Down in the Dirt

welcome to volume 118 (the July/August 2013 issue) of

Down in the Dirt

down in the dirt
internet issn 1554-9666
(for the print issn 1554-9623)

Janet K., Editor - click on down in the dirt

In This Issue...

Eric Burbridge
Marlon Jackson
Travis Green
Allen M Weber
Janet Doggett
Fritz Hamilton
Kerry Lown Whalen
Tom Sheehan
David Elliott
Liam Spencer
Bob Strother
Steven Wineman
Jonathan Beale
Hannah Haas
E. Branden Har
Stanley M Noah
Kaitlin Allen
Roland Stoecker
Joshua Sidley
Jacquelyne Kibler
Janet Kuypers

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Not This Time

Eric Burbridge

    She crept toward the fluttering wings of the huge horse fly. The web she spun between some fallen tree branches, even after the brief shower, made it impossible not to trap flying insects. She looked down into the multiple lenses of her prey’s eyes. Her fangs dripped venom on the fly’s quivering body and shot into the victim. The venom and digestive juices worked fast.
    Dinner was served! She stretched out her eight legs, relaxed and digested her meal.
    Her small younger cousin occupied the neighboring web. She finished dining on a moth and left when she agreed to do what her more experienced cousin asked.


    She sprang to attention when she felt the gentle, loving thumping of her prince on her web. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the courting serenade that ran through her bulbous shiny black body. “Hello, my princess,” he said.
    “Hello, my prince.”
    The elaborate web sank when he eased on her back. Her size gave him plenty of room to spread his legs and get a good grip. She was warm and accepting.
    “Will you leave some of you in me like before, my prince?”
    “Yes, I will my princess.” He deposited his sperm and ended the copulation. He darted to the end of the web and she gave chase. He flipped and crawled underneath the web and ran for a small hole that led to his web in a rotten log. Even with her size she couldn’t catch him.
    You missed me, again!
    He looked at the neighboring network of females webs. He did a double take. Who was that? Whoever she was; she was beautiful!
    He moved slowly on the pebbles below under her web. He looked up at a perfect red hourglass mark on her flawless stomach. All of her legs were smooth and firm; their color deep and uniform all the way to her claws.
    Lust overwhelmed him, he had to have her.
    He hurried to the web entrance. He slowed and stopped. This courtship needed special attention. He thumped his best serenade on the silky web. She moved to his right and positioned herself on the strongest part of the web. Her eight lovely appendages spread out. She elevated her abdomen and it made a circular motion. He mounted her and now he was empty. Two in one day. Not bad, not bad at all. He eased off her. She stood up and started to turn around.
    He remembered her youth; he moved fast toward the rotten log. She’d be right behind him; but she didn’t move. Good, she was satisfied. He found a new princess. He ran off the web and headed home.


     “My princess, what are you doing here?”
    His first mate stepped out of the shadows. “I came to find you, my prince.” She sprang forward; the claws on her front legs stabbed him in his eyes. They twisted and shredded them in their sockets. He flipped backward; she jumped on him and pinned him to the damp wood. Then her fangs penetrated his stomach and a white chalky fluid oozed out of the wound. He convulsed from the venom and muscle spasms snapped his legs shut. She withdrew her fangs and watched her prince quiver in agony while life left his body.
    She didn’t devour all of him; she saved the rest for later. She walked past her cousin who would soon lay hundreds of eggs and thanked her for aiding in his capture. She slowed down over time and needed help. After all a Black Widow can’t let her mate get away twice. No more spiderlings for her after this batch. She would be in arachnid menopause.

a spider in a web, photographed in Gurnee 20111012 and used for the back cover of the 07-08 2012 issue of Down in the Dirt; copyright © 2011-2013 Janet Kuypers

