Issue 08. Fall 2017.


Ishmael Butler...........
Jane Wong...........

The End of Roller Skating, Donna Miscolta...........
Every Moment Shines, When You Cut It Open, Joe Wilkins...........
The Poet’s Wife, Shawn Vestal...........

Non-Fiction and Essays
On Being Driven, Kristen Millares Young...........

A Child’s Book of America, Kathleen Flenniken...........
/subtweet, Jasleena Grewal...........
In a Rapid So, E.A. Greenwell...........

About Moss...........







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An Interview with Ishmael Butler
Interviewed by Dujie Tahat, August 2017  ·  Seattle, WA

Ishmael Butler is a rapper and member of the hip-hop group Shabazz Palaces. After growing up in Seattle and graduating from Garfield High School, Butler moved to Brooklyn in 1989, where he and some friends started the rap group Digable Planets, which quickly gained attention and won a Grammy for the 1993 hit single “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat).” In 2003, Butler returned to Seattle, where he eventually started Shabazz Palaces with his neighbor Tendai Maraire. Initially concealing their identities, performing only under pseudonyms, Butler and Maraire self-released two cryptic, densely-structured EPs, which earned them a Stranger Genius Award. In 2011 Shabazz Palaces released their debut full-length Black Up on Seattle’s Sub Pop, becoming one of the label’s few hip-hop acts. The album got rave reviews and appeared on numerous year-end best of lists—as NPR put it, the album “thrilled and flummoxed critics with elements of Phillip Glass minimalism, Brian Eno ambience, and George Clinton cosmic weirdness.” Butler started working for Sub Pop’s A&R department in 2013, helping to build the label’s hip-hop list and bring greater attention to Seattle’s rap scene. This summer, Shabazz Palaces dropped a pair of wildly ambitious concept albums—Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star and Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines—which tell “the tale of Quazars, a sentient being from somewhere else, an observer sent here to Amurderca to chronicle and explore as a musical emissary.”
I wanted to start with something that may not be directly related to your work itself: what are you reading right now and what’s the most interesting book you’ve read in the last year?

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The most interesting thing I’ve read in the last year is an old leaflet called “Anarchy and Ecstasy: Visions of Halcyon Days,” and I’m re-reading now a book called Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan. I liked “Anarchy and Ecstasy” because it was about wilderness—it conceptualizes what’s wild. It’s really about the disconnect between man and nature and how man used to be a part of nature and now we separated ourselves from it in order to conquer it, to shape it to do the things that we want it to do, to prune it—how we’ve lost our connection with nature because of that.
That seems pretty far, thematically, from the two Quazarz albums. Is there any relationship between “Anarchy and Ecstasy” and that project?
Nah. I don’t think if you make an album with twelve songs, with all kind of different sounds and concepts—I can’t trace it back to one or two things that somehow influenced it or, you know, were the catalyst for it. I mean, your whole life can go into a single word, which your instinct creates. Only one word or one poetic image can be the result of a long list of things. You know what I mean?

I’m not the type of person that can pinpoint influences or talk about, you know, “I remember this and that made me do this.” I’m not able to do that kind of

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thing. I don’t even believe that’s really possible. Some people seem like they can, but I’m not one of them.

I have no interest in explaining or figuring out the history of anything I’ve made. To me it’s all about instinct. If somebody else can point out some influence, that’s fine—say a writer or reviewer, because that’s their job to be an observer, somebody that has some breadth of knowledge to put things together by looking and listening to stuff.

I’m only here to use my instinct to make the things that I’m compelled to make. Beyond that, I have no interest in any sort of cerebral approach to it myself. It can be done by others, but for me, it’s all in there. It’s already a Freudian endeavor, you know what I mean? I don’t know Freud. I don’t know psychoanalytics. I don’t know anything about making a tree of influence that somehow starts at the root and gets to the fruit of the result. I don’t do that.
Can you talk a little more about that instinct and what it is that compels you?
Compulsions are things that you only realize after doing them, because it’s so instinctive. It’s such a predisposition to pursue these things that it’s almost thoughtless, you know.

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I’ve always been attracted to music and melody and rhythm and groove even before I was conscious that these were predilections. I was too young to have any frame of reference or any language for the stuff that I was naturally doing. Once I developed the language for it, I realized I have this instinct, I have this desire for music. Then I started thinking about responsibility and choices in writing and in life and then I realized: I can practice. I can play saxophone. I can learn these programs. I can learn how to play piano and then I can get a job.

I just don’t take an intellectual approach to art. I don’t look down on it. But I personally think that it’s impossible truly to get to the root of inspiration and get to the root of motivation, or even influence. I think so much of the stuff that influences a person is so natural that it’s not something that the person can really point to. It’s a part of something in their chromosomes, not in their thought process.
It’s strange to hear you say that, because I think one of the main characteristics of your work—critically speaking—is its intellectualism. Like, people listen to your work and they think, “This is really smart.” I certainly think so. The writing itself, for instance, is very clever. There are literary devices and extended metaphors and they’re used in sophisticated ways. So I’m curious, how do you take that reading of your work, if your approach is necessarily not intellectual?
I think that’s an intellectual view of what I’m doing. A person can be intellectual, and they can be coming from an intellectual place. I think that’s totally valid.

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But I’m not an intellectual. You know what I’m saying? I’m not trying to flex intellectuality with what I’m doing. I’m really trying to get to an instinctive natural state without filtering it through anything other than my thoughts and my feelings at that time. Now of course I read, but I don’t read to conquer the information that I’m taking in. I read to enjoy and to learn and to be exposed to some new concepts. I listen to music the same way. I’m not going to listen to a song I like then go chase down the credits and figure out who writes what and when it was recorded and what kind of machines they was using. I don’t go through the museum and listen to the audio tour to figure out what the painter was wearing or thinking while he was painting. For me, I don’t believe in that part of art.

I understand it and respect it, but I never was attracted to it long enough for it to have ever caught on to anything personally. You know what I mean?
Totally. With that in mind, I did have a couple questions about the way that you write, and about your approach to your work.

When I first heard that you were doing these Quazarz albums my first thought was of Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon”—in part because we just published a great poem from a young Seattle poet, “Whiteys on Trappist-1”, but also because I’m obsessed right now with outer space, and this idea of arriving in a new place and seeing it with fresh eyes—especially through the eyes of an alien, something distinctly other. What does that free you to do once you’ve accepted that as the premise?

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That was linked, I think, to when Trump was running and there was all this talk of aliens and stopping people at the border—and also the underlying white supremacist rhetoric that he was using: “Hey, look, all these brown people, all these people that look different and talk all these different languages, who you see when we go to the Wal-Mart and on our avenues and streets—moving down the street from us. We’re gonna stop all that. We’re gonna get America back to what it used to be.”

And he didn’t say “back to a White America” literally, but that’s the underlying current of information that was being spread through what he was saying. That’s why the David Dukes of the world and Sean Hannitys and the young white supremacists and the neo-Nazis—they all fell in line because they understood what he was talking about. You put that with the police terrorizing black people by murdering people in the streets, shooting people in the back, choking people over cigarettes. These are terror campaigns that were being waged by a group of people that saw themselves and their power being challenged and diminished, so this is their reaction to it.

So the whole alien thing sort of spun up from that because that’s how myself and a lot of the people I run with, my peers—and even the generation before and the younger kids—we feel like aliens in this place where we’re supposed to feel at home. At the same time, we do feel it’s home as well, so it’s an interesting set of emotions and feelings that you have to navigate through this life with and through this world with. That’s really the point of view that Quazarz was coming from.

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Do you ever think about the absurdity of it? That, like, if an alien came down and saw the way we treated black and brown people and the arbitrary nature of white supremacy, they would rightly see it as absurd.
I mean yeah, but that’s the early realization, you know, the absurdity of it all. We’ve come to live with that as a baseline assumption—it’s normalized. It’s not just brown people and black people, you know. It’s everybody. It’s the rise of the personal device and the notion that social anything takes place with just you and a computer screen or phone screen—that collective lie that we’ve all bought into. The way that makes us treat each other or treat children or handle political issues or handle societal issues—it’s all a race towards an abyss really. We’ve all just been like, “OK, yeah: faster, newer, brighter, quicker—yeah yeah, that’s progress.”

Our notion of progress is getting to the next new thing whether or not it’s being properly developed or tested or if it works or if it’s good for us. That doesn’t matter—only whether it’s newer and bigger and brighter. Then we all agree that we did need it. That’s what the album was talking about: being from a time or mentality that doesn’t subscribe to this notion.

There’s an irony that everything that we perceive to be ‘social’ now is really done by yourself with your smartphone. Social life as determined by social media. In what ways is that limiting the truth you’re talking about?

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But I’m also curious: what is the underlying truth that the smartphone is getting in the way of? Is there one? I don’t know. I don’t think that matters… we as Westerners have come to suspect that we can tie things up in a sentence, or that we can get to the bottom of something, or that we deserve to understand fully the way that something works. Or, if we choose to ignore it, then it doesn’t matter to us. Like an either/or kind of thing: either you can conquer this knowledge or we can ignore it.

This isn’t a critique as much as it is an observation, because I’m participating in it, and I accept it as a new reality—although I do see it as a difference between truth and reality. And the truth of the matter is that I just think we’re not paying the type of attention that it would behoove us to pay. With the presidency where it is now, like, what is the next year going to look like, when we have the notion of alternative facts or “my truth”, and we have leaders without any ballast at all, without any tie to truthfulness?

Are we even thinking about that? Of course some of us are, but it would take a majority of people to be thinking about it in order for it to have some weight. We’re just giving phones with the internet to kids—man you know what I’m saying? That at nineteen or seven years old—we think it’s cute when a three year old knows how to open an iPhone. We think that it’s cool.

So that’s what Quazarz was really all about—thinking about that. And I guess it’s a device to question my approach, you know… coming from a new perspective, a slightly different angle, without carrying the pain from before—a new person. It opened up my mind to at least some slight variations on my observation, in order to get to some new poetic image in the writing.

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For sure. That’s something I love about your work—the point of view, and how it plays with point of view. I think the process of writing always involves finding new perspectives, new ways to see and approach a subject. Which also makes me think about your path from Seattle to Brooklyn, then back to Seattle. Beyond the biographical details, how did you arrive at writing in Seattle? How did growing up here in particular influence the way you write—either your style or your approach?
Man, you know, there are so many tentacles that I don’t really know. One thing I could probably point to is just, music always being a part of life growing up. I understood and I was attracted to lyrics and rhyming and singing—and then the colorful cadences of my uncles and my mom and my dad and his friends. Like I said, I was predisposed to be attracted to sound and rhythm.

The people that were around me provided that, whether they knew it or not. Just the rhythm of their life and the swing and the melody that they lived their life by really spoke to me and probably set me on my way to where I eventually got to.

The Northwest is interesting because most of the people I grew up with in the Central District were second generation or third generation removed from down south. The people that came from down south were very courageous, curious explorers who heard about this place up in the northwest. You were coming from

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Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas like, “Shit, I’ll go up there and check it out—sight unseen, really.”

