch of Valerie’s hand on her pubic bone through the pants. She took a short breath and her eyes glazed over. No, no, I’m not losing control. She hated him. She hated him, and Valerie and security measures and guards and metal detectors, and the gray room. Brier hated the metal and hated her body for drawing attention to itself all the time and then betraying her and shaming her. She tightened her muscles even more, holding this hate in so it wouldn’t seep out as acid through her pores, or burst out of her mouth, splitting her head in half, it was so immense. But she wanted to let it go. She wanted to burn everything up with her hatred. And her jeans — she could still feel Valerie’s hand in between her vagina and anus! She wanted to dash out the door, but that would mean he’d win. She would live her own life without him. She would brave anything to defy him. To stop him. She wanted some paper nearby so she could scribble on it so hard that the pen poked through and ripped across it. She wanted to tear it up, huge pieces of it, and then she’d shred it with her teeth. She wanted a punching bag so she could hit it over and over until the seams opened and then she’d tear out the stuffing and light it and she wanted something with lots of little parts like a computer so she could smash it against the concrete to see the sparks and watch the plastic crack and metal pieces and circuit boards come flying out and she wanted to rob people and hurt them so they would know what it felt like, so they would understand her and her desire to control things because she had been controlled, so they would understand her desire to destroy things because a part of her had been destroyed. He wouldn’t destroy her anymore, he wouldn’t control her anymore.
Valerie gave Brier some space, about to say that she was done. Brier still clenched the chair with her hands and feet. Black hatred dripped down over her contorted face and eyes and poised to jump out of her.
I’ll never let him touch me again! I’ll never let anybody touch me! Don’t you touch me, I don’t belong to you and you can’t control me and what I want to do, I’ll do it, I’ll just do it and you’ll have to deal with it because I’m doing what I want and I’m not going to be touched. you have no right to touch me. don’t touch me, don’t humiliate me, don’t violate me, don’t degrade me, don’t hurt me — but you won’t have to worry about avoiding that because i won’t let you, i won’t let you have a chance, i’ve done it before and i won’t fail myself again i won’t betray myself again and live with the hatred it brings because it wasn’t my fault it wasn’t my fault no matter what i did or how much I hated myself it wasn’t my fault and it won’t be my fault again it’ll never be my fault because it’ll never happen again and i’ll never feel like that because i’ll keep myself safe and i won’t let it happen again because i hate you for making me hate myself i hate you for touching me any of you all of you and i’m telling you i’ll die first you can kill me first before you can touch me…
Brier leaned far over her knees and opened her mouth. She finally screamed the hate. She sensed the commotion but couldn’t feel the hands on her shoulders or hear the men or see through the blackness and still she screamed.
Southern California Apocalypse
In the meadows of the Republic
there are no moles. Their burrows,
corked with plugs of clay, lie empty.
Once, with the blind certainty of saints,
they’d navigate their native element,
an unzoned metropolis of tunnels, every
entrance with a back way out.
Now, tollroads flap like flypaper
under the bare-bulb sun.
The tame hills, furrowed with faults,
shake their broad brown shanks
and shudder to their knees.
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.
Apology for an Only Child
A brother is born for adversity
My lonely boy, I’ll never know
The kind of pain that you must feel
To sleep all night in your own room
No brother in the other bed
To keep you up, plot your demise
Accusing you of his own crimes
Instead, you’ll sleep the sleep of kings
With no one to disturb your dreams
My poor, poor boy—you’ll never know
A crowded back seat on the road
No sister there to kick your feet
To poke your rib, to knock your knee
No twins, no triplets to compete
Nobody barfing on your sleeve
Instead, you’ll have the whole back seat
Room to stretch, to lounge, to grieve
That’s your lot, I’m sad to say
No mid-life guilt, no old regrets
No failed sibling rivalries
No failed siblings to appease
Instead, your folks will worship you
Each competing for your cheek
We’re sad to say that we are done
For us, you’ll be the only one
we are the dust-clouds
the holders of knees
sliding down hills
poppies growing wild
we whoop and holler
stuck in our socks
we are kings of dunes
we wage wars with riverbed moss
in dented steel bowls
crack open sand dollars
whistle and snap
pierce dust devils
on blue bikes
swirl oak leaves
glance up at the red sun
we sprint through plowed fields
and empty vineyards
lazy on the horizon
sees we might end up
swilling wine sitting
where we’re supposed to run
on the hard sand
by the sea
Kathleen Alcalá is the author of five books of fiction and nonfiction, based on her family history in Mexico and the U.S., and teaches creative writing at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts in Washington State. She was born in Compton and grew up in San Bernardino, and has work in the original Inlandia anthology edited by Gayle Wattawa. She was recently a guest at Writers Week at UC Riverside.
Cynthia Anderson is a writer and editor living in Yucca Valley, California. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, and she has received poetry awards from the Santa Barbara Arts Council and the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Her collaborations with photographer Bill Dahl are published in the book Shared Visions, available at http://www.rainbear.com.
While visiting Palm Springs a decade ago, Alaina Bixon became enchanted with the desert landscape and soon afterwards transplanted herself from San Francisco. She completed her MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts at UC-Riverside, Palm Desert, with an emphasis on creative nonfiction. This poem was composed in an Inlandia writing workshop. Ms. Bixon is a freelance writer, teacher and editor, currently working on profiles of local personalities and helping clients with their memoirs.
With their girls grown and independent, Marcyn Clements and her husband, Richard, have more time to pursue their favorite activities: birding, butterfly and dragonfly watching and fly- fishing.