Toenails & Zombies

Eric Burbridge

    “Get up! Put your hands and legs by the slots, convict.” Dillard Wamchukie shouted those words through the barred opening in my cell.
    “How’s the zombie war going? Those shells whistling over mean they’re getting close,” I said. Surprise; the shackles weren’t tight. “Are you going to feed me to your dead relatives, Wamchukie?” He shoved me on my face.
    “I wish; you sick piece of shit! My orders are too evacuate the building.” They stood me up and threw me against the wall. Blood trickled from my nose and ran along my lips.
    “Who’s your boy? Um... he’s cute, I like blonds.”
    The tall thin rookie lunged at me and Wamchukie blocked him. “We got to go, Smith.”
     They hobbled me down the prison gray colored hallway pass trashed open cells. Shells exploded and shook the building. The lights dimmed for a second, but stayed on.
    “That was much closer. Hey, fat boy, you got any more pictures of my wife’s butt?”
    “She’s my wife now, Nelson. Keep moving!”
    “I was first, she likes hung short guys. You like my leftovers, Wamchukie? Those five girls I killed had butts like hers. Delicious. Did the zombies get her yet or have you heard from her? This place is surrounded, right?” I laughed a hard phony laugh.
    “Shut up!” He yanked the chains. “Shut up, Nelson!”
    I gagged and spit on the wall when he loosened the collar. “You wish, fat boy. Remember when you called yourself torturing me with those pictures of her legs open? Well, I wonder will the horny zombies go for those smooth vanilla thighs or go straight for the gold. Yeah, Wamchukie, they’ll take eating her to new heights. Ha...ha. What do you think?” The bulging veins in his face and neck were reaching critical mass. Good, for months I saved my big toe toenails. They were thick and razor sharp. I tied several of them together with a strand of hair. One plunge into Wamchukie’s jugular and he bleeds to death. The rookie wouldn’t be a problem. I was half everybody’s size so rookies underestimated me. Big mistake. Even in these shackles I could break his neck with ease.
    When we got to the Supermax wing entrance, smeared blood trails covered the floor. A guard’s headless body was wedge in the bars and a bloody axe lay next to it. His pistol was still holstered.
    “Jesus! We got to get out of here!” Wamchukie bent over to get the gun. I shifted the toenail shank in my mouth and spit it in my hand. I knocked the obese guard against the wall and stabbed him in the jugular. Blood pulsated out of the wound with every heartbeat. Smith drew his baton and rushed me. I dropped to my knees, shot upward and crashed both my hands under his chin. He flew back against the bars.
    He was out cold.
    I got his keys, took off the shackles, drug the rookie to the bars and chained him. I heard small weapons fire down the hall. Those sounds were replaced with blood curdling screams.
    I waited for Wamchukie to turn.
    He stirred in his puddle of blood, groaned and slowly got to his feet. His blood shot eyes swam in their sockets.
    I swung the axe at Wamchukie’s neck. His head bounced on the floor by the shackled rookie. I spat on the dead head. “I killed you twice, fat boy!” I slapped the rookie conscious, picked up the head and dropped in his lap. He screamed and started crying. “Don’t cry cutie, you’re going to be my dinner.”
    He struggled in the chains. “Let me go!” I shook my head. “Or we’re both dinner, convict!”
    “They don’t eat each other. Ha...ha.” I picked up the pistol, cocked it and pointed it at my heart and...

Yet i’m found

Marlon Jackson

Twas the night
Now hath become dayligh
t My life could it has

Life Goes On

Marlon Jackson

What goes on is residual
So complex things are technical
So long to most things that’re ordinary
But in general all things are contemporary...
Temptation is a test
The mind is a mess and the first though’s the worst thought
the second thought is the most complex but the wisest and the livest...
Life Goes On...
Each day and every life
Breath intake and exhalation and what I do,
resolves matters forever as,
Life Goes On...


Travis Green

I thought I could bury their bodies into the healing water,
Cleanse the pain that haunts their landscape.

I thought the blood would ease away from their tombs,
forced to diminish in the green-crimson walls,
or fade through the bare splintered floors.

Everything has slowly tumbled from their drooping frames,
humming hymns that were once beating, now
slammed, locked in the gutters.