Those are the people whose blood, whose predisposition flowed in us. And all of my peers and all my friends, once we left high school, we went here and set up shop there and moved places brought stuff back. So we were all very world oriented, and we wanted to explore and find out and participate in what was going on around the world. That was the environment that I grew up in, and we all took it for granted.
The rapper and the role of the emcee has changed so much over time, and you’ve been there for a lot of it. From your time at the start of Digable Planets to where you’re at now with Shabazz Palaces, obviously hip-hop itself has changed and the role emcee has changed with it. What do you call yourself? A writer, a performer, a rapper, a musician—what feels spiritually right to you?
All those things. I’m comfortable with being identified with all of them.

I don’t personally think of myself as a writer because I don’t really write to publish. But yeah, I’m a rapper—you know, that’s what I do the most. I will say writing is rap. Rapping is writing. Rapping is poetry. Some of the coldest poems I’ve ever heard were by rappers and emcees.

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So what’s your overall assessment of where rap is at right now?
I think that rap is always going to reflect where we’re at as a country first. Because with the rise of materialism and the rise of the smartphone and the device—and just the notion of artificial intelligence and the ability to access information fast without having to do the legwork, what’s going to be the result with rap? It’s going to get simplified, you know. It’s going to be more direct. It’s going to have less ornateness to it. It’s going to be more bare bones. And also, the commerciality of it is going to require that there’s less variation because it’s now a solid marketplace, and the marketplace doesn’t want change. It doesn’t want variation. When you go and get Tide, you want to open the box get that mountain fresh scent even though it’s completely manufactured, you know what I’m saying?

That’s what rap is dealing with. But inside of that, the succinctness of Migos—how they are basically able to freestyle these songs and have a set of poetic images that they can go to and vary and tinker and tweak just a little bit, and come out with these really ill anthems that speak to the culture and what’s going on in fashion and in people’s desires—it’s very poetic. It’s very strong. It’s very muscular. And the notion that these guys aren’t rapping or they’re not keeping lyricism alive—well, why would they?

It’s another day, another time, and it’s not up to the artist to always be able to extract the poetry from stuff. A lot of times you have to be a talented listener; you

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got to know what you’re hearing and be open to it in order to get the value out of it as well. It’s a two-way street. So I’m with it. I like the new shit.

And that’s the thing with the Internet, the cheapness of equipment. There’s just hella motherfuckers that can do it without any filter. You don’t have to make your bones. You don’t have to go through any tests. You can just do a song on your computer and put it online. Of course there’s going to be hella bullshit, but that’s okay. That’s the way it is now. I just look ahead and I look at expanding the now and try not to judge. When you judge, you often can miss the essentials of the whole thing.
So you’re saying the poetry isn’t just in the writing itself, but also in the act of doing the thing—not just the writing itself? The act and action of Migos itself, what they do is itself a poetic approach.
Yeah, I think so. I think of that cat Gaston Bachelard, a French cat, who later on in his career started getting into the poetic image. The poetics of space. The poetics of furniture. The poetics of wind. The poetics of sleep. The poetic image being the most powerful thing. That instinctive thing—the thing that is inexplicable being expressed, and you can endlessly unpack it.

So the act, the vision, the sight, which is also new—we’re not used to seeing the person who is doing the poetry as much as we are now. The sight of them is

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poetic. The movement is poetic, and then you start to mix all of these things together and now you’re mixing chemicals that can explode and spark and smolder and boil. Who knows what kind of stuff this is indicating. I’m excited about all of that, and I’m excited to be a part of it.
A lot of your work is political. Is it the responsibility of artists to reflect the times? Or to be political? Is there any way to not be political?
It’s the responsibility of every person to be as political as they can.

But politics is like rapping now. Cats know, “If I can sort of wax and play the game, work my way up to city council and maybe become a congressman or senator”—there’s perks in that. It becomes less about public service than about a career path that can get you to the things you desire. Also, politics is entertainment now—like, when’s the last time you had on the TV and it wasn’t about some Trump shit on some controversy, or some he said she said, or a criminal investigation, or collusion with a foreign enemy. It’s just gone crazy.

I don’t know what politics is really, these days, but I think everybody’s political because you got to be aware. You have to put your two cents in. The founding fathers, as flawed as they were, the idea they put forth in the Constitution is still holding up pretty well if you take it at face value and try to apply it to things. But it’s all about participation, and I think everybody has that duty.

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We’ve talked a little bit already about all the changes that you’ve seen as a rapper and I’m curious what you’re seeing in terms of form. Obviously conventional rap songs have three 16-bar verses but you’ve taken a pretty significant departure from that. What about your own personal writing development or musical sensibility changed over time, to move you to what you’re doing now?
Instinct. I understood instinct as the only way to originality, which was my goal. Instinct unfiltered is gonna be original because it’s just you and your innate sensibilities. So over time, with that as my goal, I was able to come up with a set of practices. And once you start following your own path, it’s going to look, feel, and sound different than the next guy, ’cause his instincts are going to be different.

Now, you always find your family in the world. You’re drawn to these people, and you’re not really sure why. They have the same instincts. Maybe not the same but similar. And that’s how you get to your people. You always find them if you’re open to it.

I wanted to be… not ‘different’—I wanted to be original. So I figured out a way to try to do it. I may not have figured out the correct way, but it’s the way that I thought was correct in my pursuit, and I learned some things along the way.

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Can you share a couple specifics of your practice? What are some of the techniques you use?
Well, it’s not just about writing, but we can use writing as a microcosm to break it all down. I’ll tell you one thing: there’s a book called Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande, and if you read that book, you could apply it to anything—it could just as well be called Becoming a Saxophonist or Becoming a Bank Robber. Basically, it says that if you have some passion, you have to cultivate that passion with practice.

Once you cultivate that passion with practice and discipline, when you’re at the point of some creative inspiration, you’re going to rely on all of that practice to get to the essence of your instinct because you have the facility to do it—you can write fast, you can type fast, you can play fast, you can listen to the tumblers in a lock fast. And now when you’re in front of one of those locks, you can do it and you have the style and you have the grace and the ingenuity because it’s practiced. It’s just about that really: practice hella. And in the end, believing in your instinct at the point of departure.
How do you feel about the place of hip hop or rap in the literary tradition?

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Man, I tell you what. There’s a guy that’s from Seattle, Porter Ray—I did an interview with him yesterday, and I realized, if you really listen to his music and go back to his Sound Cloud albums called Black Gold, White Gold, and Rose Gold, he basically is telling the history of the Central District and the surrounding areas of Seattle for his cultural set in those songs. I was like, damn, this guy is a historian and he’s telling stories that no one would ever even think about writing down. And I think as we go further away from books and writing—not to discourage you guys—but I think the further we get away from it, the more specialized, and the more rare, publications that are even thinking about things like you guys are thinking become. But the value actually increases, even though it might not reach as many people. The people who do consume it, they value it more than ever before. So I was just thinking about him as a literary historian and even though it’s not being written down, it’s still being written in the ethos; it’s being written in the hearts and minds of those who listen to it. That’s what I’ve been thinking about the last day.

And I really like that title Moss. I love moss. That neon green shit, when it really gets going, the way it feels, and that it’s so unanimous in the spaces it occupies. That’s a dope-ass name. I like that.

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A Child’s Book of America
Kathleen Flenniken

By the time I could read,
starting with its title—My Prayers

I’d already learned religion
from my favorite illustration inside—

a blond girl gazing from a hilltop
at her American town below.

American because of the white church
with its prominent steeple,

but also the wide streets
and paved sidewalks that led

to church and school. The artist
implied under the gabled roofs

garden rakes put away
and comfortable rooms pungent

with furniture wax and clocks
that chimed, and in the kitchen,

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butter on a dish, and in the closet
a button jar and dozens of bright

spools of thread. I memorized
and itemized and resolved

to be just the same—blond,
with a clock in the hall and a father

who came home to dinner
served in clouds of steam.

I learned America is a religion
and praying feels like envy.

The spirit has moved me again and again.

Kathleen Flenniken is the author of Plume, a meditation on the Hanford Nuclear Site in her hometown of Richland, Washington, and Famous. Her awards include fellowships from Artist Trust and the National Endowment for the Arts, a Pushcart Prize, and a residency at the Bloedel Reserve. She served as Washington State Poet Laureate from 2012 to 2014.

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The End of Roller Skating
Donna Miscolta

Leonard is back in his parents’ home—to die quietly, in private, and with whatever dignity is left to a middle-aged man whose parents sort and count his medications before their own. So when the cards and flowers and potted plants start coming, he watches with curiosity and suspicion. They’re from people he hasn’t seen or thought of in years. How do they know he’s back? How do they know he’s dying? he wonders to his mother, who says apologetically (because for years she has apologized for everything, including the weather), “News travels in Kimball Park.”
And Leonard imagines it in the passenger seats of cars, on the roofs of taxis, the back ends of buses, being towed by trucks—the traveling news that Leonard is dying.
What Leonard wants to know is why they want to see him.
Usually, he declines their visits, and lets the gifts accumulate on the coffee table until it looks like a department store display at Christmas. His father wanders in after his nap, pulling his oxygen tank behind him like a leashed puppy, and views the growing pile as if he, himself, were considering a purchase. He picks one up, a scarf or a picture frame, appreciating its contour and texture the way a green grocer does a squash. “Pretty nice stuff,” he says, looking down his bifocals at it, because he needs to say something after all those years of saying so little about anything.
Leonard answers, “Thanks,” as if his father has paid him a compliment.
Every so often the gifts are whisked away with no trace of their whereabouts through some ingenuity of his mother’s arthritic limbs. It happens without a word to him and he rather enjoys this sudden disappearance of things, so neat and clean—no ruins to mourn.
When his mother first told him that Sheila had called and wanted to visit, Leonard felt a small pang of indigestion, despite his bland, ascetic diet. After

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thirty years, Leonard holds the smallest of grudges. A tiny bitterness in the scheme of things, especially now, given his condition. And yet, there it is—a hard little calcified nodule, a kidney stone of blame.
Leonard and Sheila had been paired when they were sixteen, a time when Leonard was waiting for the pivotal moment of his life when some metaphorical light would shine upon him and illuminate his path to… something. Leonard admitted even then, it was a dramatic way to view things. But drama was in his veins. It was in his roller skates.
But that was 1965—the year My Fair Lady won eight Academy Awards, the year the Beatles met Elvis, the year two roller skaters might have claimed the state dance championship for the Kimball Park Roller Rink. Might have.
“You don’t have to see her, son. You don’t have to see anyone,” his mother told him, even though it was she who first suggested it might be pleasant to have visitors.
Sometimes Leonard wished his mother would not be so accommodating, so bent on making up for the years when, as she put it, she and Ray were terribly unwise. It was his mother who had accompanied him on his skating trips. They stayed in cheap motels and ate their meals from the cooler she packed with cold cuts. Except for that one time, the last time he ever skated, his father never came, unable, he claimed, to get the time off from work. He would wave at them from the driveway. Be aggressive, he would advise as if Leonard were going to play roller hockey, rather than spin and glide to a recorded waltz or a bossa nova. He means be confident, his mother would say. His father was at least glad Leonard was skating with Sheila, and not “twirling around on the rink by himself,” as Leonard had once overheard him say.
“I can tell Sheila no,” his mother said.
Now that his body is falling apart and he is incontestably dying, he doesn’t want to yearn for that time in his life when he was lithe and graceful, when he

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spun so lightly atop the hardwood, grazed it in splits at the end of his routine, took bows at its center.
He never dwelled on the loss of the gold medal, but he never altogether prized the silver one, embedding it and its red sateen ribbon in the background of a multimedia collage that hung for years in an unlit corner of his living room and now lay packed in newspapers in his parents’ garage. How could any of it matter now? Roller skating was dead. Kicked the bucket a long time ago. He had moved away from Kimball Park, away from skating. And as if in retaliation for turning his back on it, roller skating as he had known it had disappeared. The Kimball Park Roller Rink was shuttered for years, then dusted off once and reopened briefly as an indoor soccer arena, but eventually it was razed. A Vietnamese nail salon, a Filipino gift store and a Mex-Insur agency sit in its place.
It was a blip, that episode in his life. But a niggling blip. So he told his mother, “Yes. Tell her no.”
Yet it nags him, more now than ever, as if being back in Kimball Park, home with his parents, who are nothing if not affable (as affable as any housemates he’s had over the years), has produced an irksome flutter in his abdomen. Not unlike the jitters that used to terrorize him before a skating performance, when he fought his fear that somehow the music would end before he completed his moves. So today at breakfast while “Macarena” is playing on the radio above the kitchen sink, he watches a glop of honey settle slowly into the chamomile tea his mother has brewed from fresh petals and says to his parents, “I think I will see Sheila after all.”
His mother looks up from laying out his pills, her finger holding her place in the line of vials that serves as a centerpiece to their mostly liquid breakfast. Leonard nods at her before a question can form amid the wrinkles she still powders each morning. His father makes a soft, approving grunt as he slurps his coffee.