Marcy’s been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Appalachia, Eureka Literary Magazine, Flyway, frogpond, Hollins Critic, Literary Review, Lyric, Sijo West, Snowy Egret, Wind, and was accepted by Yankee Magazine, before they eliminated poetry from their pages. She was very excited to be included in the anthology: Ravishing Disunities, Real Ghazals in English, edited by the late Agha Shahid Ali.
Myra Dutton lives in Idyllwild, CA with her husband. She is the author of Healing Ground: A Visionary Union of Earth and Spirit, published by Celestial Arts in Berkeley, CA.
Maureen Foley is a writer and artist who grew up on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria. She has an MFA in Prose from Naropa University. Her chapbook, Epileptic, won the 2002 Dead Metaphor Press Award. Also, her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Wired, Santa Barbara Magazine, Bombay Gin, Skanky Possum and elsewhere.
Lucia Galloway has published a full-length collection of poems, Venus and Other Losses (Plain View, 2010), and a chapbook, Playing Outside (Finishing Line, 2005). Recent work appears or are forthcoming in Comstock Review, The Dirty Napkin, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Poemeleon, Red River Review, and Untitled Country Review. She is the recipient of several awards and prizes, and she curates a monthly poetry reading series in Claremont, California.
liz gonzález grew up in Rialto. Her family has been in Inlandia for 5 generations, since early 1900. liz’s work has most recently appeared in BorderSenses Literary Art Magazine and Don’t Blame the Ugly Mug Anthology and has been honored with the Arts Council for Long Beach’s 2005 Professional Artist Fellowship, an artistic grant from The Elizabeth George Foundation, and a residency at Hedgebrook: A Retreat for Women Writers. She is also a member of the Macondo Writer’s Workshop. liz teaches comp. at Long Beach City College and creative writing at community workshops and through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. For more info: lizgonzalez.com
Karen Greenbaum-Maya is, among other things, a clinical psychologist in California. In another life, she was a German Lit major, and read poetry for credit. She reviewed restaurants for the Claremont Courier from 1999 to 2005, sometimes in heroic couplets, sometimes imitating Hemingway. She has placed poems and photographs in many publications, most recently Off the Coast, qarrtsiluni, In Posse Review, Statushat Artzine, Tipton Poetry Journal, Inlandia Journal, dotdotdash, Waccamaw, and Sow’s Ear Poetry Review. She was nominated for the 2010 Pushcart Prize. Her first chapbook, Eggs Satori, received Honorable Mention in Pudding House Publications’ 2010 competition, and will be published in 2011.
Hillary Gravendyk is an Assistant Professor of English at Pomona College in Claremont, CA. Her poetry has appeared in journals such as American Letters & Commentary, The Bellingham Review, The Colorado Review, The Eleventh Muse, Fourteen Hills, MARY, 1913: A Journal of Forms, Octopus Magazine, Tarpaulin Sky and other venues. Her chapbook, The Naturalist, was published by Achiote Press in 2008. Her book, Harm, will be out this fall from Omnidawn Press. She lives on the eastern edge of LA county.
Yi Shun Lai is a freelance writer and editor. She grew up in the Inland Valley and now lives near New York City. She is an MFA candidate at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts.
Richard Nester has twice been a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and has published poetry in a number of journals including Ploughshares, Callaloo, and Floyd County Moonshine.
Robbie Nester has lived in Southern California for 31 years, but publishes hither and yon. Besides publishing poems in California publications, such as Caesura, she also frequently publishes in the online journal Qarrtsiluni, writing to order for their thematically-oriented issues. Other recent publications include a poem in Floyd County Moonshine, and two non-fiction pieces in anthologies, Flashlight Memories and Hard to Raise But Easy to Love, the latter of which will be forthcoming in November from DRT Press.
Ruth Nolan, M.A, is Professor of English at College of the Desert, where she teaches California desert Indian literature and creative writing. A native of the Mojave Desert and former BLM wildland firefighter, she is also a writer and lecturer whose poetry and prose article related to the California desert is widely published, and is editor of No Place for a Puritan: the literature of California’s deserts (Heyday, 2009.) As a writer, she collaborated on a film about Joshua Tree, “Escape to Reality: 24 hrs @ 24 fps,” produced by the UC Riverside-California Museum of Photography (2008.) She was a featured speaker at the 2010 Western Wilderness Conference held in Berkeley, and is featured on the 2010-11 California Legacy “Nature Dreaming” radio project, sponsored by Santa Clara University.
Cindy Rinne has lived in the Inland Empire for 29 years. She is an artist and poet. Her poetry includes nature inspiration, parts of overheard conversations, observations on walks, life events and my response to my own artwork and the works of others.
Jacqueline Mantz Rodriguez was born in Great Falls, Montana but immigrated to the Inland Empire as a young child growing up in Ontario, California. She resides in Rancho Mirage and works as a special education teacher for Palm Springs High. She is working on her collection of short stories and poetry while preparing a documentary on her special education students. Jacqueline received her B.A. in literature and creative writing from Cal State San Bernardino and her Masters degree and teaching credentials from National University. Jacqueline’s loves are her new husband Joe and her Boston Terrier Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Ana Maria Spagna grew up in Riverside, California and now lives in Stehekin, Washington. Her books include Potluck: Community on the Edge of Wilderness, Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus: A Daughter’s Civil Rights Journey, winner of the 2009 River Teeth literary nonfiction prize, and Now Go Home: Wilderness, Belonging, and the Crosscut Saw, named a Seattle Times Best Book of 2004.