Travis Green

The crimson sun rests in the horizon
half slain by the ocean’s breath,
far out upon the mountains, like a shadow,
viewless, unseen, darkness spreads its eye
over the grassland.
The day is gone to restless cries as the
earth and sea are bathed in pale and faint melodies,
singing the song that stretches in the twilight sky,
as the waves concave around the shore in somber roars.
Now the trees are lost in contemplation, uncertain,
no voice but heavy harmonies lining the distance
of the ocean’s last words—as the sounds recede
to their soft, distant moaning.

The Estate Sale

Allen M Weber

Bargain hunters and the merely curious are expected soon to arrive,
and pieces of Elna’s past will be carried off, like still-warm of carrion,
in accordance with tenuous necessity—funds for a sun-filled,
dry-air retirement home in Arizona. And let’s face it, Michigan

winters are harsh, and for seven springs, the fields have lain unturned.
Too faded to fill the buoyant saffron dress, fanned across her bed,
or to help beloved daffodils prevail against the overrunning weeds,
how could she hope to keep the fusty air from filling vacant rooms?

And everyone knows that it was the indivisible Fred and Freddie
who ran the farm. Fred was the only man to ever make her feel safe,
and Freddie, who was autistic before anyone knew what autism was,
could build an engine and squeeze complex measures from his accordion

with equal skill. In the space of a year, Freddie followed Fred
to an adjacent family plot. It was surely the right of a merciful god
to relieve Elna of sentimentality for possessions and of the obligation
to stay for a son whose every answer was the whisper, I miss my dad.

Allen M Weber Bio

    Allen lives in Hampton, Virginia with his wife and their three sons.
    The winner of the Virginia Poetry Society’s 2011 Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Prize, his poems have twice appeared in A Prairie Home Companion’s First Person Series, as well as in numerous journals and anthologies—most recently in The Quotable, Snakeskin, Prick of the Spindle, Terrain, Loch Raven Review, and Unlikely Stories.


Janet Doggett

One foot in the grave
The other beside her daughter
The old woman’s whir of a voice
The night before she died carried with it
Pain: relentless splitting throng of forks stabbing.
She was just so tired, she said between little licks.
Her tongue would needle in and out of her mouth.
Her clouded eyes meandered through infantile
Bulging purple veins under paper thin skin
Cross knuckles and then hide in baby powder
soft folds
Against rough hewn hospital sheets.
Even though terrified, she wanted those
sexless pale beasts, guardians of troubled souls,
Christ-like avengers of peace. Only the sound
of wings comforted her. “Just stop talking,” she
moaned, so she could hear. Deep breath in, hold it.
Then float away.