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Always anxious, these days as ever, to do his bidding, his mother goes directly to the phone and calls Sheila. He stirs his tea and listens to his mother greet Sheila, ask about her health, her family, and then, like a secretary, inform her that Leonard would be available to see her after all. “Today?” she says, rather loudly into the receiver as she raises her eyebrows at Leonard.
Leonard, taken aback at the speediness of Sheila’s response, gives an involuntary shrug.
“Yes, today,” his mother says back into the phone.
She returns to the table and resumes counting out his pills. “Well,” she says when she’s done, the lines in her face multiplying even with her weakest smile, “won’t it be nice to see Sheila,” and his father nods for him.
Sheila Newkirk, pert-faced, pony-tailed, and blonde—the girl next door. Not next door to Leonard, of course. And even though the Newkirks lived in Kimball Park, Sheila had attended a private school in Bonita Heights, a semi-rural suburb where people owned horses, swimming pools and ski boats. Sheila had been to Europe twice by the time Leonard met her. She’d bought suede boots with fringes on Carnaby Street, sipped cappuccino on the Left Bank, even rode a camel in Morocco. Yet Sheila roller skated.
After breakfast, Leonard lingers at the table long after his father has trundled his oxygen tank onto the patio, where he sits each morning in his hopeless battle to stare into submission the caterpillars steadily munching at his apple tree. Today, the neighbor’s teenage grandson, Cooper, waves a weed whacker around the edges of the lawn. Leonard recalls with shame his fits of temper at being made to do an hour of yard work back when he felt his skating should have priority, the fights he had with his father, the names they flung at each other. Through the sliding glass door, he watches his father taking his steady purposeful breaths from his tank, while Cooper buzzes the grass nearby, bopping his head and shoulders to the tune that plays in his ear phones.

23  ·    ·  

“Did you know that Cooper’s a skateboarder?” his mother asks as she finishes scraping the last crumbs from the table into her hand, trailing most of them onto the floor before she reaches the garbage can.
Leonard, not knowing what to do with this information, replies that, no, he didn’t know.
The doorbell rings and they both look at the clock. Of course, it’s too early for Sheila. Someone unexpected then. That happens sometimes with the visitors. Calling ahead commits them. Better to just drive by, circle the block, park a few houses down and rehearse their words of condolence in the car. Until they hit the doorbell, the possibility for escape remains. Though more than a few times, his mother or father has been summoned by the two-tone peal, only to find an empty porch and a minute trembling of the wind chimes.
His mother looks at him and Leonard nods. He is willing to have an unscheduled guest, a warm-up for Sheila. Besides, the time will come when he will no longer see visitors, when he will say no to everyone.
His mother goes to the door and comes back with Arnie Galarza bearing a potted geranium.
It’s Arnie’s second visit. The first time ended clumsily and Leonard wonders if Arnie wants a do-over. At the end of a brief but pleasant enough chat about their school days, first at St. Jude and then at the public high school, Arnie had touched Leonard’s chest.
It was an accident, of course. Arnie hadn’t meant to poke his finger into Leonard’s nipple, only to pat his shoulder, but Leonard, responding to an itch on his bottom, had shifted his position. Arnie had mumbled, “Sorry.”
“Apology accepted,” Leonard said.
Decades ago, they were both gangly, pubescent Boy Scouts. Once, after a meeting at which badges for Citizenship in the Home were presented, they went

24  ·    ·  

to Arnie’s house, where he pulled a Playboy centerfold from a shoebox in his bedroom closet. They masturbated there on the Indian rug with the Beach Boys playing on the radio. When they were done and lay spent, Arnie crumpled up the centerfold and aimed it at Leonard’s crotch. “You weren’t even looking at it,” he accused, for which Leonard had no response, except to remove the ball of paper from between his legs so he could zip up his pants, a task that seemed to require his full attention. Finally, he said, as much to himself as to Arnie, “But I was thinking about it.”
“Sit down, Arnie,” Leonard says as his mother pours a cup of coffee and unwraps a package of donuts stored in the cupboard for guests.
Arnie pulls out the chair opposite Leonard. He makes a point of sprawling casually, though he reaches for the coffee and donuts as soon as they are placed in front of him. Before Leonard’s mother slides open the glass door to join his father in his vigil on the patio, she pats Arnie’s hand. “Enjoy your visit, now.”
Leonard had told his mother of Arnie’s embarrassment after his last visit, the dismay at the accidental contact. There had been the old sarcasm in his voice, and for a moment his mother had actually looked pleased to hear it, as if he were his old self again. But then his mother sighed in sympathy with Arnie, “Oh, the blunders we make.”
Leonard watches Arnie stir sugar into his cup. Arnie’s hands are long and slender. There has always been something spidery about him, his legginess, the way his arms never seem to extend all the way straight, but kink at the elbow. Finally, Arnie stops stirring, takes a sip, gulps louder than he surely intends. “So,” he says. “How’re you feeling?”
Leonard figures people do not really want to hear that he feels like shit, that he vomits frequently, pisses blood on occasion. “Not bad,” he says. “You?”
“Not bad. Either.” He bites his donut, and then reconsiders his answer. “Fine. Pretty good.”

25  ·    ·  

Leonard appreciates Arnie’s self-editing.
They had been friends until high school, when they went their separate ways, Leonard to join the cheer squad, turning back flips and hoisting girl cheerleaders in the air, and Arnie to run in the middle of the pack on the cross-country team. Before that though there was Leonard’s skating. It had come about by chance. The summer before high school, they spent Saturday afternoons at the open skate hour at the roller rink, Arnie intent on velocity amid the recreational and social skaters, and Leonard putting himself on display as the music rumbled from wall speakers and thundered in his blood. One afternoon, just as open skate was winding down and the dance teams were waiting their turn in the bleachers, Leonard was approached by a man in black pants and stretchy t-shirt. “You’re a natural,” said the man who Leonard learned was the coach. “I could spot what you got a mile away.” It was the same figurative distance that soon separated Leonard and Arnie.
“I was in the neighborhood,” Arnie says, finishing off his donut.
“Nice of you to drop by,” Leonard says, eying the geranium, the kind sold in supermarket parking lots.
Arnie rotates the plant to show its lanky flower to best advantage. “I bought some for my patio and thought one might look nice in yours.”
They both look though the sliding glass door where Leonard’s parents sit side-by-side in patio chairs. They’re in profile, and Leonard watches their mouths move in silent conversation. Even if he were a lip reader, it seems that old people’s syllables, affected as they are by dentures and slack jaws, must be indecipherable or at least much given to misinterpretation.
Leonard looks back at his visitor. He nudges the plate of donuts toward Arnie, who hesitates before pinching a cinnamon one between his long forefinger and thumb.
“You still run, Arnie?”

26  ·    ·  

“Yeah,” he says sheepishly, his mouth full of donut. He swallows. “I don’t usually eat this stuff,” he admits. “Sorry.”
“Well,” Leonard says, “we really should stop pushing that crap on our guests.”
Arnie brushes cinnamon from his chin.
Leonard sees he is preparing to speak, so saves him the trouble. “Well, what’s new?” he asks. After all, it‘s a question that only makes sense for Leonard to pose.
Arnie runs a print shop, so he talks about the things he's printed recently—real estate flyers, political signs, retail inserts. He’s on a roll and Leonard wants to stop him and say, really, none of this is necessary, except that he, himself, isn’t entirely convinced. So he lets Arnie ramble on.
After high school, until Leonard moved away, their paths crossed only once in a while. At a party, at the Lucky Market, at the swap meet, Leonard would offer a drag off his cigarette to Arnie, who would suck in a brief lungful of the nicotine, as if he owed Leonard something and could only pay by accepting the familiarity of a shared Kool.
“Well, thanks for coming, Arnie,” Leonard says finally. If Arnie was still seeking absolution now and Leonard could give it, he would.
Arnie looks relieved, but rises hesitantly from his chair until Leonard holds out his hand. Arnie takes it and they shake, a clean handshake without miss, and say goodbye, and when Arnie leaves and closes the door behind him, Leonard says aloud in the empty kitchen, “Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”
His mother comes in to clear away the donuts and Arnie’s cup and to assess the geranium. “Better to keep that indoors.”
A loud thud in the garage preempts any response from Leonard. A donut slides onto the floor from the plate his mother has nearly let topple from her hand. They look at each other. Leonard feels how vulnerable they all are to an

27  ·    ·  

intruder, how their infirmities make them useless against trespassers and bullies, which have increased in number and boldness over the years in Kimball Park. His eye is drawn to the donut on the kitchen linoleum. Then his mother lets out her shrieky laugh that was once an embarrassment to him, but now seems perfectly pitched in its nervous mirth. “It’s only Cooper. I asked him to straighten out some things in the garage.”
She bends down and picks up the donut. “Aren’t we a pair of sillies,” she says, and then sighs at the waste as she drops the donut in the garbage can.
“Go rest until Sheila comes,” she says.
Leonard obeys his mother, this seventy-year-old woman who still dyes her hair black and wears earrings that dangle to her shoulders. Leonard’s own hair is gray and as he makes his way out of the kitchen, he toddles on his cane.
He knows though that if he goes to sleep, his mother will not wake him when Sheila comes. “Visitors can wait,” she says, despite her view of them as therapeutic. Sometimes they did wait until he awoke. Other times, the only sign of them was another potted plant.
He stops in the living room, choosing to rest on the couch instead of in bed. Lying on his back, he listens to the faucet run in the kitchen, the clink of plates and silver in the sink. When his mother finishes the dishes, he hears the patio door slide open and the rattle of his father’s oxygen on wheels. There is the scrape of chairs and he knows his parents are at the table for another cup of coffee, which they will sip a few times and then let go cold, as if they were just a retired couple enjoying their golden years of leisure.
He hears them shake out their blood pressure pills.
“This house is a regular hospital ward,” his father says. But he says it in the jolly tone that matches his looks. Ray Pontz has white hair and ruddy skin and a perpetually smiling face, which Leonard knows is due not to constant cheer, but a hearty belief that it exists somewhere, somehow.