I wake up all a twitter

Fritz Hamilton

    I wake up all a twitter. I try to rise but cannot move. A rat is crawling on my face. He gnaws my right eyeball until its fluid & my blood squirts. My nose itches, but I cannot reach to scratch it.
    I smell my own decadence. I’m rotting. The rat pulls out what’s left of my eyeball & enters my skull. He starts throwing out the furniture that consisted of my brain - first a chair, my bedlamp, my mattress, the bedframe, a waste- basket stuffed with papers & an old Mother Jones magazine. My children when they’re little crawl out of an article on the Sinaloa drug cartel. A drug czar shoots them both in the head, & their brains gush out. The rat eats them. A small airplane flies out of my socket. It lands, & several bags of scag & pot are thrown out. The Cesna takes off & is devoured by a great ball of fire that Buddy Holly sucks in through his mouth to burn out his entrails.
    Jesoo digs out from a cornfield. Jack in the beanstalk comes down to crush the rat in his hands & chomps bloody rows of corn. A mangy dog licks up the blood & dirt. A vulture swoops down to pick the dog up in his claws & fly off for an early breakfast. A coyote leaps up to snare the vulture & dog. He gobbles them down & runs off howling. A four armed & six legged banshee enters to eat the coyote’s droppings. Jesoo forms a manger out of the coyote & lies in it. The coyote’s whimpering puts Jesoo to sleep. Worms crawl up from the ground to burrow into Jesoo’s heart.
    Mellons grow up around Jesoo who has worms dancing all over him. Jesoo’s teeth fall out as he gnaws the mellon. Bugs crawl out of the mellon & into Jesoo through his pores. Jesoo scratches & writhes as the bugs settle in.
    A redtail hawk sits on Jesoo’s face & gouges out Jesoo’s other eye. The hawk devours Jesoo’s nose leaving his face with two nose holes gushing blood & passing gas. The gas catches fire burning off Jesoo’s face, as his Daddy looks down laughing. It rains hydrochloric acid eating away Jesoo’s flesh. Dem bones dem bones are Jesoo’s bones the hawk picks until Jesoo’s face is the face of death, the skull & crossbones & the stench of death death death of a hippo’s terible noxious breath.
    Jesoo’s sockets are empty. Inside the skull is the void, the home of Mergatroid, where the starlets come to suck his nipple & share his ripple, all drunk on death, singing the Star Strangled Dangler with Mergatroid the rangler with his blue jumpsuit smelling of flowers unzipped to the pubies, where the hair is dancing with the worms & fornicating with a crocodile eating a manatee, don’t you see? In the dawn’s early night, with the rockets pinko glare & fire in my hair, burning though the skull to find a brain isn’t there. O say can you see the black imagery. The four horsemen fall off their steed a victim of greed where the apocalypse is freed to destroy it all, winter spring summer fall. Lincoln is tall, Douglas is small. Douglas wins the debate, Abe is halfrate. They close Jesoo’s sockets with tar. They feather his nose for the last supper & melt chocolate over his pate, the infernal chocolate of hate & eat chocolate sundaes for dessert in the middle of the desert where a cactus needle runs up his ass disappearing like the middle class, saith the movie, drinking sassafras & throwing up blood, bud.
    O say can U see by the cemetery that all are dead, Fred, & better off red when they’re feeling white & blue with a mojo not working & not worth jerking as the coffee’s perking & danger’s always lurking in a boiling pot, first rate pot, smoke it up, it’s all U got!
    Abe & Marx are socialists, putting labor before capital, as Engels plays the angles/ his penis dangles/ Rosa Luxemberg plays the angels & rots in the canal, filthy & banal in a capitalist bachanal that wins the day, making the rich richer & the poor like Jesoo out of work, in a circle jerk - happily crappily we all be dead.

Stinky stinkily we’re
dead        DEAD    dead ...

My friend Lisa balls 3 different men a day

Fritz Hamilton

My friend Lisaa balls 3 different men a day
like JFK balled 3 different women/ the
pain drives more suicides than alcoholism/ of

course most sexaholics are also alkies to
relieve the pain of their sex addictions, &
they relieve their misery thru suicide/ old

age has directed my sexual shenanigans to
fantasy which drives me to fantastc
suicide, which I don’t do because I’m already

dead/ my fantasies having killed me &
all will to live/ I am left as the shell of me playing
a game called life/ I smile thru my teeth, but

all my teeth are gone having been knocked out by
sweet Jesoo amused by my game & playing
his own by pretending to care while laughing at

Job on his pile of ashes in my eyes & covered with my sores/
God-the-Devil promotes these games while
generatng the evil that fuels them, &

when the day is done & Lucifer has ignited the moon, He
rapes Lisa in a crater/if U don’t think she
likes it you should hear her scream & see the

blood spurt when she cuts
her throat ...



Kerry Lown Whalen

Not interested. Definitely not my type. At fourteen, handsome turned me on. Give me outgoing guys with olive skin and white teeth.

I didn’t appreciate your potential. Your charm. Saw only light hair, blue eyes. Your blandness.

No one told me you played rugby. Captained the schoolboy team. Represented Australia. Later I read the newspaper headline: SCHOOLBOY STAR, A GIFT TO THE GAME.