28  ·    ·  

“Oh, Pontz,” chides his mother, who has always called his father by his last name, making an endearment of the graceless sound.
Leonard Pontz. Leonard says his own name softly, thinks how long it has taken him to love it. His last name and big nose from his Polish-American father and his dark hair and olive skin from his Mexican-American mother, had somehow combined to invite anti-Semitic remarks. This proved to be convenient, being mistaken for a Jew. It distracted those who otherwise would have heckled him for the cheerleader stretch pants he wore in front of the whole school. Then there was roller dancing and more stretchy pants. But there was also Sheila Newkirk, her all-American appeal a shield for deflecting the taunts that had so often sideswiped Leonard.

“Do you know,” said Sheila as she skated warm-up drills in his arms to Strauss, “that the Blue Danube changes from green to gray to yellow to brown. Never to blue.”
Leonard had to take her word for it, since he had not ventured beyond Kimball Park except for the skating rinks in Downey, Bakersfield, Fresno and other unremarkable tournament destinations. He was a scholarship dancer, which meant his entry fees were paid courtesy of donations from other families, like Sheila’s, whose signs for Newkirk Realty were planted with regularity throughout town.
Leonard listens to his parents talk of the weather, traffic in the neighborhood, the grocery store specials. His mother keeps the shelves in the garage stocked with canned chili, cases of grape soda, boxed macaroni and cheese, not because anyone in the house eats them, but because she has coupons to redeem. Maybe that’s what Cooper is doing in the garage, taking inventory. As if to confirm this hypothesis, another thud sounds, which he ignores this time. He hears a lesser commotion and turns his head slightly to the far wall.

29  ·    ·  

His parents begin to sneak quietly through the living room to the bedroom where they will tune in to The Price is Right and play along, compete against each other for a dinette set or a pair of water skis. They shush each other as his father’s wheeled oxygen rattles the floor lamp and his mother hisses a warning.
Leonard lifts his head. “It’s okay. I’m awake.”
His parents pause, appear disappointed at the failure of their stealth. They seem to regard the bedroom door longingly. His father clears his throat. “What do you think? Your mother’s going to make applesauce later. Cooper salvaged some of the apples off the tree.”
“Good news,” Leonard replies, preferring the image of his mother’s once strong wrists rolling out dough for an apple pie, rather than her now birdlike hands putting mashed apples through a strainer.
“Do you want to enjoy some TV with us, dear?” his mother asks.
“You two go ahead,” Leonard tells them. It was too odd, the idea of the three of them propped on the king size bed, their rheumy eyes trained on the TV at the foot of it.
He watches them make their way to the bedroom. Soon after his mother closes the door, he hears the TV roar with the latest on the O.J. Simpson trial, aborted abruptly by the sounds of the game show. His parents call out estimates of the value of a stage full of merchandise. But in between, there is the muffle of normal talk, and he strains, but fails to make out the words above the clamor of the TV audience.
He feels guilty about forcing his parents into their bedroom, but he likes having the living room to himself, and much prefers it to the time he spends in his bedroom, the room where he grew up and that seemed then, as it does now, too confining.
His mother’s living room, done in green with orange accents, has always offended his aesthetic tastes, but now he welcomes the worry it wreaks on his

30  ·    ·  

eyes. He knows there is a chance he will fall asleep there and that when Sheila arrives, she will see him stretched out gaunt and motionless. As he settles himself deeper into the couch that is always draped these days with a sheet, he decides it is a risk his visitors take, is almost anxious for his visitors to be confronted with the sight of him. No reason to exempt Sheila.
From his parents’ bedroom, his father shouts, “Twelve hundred.” His mother counters with a higher price. The television rumbles with guesses, and when Leonard nods off to sleep it is to dream of contestants viewing parts of his life laid out like props on a stage and barking out estimates of their value. The contestants invariably outbid him and walk away with the piccolo he played in the junior high band, the close-fit trousers he turned somersaults in as a high school cheerleader, the roller skates he wore, the prize he won and the one he didn’t.
Leonard wakes babbling to find Cooper in the living room with him. Sometimes he takes a cruel pleasure in the awkward meetings with his visitors, whose strenuous eye contact comes from a fear of seeing his wasted body, but Cooper is not a visitor, and Leonard is embarrassed at being caught making sounds of sickness. He sits up too quickly, and reels from the head rush, Cooper a momentary smear on his retinas.
“Hey, man, I’m sorry. I need to use the, you know, men’s room.”
His focus restored, Leonard stares. He’s never really seen the kid up close. Despite Cooper’s polite reference to the toilet, he seems all smugness and insouciance—skateboarder cool. It makes Leonard think of the waiter, though it was really confidence in his case—exuded like a strong aftershave.
“So how you doin'?” There is more curiosity than compassion in his question. Death comes in video games, and illness and old age are light-years away for this moppet, thinks Leonard.
“I’m dying, you know.”
“Yeah. Sucks, man.”

31  ·    ·  

Cooper’s hands are in his pockets so he tosses his head to fling his hair from his face. He wrinkles his forehead, making the ring in his eyebrow glint. “So, like, you in pain?”
“I have drugs.”
Cooper seems relieved at this, as if otherwise it would’ve been up to him to ease Leonard’s condition. He looks around. “You need anything? A drink of water?”
Leonard is suddenly overcome. Embarrassed, he can only shake his head. He points around the corner, his voice a hoarse whisper, “Bathroom’s that way.”
A few minutes later Cooper is in front of him again. He smells of the antiseptic soap from the dispenser on the bathroom wall. “Well, back to work,” he says, walking backward toward the door that leads to the garage. “You folks have some monster piles of shit in that garage of yours.”
“Yeah, we do. A lot of it’s mine.”
“Don’t worry. I’m being real careful with all of it.”
Cooper turns to leave the room and Leonard catches a glimpse of red, a sliver of fabric escaping from his back pocket that bulges with a perfect circle. Leonard’s mouth opens, but neither speech nor yip nor gasp escapes it as he realizes the little shit is stealing his silver roller skating medal, because another image fights for his attention and Leonard gives in to it—the wavy brown strands skirting Cooper’s nape.
The night before the state championships, the one and only time his father came to see him skate, Leonard and his parents had joined Sheila and her parents at the Sizzler across from their rooms at the Howard Johnson motor lodge. The grown-ups ordered steak and salad, and Sheila and Leonard ordered burgers and fries, and over dessert they discussed the competition to come. Their waiter was a wavy-haired, clear-eyed young man, attentive and polite, barely older than Leonard. He deftly balanced plates, refilled water glasses without dribbling on the

32  ·    ·  

table, and made eye contact with each of them when he asked if everything was all right. Could he get them anything else? Leonard found himself admiring this combination of confidence and deference, and suddenly he was blushing as he realized he had been staring at the young waiter. He excused himself to the men’s room and when he came out, the waiter was there, leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette.
“I’m on break,” he announced.
The waiter blew smoke upward, exposing his Adam’s apple. He extended his hand. “Good luck tomorrow.”
Leonard took his hand, was enjoying the collegiality of shaking it when he suddenly felt himself being pulled forward by the waiter’s grip. He had time to register the soft beginnings of a mustache before the waiter’s mouth covered his. Instinctively, he closed his eyes, and though he felt a dizziness that bordered on blacking out, a neon brightness filled his skull, flared through his lungs, lifted the arches of his sneakered feet.
When the waiter pulled his mouth away, he brushed it against Leonard’s ear. “Break a leg.”
The waiter was gone before Leonard could catch his breath, and though the blood was drained from his limbs, he rushed on wilted legs down the corridor just in time to see his father nearly trample the hostess as he left the restaurant. His mother trailed behind, her napkin clutched to her chest in appeal.
The bedroom door opens and his father’s snores leak out. The Price is Right is over. His mother tiptoes out, carrying her knitting. She gently shuts the door, muting the snores.
“What did you win?” Leonard asks.
“A barbecue grill and an RV.”
“And Dad?”
“An Alaskan cruise.”

33  ·    ·  

His mother giggles. “Oh, it’s all in fun.”
She goes to the kitchen and comes back with a can of grape soda and a plate of crackers. “For Sheila,” she says. “It’s almost time.”
Except when his attention is called to it, Leonard avoids time, or least its measurement in hours, which are either too brief or without end. His mother’s daily schedule is a reminder that there is a pulse to their existence.
“Time for a little sunshine.” She’s at the front door, knitting in hand, her large, floppy-brimmed hat on her head. “I’ll send Sheila in when she gets here.”
Leonard watches through the living room window as his mother settles herself into the lawn chair in their treeless front yard. Her back is to him, but he knows by the rhythm of her elbows that she has begun to knit.
Knitting was what she was doing that day when he returned to their Howard Johnson double plus fold-out room, which sat above the kitchen where the smell of onions seeped into its four corners. His father was nowhere to be seen though the fan was running in the bathroom. His mother clacked a few more stitches onto her needles, before everything, seemingly on its own, fell into her lap. She looked at him, apology in her eyes. “I guess we always knew, but knowing for sure—it’s a shock. You know how they say, sucker punched? All this time we were looking, but not seeing. You know?”
Leonard, still reeling from the kiss, said he did.
His father drove home that evening and never saw him skate. The next day, his mother sat alone in the stands and pretended to hide her disappointment with his second-place performance.
A powder blue sedan pulls into the driveway, and Leonard turns away from the window, breathes deeply, and waits for Sheila to come through the door. Moments later when she does, she moves toward him with hardly a pause, as if their meeting was an everyday occurrence. She sits down beside him and slips her

34  ·    ·  

arm through his, completely unsettling him and he can only stare. He has imagined over the years the different ways Sheila might have changed—a failed Weight Watchers client, a tired housewife too fond of Merlot, an amputee from a motorcycle accident. Not that he wishes her ill. It’s just that a person’s life could take any number of possible turns, suffer any number of possible mishaps. But here is Sheila, still Sheila after all these years—older yes, but with her pertness essentially intact, her blondeness suspiciously so. Her once girlish figure is now fittingly mature. Leonard runs his free hand through the wiry gray at his temples, clears his throat to cover up a wheeze.
“You’ve hardly changed,” he tells her, ashamed at the grudging tone of his words.
“We all change,” Sheila says.
Her refusal to accept his observation irritates him. He shifts sideways. “Some more than others.”
“So sorry, Leonard.”
“Not your fault,” he says.
They grow quiet. “Have a soda,” Leonard says, but Sheila ignores him.
“Tell me how you’re doing. Tell me about your life,” she says.
No other visitors have demanded such a thing and he is caught off guard. “You first,” Leonard says. “Tell me about yours.”
Sheila clasps her hands at her knees. She’s wearing white slacks and a white sleeveless blouse and a mild tan that was earned, not bought. Her hair is pulled back, not in the high ponytail of their skating days, but lower, so it fans out at her shoulder blades, a quiet embellishment. The lines in her forehead and at the corners of her eyes make her more interesting than he wants her to be. He’s relieved when she tells him she’s lived an ordinary life.
“I married a dentist. We raised three children. I teach ballroom dancing to middle schoolers.”