You stared across the room. Didn’t speak. Piqued my interest. I smiled. You didn’t. Intrigued, I approached. Your eyes smouldered. I studied your lips. Your face. I shook my head.

You reached for my hand. Walked me home. Held me close. Inclined your head. I felt your lips. Soft. Moist. Gentle. Barely moving. My head whirled. Heart soared. Legs shook. My world tilted.

Who taught you how to kiss? Someone must have shown you.

Half a lifetime later, I think of those kisses. And you.

The Real Bambi (Gloom Cookie # 2)


The little boy loved the dog
He took care of him,
The dog cared back,
They hunted together
The dog saved his Life
The dog got rabies like my friend went HIV
But at 5, you don’t know HIV,
You know a doggie, suffering
You know a boy like the neighbor boy, crying
You know there has to be a God
Because you’re 5, you don’t know about HIV
Or that your drunkass mother took you to
Old Yeller
Telling you it was Bambi
You’re 25, now
        You never insist on condoms
What would be the point?

The Non-Goth Who Married a Goth


Too long, too long
Suffice it to say that
There’s Goths
And then,
There’s Non-Goths
This either ends in screams and a peace bond
D-I-V-O-R-C-Trash ballad,
Or she becomes, like, a robot Christian
Or sticks a gun in her mouth,
There’s Goths and then, hey,
There’s Non-Goths
She fights, is beaten, leaves,
She is “Absorbed”, like in that old Trek,
She can’t stand the hurt and POWEEE!!
One of the three,
The Goth is always the operative exponent,
Normals, or just say “the caring uncaring”
Never change.

Lillian Hellman (Gloom Cookie # 1)


It used to mean something different
Than it means, Now
Something different to be admired
To wow others
To matter,
If I go by others I sit with
The ones who are angriest, at least
There is no meaning, period
“Now” is bullshit illusion
Everything’s a useless “same”
Admiration is for girls with Barbies
To wow is but to believe your own bullshit
To matter is impossible and always was;
Me and those I sit with
We would totally not matter to
Lillian Hellman,
Maybe bullshit enough, is armor
Maybe god enough, is Self
Is numb enough
She just walked down the street and just Was

Just Don’t Argue, Anymore


“Are you that compassionless?”

Uhm                Uhb
Back in ’87?
The first time I heard
by Suzanne Vega
I thought the lyrics were funny
And the tune was so lively
I bounced all over that driver’s seat
Then, I asked somebody about it
And they gave me a sob story
And I thought,
“Oh, goddammitt, here we go!”,
Luka’s a real cool tune, though
You can really dance to it

Terror by Mansonit


It’s a terrible thing to be a wannabe
It’s like being a Goodobee
After JFK died,
It’s like that—no, listen
“Neo” is just an inside job of “being proper”
Same as “in your place with a bright, shining face”
Figure it:
That Which Is Not Gothic
Wants a definition
And when you talk about Marilyn
How he says there’re no roles
And when you talk about that like he’s
Black Gibran
Like, OMG, Epiphany!
You realized there’s nothing to realize!
That’s the bright, shining definition
That’s the proper role that
That Which Is Not Gothic
Agrees to
So to say
They’re that
Turn up the HD

The Heath Bar (Not-a-goth #2)


Your pearlies are milky, right now
But, gray is coming
Lotta other colors, too
Sitting, smoking, after the sex
After mac ‘n tuna
Before having to take out the trash
Mmm, golla
Thiz chocolate izn’t az good az the kind with — —
Pepperminty Schnapps burning up more
Than your sinuses

Remember the time you did community service?
Remember the worn out faces?
Hist whist, kinders
That stinking pile was a Wheaties jock
That rumpled thing was Betty Page
I know you’re dark enough to know what’s comin’
You don’t truly Believe what’s comin’
Remember the gun that so-and-so hides?
Remember it
Believe what’s comin’