35  ·    ·  

He smiles at this, because somehow it touches him, this image of thirteen-year-olds waltzing.
“Now you,” Sheila says.
Leonard clears his throat to dislodge the tremor there.
“I fell in love a few times. I worked as an event organizer. I was good at it so I was always in demand. Always. I had a house with a view of Alcatraz and it was filled with bibelots and antiques and handmade textiles.” The words fall lovingly from him. “I took vacations to the wine country. I went to Bali once and Hong King twice.” He knows he is bragging, so he concedes, “I never made it to Europe.”
“It sounds like a good life.”
“It was,” Leonard says, two small words that as he speaks them make his rib cage seize, and he keeps himself very still, almost holds his breath.
Sheila remains quiet too. Ray’s burly snores reach them from behind the bedroom door, and they listen for a while as if to some song, the name of which escapes them no matter how hard they try to remember.
Finally, the snores cease and Sheila asks, “Any regrets?”
Leonard speaks softly. “Once, when I was young, I was a skater and I almost won a gold medal.”
“Me, too.”
“We should’ve,” he says, feeling the pebble-sized blame ballooning in his gut, ready to burst.

He feels wobbly-limbed, the way he had felt for their final performance when he and Sheila skated to the center of the rink, when he knew he was not the same person he was the day before the waiter or the day before that or the day in Arnie’s room when he really didn’t understand what he had or hadn’t felt as they

36  ·    ·  

beat off to the full-color spread of Miss July. Leonard spun Sheila to a stop, smooth and razor-sharp, and her ponytail slapped his chest where his heart was already racing to some new and unknown place. He could not rein it in. As he struck his ready pose next to Sheila, as they waited for their music cue, his touch at her waist and elbow grew firmer and he leaned his head slightly to her ear. “Stay with me Sheila,” he whispered.
But it was he who wouldn’t stay with her, his muscles charged as they were with the fear and joy of discovery. He could only hope that the unevenness of their performance was perceptible only to them, and it might have been if only, in their penultimate spin, Sheila’s skate had not glanced Leonard’s, jarring them both for the tiniest of moments. When they took their bow, Leonard knew it was all over. Leonard knew it was just beginning.
Leonard stares at Sheila. “I skated differently that day,” he says, belatedly astonished.
“You did,” Sheila confirms, a little righteously.
But Leonard is still marveling at the revelation. “It was my fault about the gold medal,” he says.
Sheila is looking smug. “And?” she prods.
“And,” Leonard says, evenly, because he thinks it might be rude to shout, “it was worth it.” He’s wobbly again, this time from relief.
He falls back into the sofa cushions. Sheila does the same and he presses her hand the way he used to when he guided her around the roller rink in the push and pull of the dance. “Tell me about the middle school dance students. Do they rumba?”
“Yes,” she laughs gently, “they rumba.” And for the next forty minutes, she tells him stories of the early adolescent boys and girls learning to dance, making him smile until he is too fatigued to smile anymore, and he has to ask her to leave.
“Can I come and visit again?” she asks.

37  ·    ·  

“No,” Leonard says, because he knows he is done with visitors. “But thank you.”
Sheila leans over and kisses him lightly on the forehead and he closes his eyes to remember the long lines he used to draw in the air with his body, the space he once filled with his large and lithe movements.
He doesn’t open his eyes until Sheila is out the door. Through the window, he watches her hug his mother in her lawn chair, getting tangled momentarily in his mother’s knitting. Behind him the bedroom door opens and his father shuffles himself and his tank of air next to Leonard. “There goes Sheila,” Leonard tells him.
“Yes,” he says, “I know.”
Together they watch Sheila’s car back out of the driveway. His father draws in some extra gulps of air and for no reason takes Leonard’s hand in his. They watch his mother gather up her knitting and rise from her lawn chair just as Cooper saunters toward her from the garage. She pulls some bills from the pocket of her sweater and Cooper tucks his pay into his back pocket.
His mother turns and sees them through the window and smiles. Leonard waves, and Cooper walks away with the red ribbon and the perfect circle.

Donna Miscolta is the author of the novels Hola and Goodbye and When the de la Cruz Family Danced, and the story collection Natalie Wood’s Fake Puerto Rican Accent. Her work has appeared in Cha: An Asian Literary Review and Connecticut Review, among others. She has been the recipient of numerous grants, residencies, and awards, including the Bread Loaf/Rona Jaffe Scholarship for Fiction. She currently lives in Seattle.

38  ·    ·  

Jasleena Grewal

biting flea
fish at my toes

let them

their godly metronome in

I bench screw webbed

let them live

barnacles in following

I ordained it as so.

my hump back
huge life

silk screened on
Broadway bill

Kanagawa wave;


Jasleena Grewal is the Art & Music editor for Kajal Magazine, where she writes about the intersections of social justice, art, and public health, as well as a monthly horoscope. Her writing has appeared in YES! Magazine, Seattle Globalist, Truthout, TIME, and others. Her poetry was recently featured in the poetry anthology WA 129, edited by Washington State Poet Laureate Tod Marshall. She is a registered nurse and a psychiatric nurse practitioner candidate at Seattle University. Her life goal is to make the healing arts more accessible to marginalized and underserved communities.

39  ·    ·  

An Interview with Jane Wong
Interviewed by Diana Xin, August 2017  ·  Seattle, WA

Jane Wong grew up in New Jersey and now lives in Washington. A former U.S. Fulbright fellow and a Kundiman fellow, she holds an M.F.A. in Poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Washington. She is also the recipient of scholarships and residencies from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Hedgebrook, Squaw Valley, and the Fine Arts Work Center. Her work has appeared, among other places, in Best American Poetry 2015 and The American Poetry Review, as winner of the 2016 Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize. She teaches at Western Washington University.

Describing Overpour, Wong’s debut collection of poetry from Action Books, Publisher’s Weekly wrote: “Amid the distances recorded—the space between two continents, or between such fraught terms as natural and unnatural—Wong adopts the voice of her mother in order to further gauge lineage and her own place. In a book replete with juxtapositions, Wong asks readers how to judge a better self in comparison to a flawed one.”
You grew up in New Jersey, and it’s clear from your work that you have a strong sense of place there—but now, in accepting a professorship at Western Washington University, you’re making a long-term commitment to the Pacific Northwest. I know people are excited you will be staying in the region, but it’s no easy task to set down roots. Are there costs to calling a place home?

40  ·    ·  

I like to think about home as always in motion. James Clifford writes about “roots” vs. “routes,” arguing that we are actually in the world of “routes.” Home isn’t a singular place. Home is carried through all the places that have significance to me. What I find in my work is that Jersey is one of those places. It stays with me. I think the Pacific Northwest is like that for me as well. Hong Kong has significance for me, even though I was only there for a year. You carry these places with you as you move.

I don’t know exactly what being a Seattle poet means. I hope that “local” means global. I’m proud to call the Pacific Northwest one of my homes, as someone who is transnational. I don’t know what Bellingham will bring yet. I know for certain that, after finishing my Ph.D. at UW, that I wanted to be in Pacific Northwest. Home resides in people and there are so many people I care about here.
Do you have any hopes or concerns about the region as you’ve witnessed its changes these past few years?
Cities are bound to change, but ghosts are still here. My family on my mother’s side lives in the Central District and Beacon Hill. I want my family to stay in the neighborhoods they feel most comfortable. Gentrification is real. But my family

41  ·    ·  

knows that if they have to move, they will have to make do. We can use a fancy term like gentrification, but for many people of color, it’s not about the term—it’s about the reality, the day-to-day decisions you have to make to keep your family alive. You carve a new space in a new community, and that’s all you can do.
As children of immigrants, I think we can lose a certain sense of home and heritage. It can feel as if we have less connection and less access to the place we make our home, yet we’re also strangers to our parents’ memory of their home. In Overpour, a series of poems are written in your mother’s voice and titled according to her age—these poems reach back into your mother’s past as you recount her experience of leaving home and making a home.
I approached the topic of migration through my mother because she took a risk. It wasn’t an easy decision to leave what was familiar, but she made a choice to come to the U.S. and join my father who was a stranger. Their marriage was arranged. She had never travelled outside of her rural village. She didn’t have a concept of travel like I do. Movement is a luxury.

Her stories are half re-created, half-real, but it feels real when I write in her persona. I’m trying to understand her story of migration. In the poem “Twenty-Four,” there’s this feeling of uncertainty. She wonders: was it worth the risk? When she waves at her father, my grandfather, there is a sense of deep loneliness. She is not missing the landscape of “home,” but the people.

42  ·    ·  

In a poem that appears later in Overpour, “Forty-Three,” she has a different understanding of migration. When I move to Hong Kong, she waves again, but this time she waves over the phone. It’s a colder means of connecting. She’s a bit more jaded at this point.
It seems, as daughters, we might have a sense of ownership over our mother’s stories, and the stories that came before them, because these are the stories that create our own identity as well. What was it like for you to navigate between your voice and your mother’s voice, between your story and hers?
In poetry, identity and voice is much more fluid than in prose. Sometimes, I can't tell where my mother begins and I end. We have a similar kind of outspokenness, a recognition of our power. The poem, “I Put On My Fur Coat” is in my mother’s voice, but it feels like it could be me as well. We are both aware of how people problematically perceive us: as quiet or reserved. We push against those perceptions. Our strength lies in our ability to take risks. We are so similar in this way.
In what other ways is prose different than poetry? I know you’re also working on creative nonfiction that highlights the experience of working class immigrants.

43  ·    ·  

Has writing prose changed your approach? Have you encountered your subject matter in different ways?
Since prose asks for more clarity, I feel like I have to have permission from my mother. I just finished an essay about unlicensed dentists in NYC’s Chinatown. My mother doesn’t have any real teeth, and I have memories of finding unlicensed dentists with her. Because it’s such a personal and sensitive topic, I had to seek her permission. I talked to her about why I wanted to write the essay: to explore our relationship, to emphasize the need to make do as a low-income immigrant. When you don’t have health insurance, you make do. It became a mother-daughter ritual. My father and my brother were never there. It was just the two of us.

In prose, I feel more responsibility to honor my family’s stories. I’ve been interviewing my family, particularly my mother and brother, and using these moments to uncover truths, whatever that truth might be. We repeat stories over and over to our family members. We get into the habit of telling those stories. But there are other stories that are never told. These are the ones I want to draw out during my interviews.

The essay form also allows for more space to weave in personal and communal connections within immigrant communities. When I wrote about my father’s gambling addiction, I also wanted to research Atlantic City and the way in which casinos target immigrant communities.

44  ·    ·  

The process of writing creative nonfiction feels very different to me. As a poet, I’m not used to outlining. I love that I need to outline and let my language to sprawl. I do write long poems, and a lot of pieces in Overpour feel like a longer, connected poem. I’ve always loved the ability to expand rather than minimize. Prose has been really fantastic. It feels like a new, airy space for me.
Your dissertation The Poetics of Haunting in Asian American Poetry seems to primarily focus on “a matrilineal and literary lineage.” I’m curious about what is at play here in the female experience of trauma. Does the perpetuated silencing of our voices may lead women to carry our ghosts or to hunger in a different way?
I didn’t set out to write about women only in my project. Yet, after I realized my project was all women, I started to think about what we carry as familial storytellers, what it feels like to hold the stories of our families. I was reading Lily Hoang’s A Bestiary, and there’s a moment in that book, where she talks about Asian women holding so much pain—down to the jade bracelet that aches along your wrist.

I feel that women tend to hold the most painful stories. This goes back to my mom, of course. She holds painful memories. My grandfather could never talk

45  ·    ·  

about what happened during the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution. There’s silence around that. Women, at least in my family, are more willing to acknowledge what happened, through storytelling, through sharing their memories. My mother, for instance, recounts when her father was in jail: “I was very little. I didn't know why he was there. I gave him a few baos. The guards would let him come to the door, but they wouldn't let him inside.”

A poetics of haunting is also embodied. There’s a somatic connection to trauma and these silenced narratives. Again, I think women hold pain, and it’s in our bodies. One of the poets in my project, Bhanu Kapil, engages that embodied sense of pain in her performance pieces and books like Humanimal.

46  ·    ·  

Every Moment Shines, When You Cut It Open
Joe Wilkins

Bill brushed at the night’s cobwebs and paused to consider a single oak leaf caught in one of the strands. It trembled and wavered in the early breeze. He brushed that one off, too, and shaking the mess from his hand lifted the old shake-and-pole door and slowly shouldered it open. Henry had built the shed years ago, and by the day now it settled ever deeper into the mountain slope, into a stubborn fragility. Some days, Bill could barely get the goddamn door shoved open. Other times it felt like a strong sneeze might knock the whole thing over. In the oily dark he blinked and reached up into the low rafters, pulled down the wooden ladder. There was a rope that went with it, somewhere, and as his eyes adjusted he spied it coiled under a rusty canning pot. It was getting so he couldn’t quite take the meadow at the pace he used to. The slope was hard on his knees, the grassy lumps and clefts had him teetering like an old man. Well, he was an old man. Old for this country, anyhow. As far as he knew he was only the second white man to live on the meadow. He’d found a few arrowheads, the stones of a couple of their hammers, but for the most part, there was nothing left to suggest that the Indians had once called this canyon home. Sometimes he thought it was too bad, and other times he thought it was for the best. Most of the time he didn’t think on it at all. It was just the way it was.
He started with the tree farthest from the house. Got the ladder balanced and the rope tied around the trunk and set himself to the picking. Hotter than usual, and not a lick of wind. Took him nearly until noon, but he picked the tree bare, his hands curled and aching as claws. Bill came carefully down the ladder, right foot first each time, and when he reached the ground he slung off his slouch hat and wiped at his forehead. He was shaking like a leaf, that squirrelly nerve in his shoulder running away on him. He fumbled untying the rope and didn’t even

47  ·    ·  

try yet to lift the ladder. Goddamn. He turned an empty apple crate over and sat in the shade, leaned up against the trunk, closed his eyes. Maybe even drifted into sleep. He sat up later and wasn’t sure.
He lunched on apples. Three of them, the juice hot and sharp, just the thinnest edge of sweet. Then screwed open his thermos and poured a cup, the coffee still hot. There were piles of bear shit scattered about, and on the way down he’d seen a couple of trees nearly picked clean, even stout branches broken where the black bears had pawed and pulled at them. He couldn’t stay up like he used to, which was the problem. Used to be he could pour a quart of applejack, load the rifle, and sit on the porch steps all night. He’d shoot the first bear of the season and scare the rest, put a bullet or two beneath their feet, over their heads. Yet even back when he was full of piss and vinegar, butchering out a bear was a full day’s job, and, shit, he had cans of bear meat going back ten years in the cellar. Didn’t need any more than that. Not when it was just him. Henry had been skinny, but, Christ, the man could put away some bear meat. Used to eat it with noodles. He missed Henry, at times. Mostly just the knowing that there was another body about. They’d never really said much to one another.
Bill pushed himself up, his hands on his knees. One step out from the shade, and the temperature spiked. The sky was that high, dry, gutless blue. Goddamn. Hauling the empty crates and the ladder, his breath coming in short, hard gasps, he hiked up the meadow to the next tree. The bears had been at this one, half the branches broken and hanging. Not much more than a couple dozen apples up there. It wouldn’t take long, so he didn’t bother with the rope, just leaned the ladder against a limb and started up.
He got his sack settled just so over his shoulder and reached for an apple, a beauty, green and gold and shading to red, nearly as big as his two fists, when the ladder slipped.
It seemed like it took a long time.

48  ·    ·  

After he landed he wasn’t really sure he had fallen at all until he moved his head back and forth a bit, felt the scratch of grass in his hair.
He closed his eyes and moved himself up through the air and onto the ladder and back down again, held himself a moment above the ground, slowed way down and, yes, there it was—a great, loud crack. Like when lightning splits a tree. He hadn’t noticed it the first time, but as he settled into himself again and opened his eyes and blinked, taking in that wide bowl of faded blue—he was sure the crack had been in his back.
He could move his head a bit, his arms. By pushing hard against the heels of his hands, Bill thought he might scoot himself an inch or two up the meadow, further into the shade, and he did—but goddamn. The pain rivered up from his dragging legs and stabbed through him, like a red hot poker jabbing up his spine, his ribs squeezed in a clinker fork. He lay there and panted, his heart whanging. He was all jittery inside. A hive of spiders. Goddamn. His vision thinned. He felt himself drift away.

Bill woke to a cool breeze on his face. Woke to find the sun nearly down, just little squirts of light leaking from behind the firs and pines. The breeze was nice. Though once he wiped at his face he realized the breeze only felt so cool because his skin was so hot. Sunburn. Goddamn.
He looked about, saw his thermos right there, on its side against the tree trunk. He could probably get to that. And there were a few apples that way as well. Which was something. The wind turned and pulled in earnest now, pulled toward the night, toward the great tall sugar pine at the farthest slope of the meadow, which drifted this way and that in the wind. The dancer. That’s what Henry called it. Though he had thought Henry soft in many ways, he liked that right from the start. The dancer.

49  ·    ·  

Bill waited until the last light faded from the ridge and the air had cooled, then he jammed the palms of his hands into the dirt and dry grass and heaved with everything he had. Again and again he plowed his hands into the dirt, pushing and shifting and skidding himself across the grass. He tried to give a look over his shoulder, to his thermos, to judge how far he had to go, but the night swam in his eyes. Stars of pain whirled through the trees, the crackling meadow grass, the starry sky.
Bill pushed his palms against the ground once more and slammed the back of his head into the tree’s knotted trunk. Pitched over.
Everything still, dark.

The throb of his face woke him. Waves of heat rose from his tight, burnt skin, rose and eddied in the cool morning air. Bill licked his lips, tried to swallow. He remembered the thermos and felt about him. Latched onto it, pulled it to his belly. He unscrewed the cap and set it on his chest, then unscrewed the plug and poured a splash of lukewarm coffee into the cap, tightened the plug back up. How his hands shook. And even with the cool, early blue of the sky overhead, sweat beaded across his forehead, ran down his face.
Bill tilted his head up, which wasn’t as painful as he thought it might be, and took a sip, another. Drained the cap. He wanted more, his body wanted more, but he screwed the cap back on and tucked the thermos into the crook of his arm.
He found himself thinking of Henry, which made sense. Considering the situation. He had to remind himself, as he often did, that Henry had asked him to do it. Said he’d gotten so feeble, so stove-up that he couldn’t face the mountain anymore. Said it pained him to look out on this place and not put his feet down firm on the ground. “Go ahead, Bill,” he’d said, “Get your rifle. Shoot me, would you?”

50  ·    ·  

Bill had done it. He stood there a time after, considering. Henry had asked to be buried in a little clearing he liked below the ridge. But once things were as they were, Bill didn’t quite see the utility in all that digging, in making a proper grave no one would ever come see, that would soon enough melt back into the meadow Instead, he slid Henry down the mountain and in a blind creek below the meadow covered him with rocks, which he thought might make it harder on the coyotes and the crows. Though when the creek flooded in the spring, they’d get at him, what was left of him.

“Hey, old man. Wake up.”
A voice. A finger in his ribs. Bill swam his way to consciousness, the light of noon filtering down through the broken limbs of the apple tree. He hadn’t realized he was sleeping.
A young man was squatted down by him. He wore a round, flat-brimmed hat, shocks of yellow hair peaking out from underneath, and an old-fashioned brown suit. Like a preacher or a traveling salesman or something. Bill tried to speak, to explain, but all that came out was a croak, his throat swollen and dry.
“Oh, don’t strain yourself.” The young man got down on his knees and unshouldered what looked like a fishing creel. Then reached over Bill and gently dislodged the thermos, took it up and unscrewed the cap, poured a small cup. “All right. Here we are.”
Bill tilted his head up as much as he could, but the young man made no move toward him. Instead, he sipped the coffee himself.
“Ah, well, you’ve been here a while. Coffee’s gone cold.” The young man pulled a face and pitched what was left of the coffee off into the grass.
That jitteryness in his heart again, the heat in his face. Just what the goddamn hell was going on. “Goddamn,” Bill managed. “I need some help, some help here. And you, and you—.”
“Oh, now, like I said, don’t strain yourself. You haven’t got much time, I imagine, and if we’re to talk we ought to talk on important things. No use trifling over cold coffee.”

51  ·    ·  

Bill couldn’t put his mind around it. “You—why, what do you mean? I don’t know what you mean?”
“Of course you do. Here you are. I mean, you’re a goner. Look at you! But then I come along—right? What luck!—and I’m ready to hear your confession.” The young man sat all the way down, cross-legged, like a child, and put his fists up underneath his chin. “There. Now, go ahead.”
On his back in the grass, broken, confused, dappled by the light falling through the limbs and leaves of an apple tree, Bill felt something in the pit of him yawn open and all the sniveling, yellow-eyed things in there begin to yammer and howl. He didn’t know the last time he talked to somebody about anything more than pruning trees or fetching up a can of bear meat from the cellar. He licked his lips and tried to work his mouth around the words that felt so foreign on his tongue. He told the man about Henry. About not burying Henry where he’d asked.
The young man sucked his teeth, shook his head. “Oh, gosh, that’s pretty bad. But there’s more. Come on, old man, look around. How does someone get out here in the first place? That’s what I’m wanting to hear now. That’s the real story.”
And so Bill told the boy—for he could see now that the stranger couldn’t be more than twenty, his face raw and white and wide-boned—about his wife and family, about how he and his wife got to arguing one day about how he ought to hang the door to the chicken house—this was back in Prosser, Washington, where they’d had a little farm—and he got so angry he just walked out the gate. His daughters, two of the three anyhow, sitting there on the steps, watching him go. He kept walking. He caught trains. Worked the grub line—chopping wood, spading up a garden, whatever might earn him a meal. He stole things, too. Got pretty good at it. Even took a lady’s purse in Portland, over by the train station. She didn’t say a thing but held on for a time, before he wrenched it from her grip and pushed her over, right onto her backside. He ended up on the coast one day, and it was so damn foggy and cold. He turned and walked in the exact opposite direction, up the river canyon. Found himself out here.

52  ·    ·  

The young man stared at Bill, studied him, took the whole of him in, the broken roses on his nose, the slack flesh of his cheeks and chin, the sunburnt wreck that was the rest of him. The young man was close to crying, eyes watery, lips trembling.
“Daughters,” he said, wiping his nose on his sleeve. “Oh, my. Two little girls watching their old dad go on down the road. That is bad. Not as bad as I’ve heard, but bad. I don’t envy you, having to think on that.” The young man got up and brushed the dust and dry grass from his trousers. Picked up an apple and stuffed it in this jacket pocket. Lifted his wicker creel and slung it again over his shoulder.
Bill blinked up at him. “Wait now. Aren’t you going to do some kind of—thing? Say some prayers or something?”
“Oh, no. No, no. Where’d you get an idea like that?” The young man lifted and patted his wicker creel. “I keep them here, you see. The stories. I’m a collector. There’s a bundle of sadness and sin and terrible mean things in here. If you look about, you’ll get fooled. It’s all so beautiful. This little meadow and the apple trees and such. But I like to remember. I guess I’m just bent that way. To the remembering.”
The young man tipped his hat, and though Bill called after him for a good long time, called after him and cursed him and screamed all kinds of things, the man kept on down the slope of the meadow, picking his way through the tall yellow grass and finally slipping into the trees, disappearing near where that pine was at it again, shifting this way and that in the wind, dancing.

Bill slept and woke and lay there a long time alone. He conversed for an hour with a black bear come to gnash apples. He called up Henry’s ghost and had it out with him. He transported himself into the skull of one of the circling buzzards and saw all things as they were below—the many creeks and the canyon and the serpentine river, in the distance the metallic winks of cities, the shimmering lengths of roads, the dramas of want and war and ordinary selfishness. He did a lot of living there, laying there all busted up like that, and near the close of day, the light gone to rosehip and gold along the ridge, Bill

53  ·    ·  

thought that the young man was right. It was so goddamned beautiful you could almost forget. And he almost did. He almost went and spent his last breath without thinking on his daughters. But he caught himself and willed himself back to that scrabbly little farm. He came out the door of their clapboard house and saw the one singing and spinning herself around, the dust of the dirtyard lifting about her. The other sat on the porch steps, just below him. She moved her hands through the rising dust motes, moved her hands as though she was swimming through the dust, through the thick, slanted light. Both the girls barefoot, wearing sack dresses. The one with a splash of freckles across her nose and cheeks. The other dark-haired, like him.
But didn’t they have three daughters? Where was the third one? And just as the question rose and rippled through him he saw her, laid out in a little pine box, a bouquet of wild roses in her hands, a small line of strangers shuffling up the nave to gape and cry. He studied the situation a moment and couldn’t make sense of it beyond the fact that he was worried the thorns on those roses would prick her, the stuff they pumped into her leak out. “Those thorns’ll prick her,” he whispered to the woman in the seat next to him. “Goddamn but that would be a mess. We got to do something about those thorns.”
“Oh, Bill,” the woman said, the lace of her voice shredding. “Oh, Bill, what is wrong with you? Whatever is the matter with you?”

Joe Wilkins is the author of the memoir The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing up on the Big Dry, winner of a 2014 GLCA New Writers Award, and three books of poetry: Notes from the Journey Westward, Killing the Murnion Dogs, and When We Were Birds, winner of the Oregon Book Awards Stafford/Hall Prize. A Pushcart Prize winner and National Magazine Award finalist, Wilkins has published essays, poems, and stories in The Southern Review, Harvard Review, and more. Wilkins lives with his wife, son, and daughter in western Oregon, where he directs the creative writing program at Linfield College. His debut novel, And Ever These Bull Mountains, will be published by Little, Brown in 2018.

54  ·    ·  

On Being Driven
Kristen Millares Young

Point is, we’d been drinking. I didn’t know him, but he was the official driver for the small resort where my dad and I were staying. This evening’s activities were a personal kindness on the driver’s part. Hearing my interest in Bahamian culture, he invited me to a political rally held a few miles down the road. I said I would love to. People often offer me nice things for little reason other than my presence.
Just as promised, metal bleachers were set up alongside a parking lot in front of a spare building with buzzing lights and kegs of beer. The man who needed votes shouted into the bullhorn, though no one listened to anything but each other. I got a lot of looks and compliments on my long wavy hair, but I am used to that, whether or not I am the only white person there, as I was that night. They passed around plates of peas and rice and conch fritters, and I took one down like I hadn’t already eaten dinner.
Still, I was pretty drunk when the driver took an extra turn down a long lane from the main road back to the resort. The crushed shells were so much louder under our tires than the asphalt had been. I couldn’t help but become alarmed. I thanked him for showing me around and asked him how I could possibly repay his kindness. When worried, I offer small talk, a survival skill from my childhood in the south, which taught me to be gracious under duress, or else.
He glanced over his big round shoulder. “There is something you could do for me.”
“Great!” I perked up.
“I have never been with a white woman. Not once in my life. And here you are.”
Clearly, my “I am claimed” strategy of namedropping my husband from the first moment of contact had not been effective. I tried again, though, to keep

55  ·    ·  

it light. No dice. He asked me what would happen if he pulled over. I told him I would be unwilling.
“What’s to stop me?”
He was in his fifties, a grandfather, built like he worked with his body. I looked him over from where I sat in the back of the resort van. The bulk of his shoulders dwarfed his seat. Something about this driver-and-driven scenario, an echo of the pre-arranged pickup from the airport, had made me feel safe enough to get in. I thought I was being served.
“Everyone saw me get into this van.” I took up as much room as I could on the bench seat, aware of the empty rows behind me. “It would come out sooner than you think.”
“They won’t say nothing to the police against me.”
The coast was never farther than a mile on this strip of sand. He would probably not dump my body in the water just here, the sea wild on this windward side, as it would bloat and be beached by the waves, perhaps visible to a search craft.
I told him we wouldn’t need the police. That he might have noticed my father was a pilot. There’s a rich military tradition in my family, actually. His father was a marine aviator. Very well known, the best. And my husband, a naval officer, a specialist in surface warfare just like my sister.
The driver raised his eyebrows, scanning the scrub for a pullout, biding his time.
“It’s her husband you’d have to worry about. Ever heard of special ops? They sneak in, kill their targets and get out before anyone knows what happened.” We made eye contact in the rearview mirror, and I held him there until he looked back at the road, silent. “Money is king. He’d find you.”
“Let him come.” The driver leaned over the wheel. “Like to see a white boy try.”

56  ·    ·  

“He’d save you for last. That’s how that would go. He’d hurt the people you care about first. My sister wouldn’t let him rest until it was done.”
He settled back into his seat and bared his teeth. “Why should I believe you?”
“You know one thing about white people, they always take more than they give.”
He chewed his cheek and nodded at the road. “You said something true right there.” He took the next left, and another one, and we soon emerged onto the main road. He checked my face, now and again, in the rearview, and I kept a blasé smile as we passed by the turn he first took.
We acted as though our little loop had not happened. But we both knew he had considered and decided. Our minds were made close by that knowledge. I have rarely been so intimate with someone I have not touched.
I paid him for the ride. I breathed in the tiniest sips of air, like I was being filmed and pretending to be dead. As a girl, I always wanted to be an actress. My dad’s nickname for me was Sarah Bernhardt.

“You know one thing about white people, they always take more than they give.”
My answer to him came easy, though I’ve examined it since.
It would have taken some time to find my body in all that scrub, if not for the circling vultures, so thick on the airstrip I thought we might suck one into the engine when we landed. Which happens, though I don’t think the death of two people in a private plane would occasion much sadness for society. It’s not that kind of island, and we’re not the Kennedys.
Of course, my brother-in-law would do no such thing as I had threatened, though I believed my own bullshit at the time, which lets me know how

57  ·    ·  

politicians live with themselves. I still think of the driver, chewing his cheek and nodding at the road. I can hear his measured reply. “You said something true right there.”
I want to make sure you doubt me, since I dread it is already so. I like to ride that edge, to hint at what I fear you are thinking. That rich bitch was asking for it.

I woke early, sunlit on the hard sofa, a slime trail of drool on the throw pillow, and rolled a joint. The driver hooked me up with weed before we left the rally. There was that. Maybe I’d asked him about it, earlier. It’s my body, yet I have long been compelled to defend what I do with it. Weed is the very best cure for a bad hangover.
I used a broken cigarette sealed with spit, a skill learned on another island, the one where my mom was born, where I once loved a man called un negrón color de cartucho by his jazz mentor, a man who would be called black anywhere north of the keys.
I am white on both sides of my family, and I am Cuban on my mother’s side. In fact, those things are not separate in my body. I am a white Cuban American, though that term feels very 90s. I call myself Latinx in solidarity. When I am feeling festive, I call myself a Cuban cracker, since my father’s family claims the south as a birthright.
Cracker is a style of Floridian architecture—think wraparound porches—and a word derived from a Gaelic term for a lively conversationalist. Lots of Scots settled South Carolina, where my father’s people indentured themselves to King George the Third. My dad still has the certificate, signed in 1771, promising that years of servitude would be repaid with 100 acres in Craven County. A trade, though not with the land’s tribal owners.

58  ·    ·  

Others think crackers are named for the sound of whips opening the backs of black slaves. When Bubba is inscribed on a family tombstone, there’s no avoiding such truths. They are your blood.

My dad slumbered on in the bedroom as I wandered back into my memory of the night before, scrubby palms flickering past, those eyes heavy upon me.
I worried about going to jail on this island, where he would know everyone watching over me inside. Worried even about stepping into the building to make a report. And what would I have said? That we had a dangerous conversation. That he left bruises on my mind.
That I cursed him. That I cursed him, and he believed it. That I cursed his family, threatened to rain down destruction on their black bodies, invoked centuries of white oppression, and he believed me because he lived that truth.
That I would do it again, and again, and again, just as he hoped to do me.

I gave my dad a straight telling. What precision I have is due to him. It is hard to say whether I grew or shrank in his estimation. As a lawyer, he knows how to withhold the appearance of judgment until the time is ripe, a move I can only mimic on the page.
“Is there any reason why we should not report what happened?”
A fair question, worthy of my consideration. The driver had lived here all his life. This would not have been his first go. I’m no stranger to predators, have watched them marshal whatever they need to continue that bitter harvest. The driver was greeted by name by the politician, the one who promised water and jobs that everyone knew weren’t coming.

59  ·    ·  

Perhaps, though. Perhaps the driver was just a guy keeping tabs on a slut who drank like a man. Perhaps I’d have to hear that as I sat up straight so the judge would believe me. Should have known better, even if it had gone the other way, me picking thorns and shells from my back if I were lucky enough to limp to my room and fly to Florida for treatment, knowing the damage would remain, regardless.
What would it mean to get involved in the legal system on a barrier island in the Bahamas? A strip of sand and shell where people vacate their homes for a year after someone dies, as many empty houses as inhabited, fronted by junked cars they could not afford to send elsewhere and so abandoned to their ghosts.

How many ghosts.
Once the day warmed, my dad and I went on our way. We had plans. Down the road there was a cave. It became known when the ceiling collapsed under its own weight to let in light. Plants followed. Then the bats. They winged between us as we walked among stalactites, careful to keep our heads far from their burden, not wanting to disrupt.
We brought flashlights. At first, there was no need. We had to squint, sometimes. The earth smelled wet. Green crept along thick stalagmites pointing at a sky unseen from this deep inside. Above them hung their twins, no branch unmatched by root, the elegance of their shape defined by the separation we all long to erase.
When they met—after years, after decades, after centuries—the ugliness of that contact could not be denied. Their long trunks torqued and glistened, bleaching out beneath our bright beams. We did not speak. Pale drips echoed, finding nothing but themselves everywhere they fell.

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We had a guide. I wondered what he knew. He showed us artifacts of white history, my dad filling in details about how British Loyalists had fled the states for the Bahamas, where they hid their sunburnt children in caves while hurricanes scoured the islands. I imagined the fraught boredom of the hours they spent carving a stalagmite into the shape of a woman’s breasts, her faced tipped up like a prow. We always leave our mark.
What amazes me now is that we didn’t leave. We had a plane. We could go wherever we wanted. But we had chosen this island. Also, we had a non-refundable resort reservation. This is how white people think.

I think I remember my father suggesting we find another place, and me, ever eager to appear unharmed, demurring and suggesting that we eat.
“He said he would take care of you,” Dad repeated. “What really bothers me is he made a promise to me and broke it.” I froze—an uplit deer, ready—my hurt made small by his authority. I didn’t know the words to make it right.
Writing this essay has not rid me of my unease, deepened by knowing my story is an eddy in the tide of white sexual violence against dark bodies. I was not afraid to step into that van because my skin has always saved me.
The driver took us to the airport the next day. The ride was included. I instructed my father not to say anything. There we sat, where I had been. I wanted to vanish into the air, and would.
Dad respected my wishes with tense movements, pursed lips, a few forced words. It’s hard to look angry in a broad brimmed canvas hat, but he managed it. The driver kept his eyes on the road. Gone was the ebullience of our first encounter, the easy banter, the kind offers. In their place rose a formality that functioned enough to carry us along.

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And they echoed—my childhood, and all those centuries—through this van ride thick with silence. Some days I won’t look in the mirror, eyes heavy on my flaws, past deeds flickering like psalms, aflame. I can still hear those shells under our tires.

Kristen Millares Young is a writer and journalist whose work has appeared in the Guardian, the New York Times, and Pie & Whiskey: Writers Under the Influence of Butter & Booze (Sasquatch Books), among others. Hailed by The Stranger as one of the “fresh new faces in Seattle fiction,” she was a 2014 Jack Straw Writing Fellow and teaches classes at Seattle’s Richard Hugo House. Kristen serves as board chair of InvestigateWest, a nonprofit newsroom she co-founded in 2009 to serve the Pacific Northwest.

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In a Rapid So
E.A. Greenwell

much happens—water
Folded over
Folded over water
As it rains on
The folding
Hands of those whom
Came & camp
Out & lit driftwood
Fires against the
Rain & wear jackets
Against the rain
& light on
Makeshift slabs of
Bench stone they stack
Under bigleaf
Maples having begun
To shed
Broad as dinner plates
Leaves turning
Lemons turning
Golds turning
Over in the wind &
Clung to sand like

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Dali’s clocks among
Those who continue
To arrive &
Most of them strangers,
To wait out these
Most open-ended days
For saving what
Now, at this point, we
Must face &
Call only our own
Dignity shimmering
Beneath the surface like
A stained glass
Window—the worn life
Vest, blue &
Red, pinned beneath
A boulder & faintly
Rippling like
Magnified handfuls of
Raw amethyst
For several painstaking
Days behind a
Wall of unbreakable
Water breaking

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Around the boulder of
Granite & flat black
Peridotite, which
Might seem
Like a rather bookish &
Tangential fact
Embedding itself here
In this unfolding
Tragedy if it weren’t
For the utter
Relevance of
Its composition, its
Welled up periods &
Periods ago from
Mantle rock tempered
In frigid ocean
Trenches & pressed
Upwards by
Unbearable plates of
Rock flaking in
To ranges sandblasted
By by-winds &
Unnerving palsies of

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Ice, rendering it—once
Having cleaved
Loose & careened
Down & having
Lodged itself
Here in the base of this
Canyon when, perhaps,
No ear yet
Resistant to the constant
Elastic pounding
Water, water
As diffusive as & as
Relentless as an edge of
Space where stars are
Leavings of
Their own otherworldly
Light behind as
This is written, & this
Is written, & so
As that edge expands
Rapidly they, the stars,
Cannot at such
Unfathomable but
Reckonable trajectories

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Ever redeem
Like young lovers
The dark gulfs that now
Engulf them,
Those stars, not the
Young lovers, children
Of our children’s kids’
Kids, whom, if they sit
Beneath biggerleaf
Maples or smallerleaf
Maples, semblances
Anyway of Acer
Macrophyllum, might sit
One clinching in
Farts while the other
Turns aside
To cough twice, lightly,
Two blue plumes of
Breath that
Fade & become part
Of the invisible
Barrier they
Wait for any & every
Chance to break—strands
Across an eye, grazing

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Certain & accidental-like—
But for now they are
Here, just
Sitting there, underneath
Clear &
Empty sky that begs a
Relative question how
Do they persist in the
Years after the
Astronian period, & if
We’re quiet we
Might hear them, barely
Audible above
The gurgling river, how
They do it, sharing
Legends against a hard
Dark of someone’s
Body pinned
For eleven days in high
Water while
Rescuers pitch a tent
City & smoke ribs &
Sing & wait too, for her
Remains to be
Delivered from

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The rapid, curling like
An indigo
Gown in the throes of
Rhumbas our minds
& their minds
Shape to bear
That crease of ceaseless
Water she slips
Out of one
Night, finally, drifting
Then, when no one
Watches & moonlight
Shines dimly through those
Unfortunate clouds.

E.A. Greenwell is a conservationist, sawyer, writer, and writing teacher. Recipient of Writing in the Wild and Centrum Writers’ Conference fellowships, he was also the 2016-2017 PEN/Magery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Resident. His work has appeared most recently in Boston Review, Willow Springs, and Adirondack Review among others. He lives in Northeast Oregon, where he works with farmers, ranchers, tribes, and private landowners to conserve land in the Wallowa Valley.

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The Poet’s Wife
Shawn Vestal

When the poet’s wife met the poet, in their dating days at the university, his poetry—his own poetry and his interest in the poetry of others and the very concept of poetry—had been her least favorite thing about him. Never would she have anticipated that it would become what it has become, that poetry would grow into the one thing about him that was the most him—the chapbooks, the talk of scansion, the constant murmuring to himself, the insufferable way he intoned and paused and enunciated when he was reading his work in public, which he did two or three times a week, reading out loud at book stores and community colleges and even in people’s homes, readings organized by him and his poet friends and attended by him and his poet friends—no, if you had asked her then, she would have told you that the poet would probably become a lawyer or go into advertising, the kinds of careers that seemed to her the most natural fit for his kinds of talent—cleverness, quickness, meanness—and his interest in poetry seemed like nothing more than any of the other momentary interests they had back then, and nothing about it seemed particularly at the forefront, and the things that she would have guessed mattered to him more than poetry were numerous, she would have guessed that he cared more about beer or music or movies or intramural flag football, which he seemed to love and which she found endearing, because he was strong and fast and committed and never more attractive—never more physically appealing than he was coming off the field on a fall Sunday, wearing his grey sweatshirt and blue sweat pants and flushed and pink and strong and happy. If you had asked her then whether his life’s work would be poetry or intramural flag football, she would have guessed intramural

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flag football, so small a part of his life did poetry seem. The fact that it was poetry that rose up and became him makes her wonder now whether it was him that changed or her, or whether she had simply not known him when they made the decisions that would constrain their lives, such as the number of readings she would be required to attend. It’s not too much to say required, though the poet would never put it that way himself. He would never think to ask her to attend one of his readings, it was simply assumed that she would because poetry had become him so strongly, it was simply an understanding that entered their lives and would not go away, like a smell in the house from something dead in the walls, and she was required to attend his readings because otherwise what kind of wife would she be? Often, listening to him read his poetry, she wished that he would write a poem about her, a poem about them, though she supposed he already had done so, lots of his poems must be about them, in fact, she knew that some of his poems were about them because he had told her so, but she would never have known this if he hadn’t told her, she would not have understood that any of those poems that were about them were actually about them, because she would have sworn they were about quantum physics or river rocks or medical terminology. He loved to use medical terminology—to find the poetry in medical terminology, as he explained in the Q-and-A’s after his readings, when his poet friends asked him questions about his poems—but she wanted him to write a poem about them that she would understand as a poem about them, a poem that was not so metaphorical that she lost track of what was being compared to what, a poem that was not dumb but was not smart either, a poem about the ways that love could go away and remain at the same time, about the ways that love is a trick and a trap, about the ways that you can love a person after loving them once in a different way and losing that first way of love, which you understood at the time not to be a way of love but love itself, so that when you lost the first way of love you thought you had lost all love but you were wrong about that, and the

71  ·    ·  

way of love that you lost was replaced, if you waited long enough, by another kind of love that didn’t even seem like love, it seemed more like courtesy, or exhaustion, or cooperation, but you later came to understand it as love or to call it love, at least—came to understand as you sit at a poetry reading, say, while your husband is reading a poem that you have heard him read one hundred times, a poem that seems to be about his mother and the hood scoop on his first car, and perhaps the hood scoop represented something about his mother, but the poet’s wife had long ago stopped bothering to tease these things out, because whenever she asked him a question about that—about what thing meant what, about what the one thing was supposed to be saying about another—he acted angry with her, with her failure to get to grips with this part of him that was the largest part of him, and she came to understand that her feelings about this didn’t matter to him anymore, the way that his feelings about her feelings about this didn’t matter to her anymore—she wanted him to write a poem about that, about the spent fuel of time, would it be so much for him to write that poem for her, something they could have together, a poem about how love binds you even when you stop wanting it to, a poem that would force her to understand?

Shawn Vestal made his literary debut with Godforsaken Idaho, a story collection that won the 2014 PEN Robert W. Bingham Prize and was shortlisted for the Saroyan Prize. In 2017, he won the Washington State Book Award for his debut novel, Daredevils. A graduate of the Eastern Washington University MFA program, his stories have appeared in Tin House, McSweeney’s, and other journals. He writes a column for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he lives with his wife and son.

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About Moss

Moss is a journal of writing from the Pacific Northwest. Published three times a year online and once annually in print, Moss is dedicated to exploring the intersection of place and creative expression, while exposing the region’s outstanding writers to a broad audience of readers, critics, and publishers. Since its debut issue in the summer of 2014, Moss has received praise for its sharp design, strong editorial hand, and its commitment to supporting new and emerging writers.

Moss was founded by Connor Guy, an associate editor at a publishing house in New York City, and Alex Davis-Lawrence, a filmmaker and creative producer based in Los Angeles. Both were born and raised in Seattle.
Connor Guy
Alex Davis-Lawrence

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Amy Wilson
Contributing Editors
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Ashley Toliver
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