Westerly, a Prose Poem

Tom Sheehan

    It is brittle now, the remembering, how we drove you east with your backpack like a totem in the rear seat, so that you could walk westerly across the continent’s spine, across the sum of all the provinces, through places you had been before, and we had been, and the Cree and the Owlcreek bear and wolves envisioned when night screams upwind the way stars lose their valid phantoms.
    Now it seems the ready truth that juxtaposition is just a matter of indifference, because we have all been where we are going, into selves, shadows, odd shining, all those places the mind occupies, or the heart, or a lung at exercise. You had already passed places you would come into when we knew your hailing us down, thumb a pennant, face a roadside flag halting our pell-mell island rush.
    To go westerly, to walk across the world’s arching top, you said you had to go east, to know Atlantic salt, kelp girding rocks at anchor, clams sucking the earth down, to be at ritual with Europe’s ocean itself, that mindless sea of lonely buoy bells arguing their whereabouts in the miseries of fog, singular as canyon coyote.
    We promised you holy water at Tormentine, reaching place of The Maritimes, a fist ready for Two-Boat Irish Islanders, Cavendish’s soft sand, holy trough of journey, wetting place, publican’s house of the first order, drinks hale and dark and well met and Atlantic ripe as if everything the bog’s known the drink has.
    It’s more apparent now, after you moved outbound, or inward on the continent, trailing yourself, dreams, through wild Nations once ringing one another, your journey’s endless. Nine years at it, horizons loose on eternity, trails blind-ending in a destiny of canyons too deep to be heard, and your mail comes scattered like echoes, horseshoes clanging against stakes in twilight campgrounds, not often enough or soon enough or long enough, only soft where your hand touches hide, hair, heart caught out on the trail, wire-snipped, hungry, heavy on the skewers you rack out of young spruce.
    Out of jail, divinity school, bayonet battalion, icehouse but only in winters, asking Atlantic blessing for your march into darkness, light, we freed you into flight. You have passed yourself as we have, heading out to go back, up to go down, away from home just to get home. Are you this way even now, windward, wayward, free as the falcon on the mystery of a thermal, passing through yourself?
    You go where the elk has been, noble Blackfoot of the Canadas, beaver endless in palatial gnawing, all that has gone before your great assault, coincident, harmonic, knowing that matter does not lose out, cannot be destroyed, but lingers for your touching in one form or another, at cave mouth, closet canyon, perhaps now only falling as sound beneath stars you count as friends and confidants. Why is your mail ferocious years apart in arrival? You manage hotels, prepare salads, set great roasts for their timing, publish a book on mushrooms just to fill your pack anew and walk on again, alone, over Canada’s high backbone, to the islands’ ocean, the blue font you might never be blessed in. Nine years at it! Like Troy counting downward to itself: immense, imponderable, but there.
    A year now since your last card, Plains-high, August, a new book started, but no topic said, one hand cast in spruce you cut with the other hand, your dog swallowed by a mountain, one night of loving as a missionary under the Pole Star and canvas by a forgotten road coming from nowhere.
    We wonder, my friend, if you are still walking, if you breathe, if you touch the Pacific will Atlantic ritual be remembered as we remember it: high-salted air rich as sin, wind-driven like the final broom, gulls at havoc, at sea a ship threatening disappearance, above it all a buoy bell begging to be heard, and our eyes on the back of your head.

Third Time’s a Charm

David Elliott

    From the top of the hill, he could see for miles ...
    Despite the people gathered down below - friends, relatives, some who were simply curious - his attention was divided between the night sky, the twinkling lights of the city, and the cold breeze that crept over his naked skin. After a while, the cold had become worse than the pain. It grew inside him, consumed his mind, making the sensations in his pierced hands, his mutilated feet, seem mild by comparison. With pain, there was always the chance of blacking out, the option of screaming, crying, the thought that you might lose your mind; all of which were welcome respites from the agony.
    But the cold ... the cold was relentless. His chest, his face, his genitals, were all targets for the icy pinprick of the wind, exposed as he was on top of the hill, displayed on the cross for all to see. But his back resting against the steel, his buttocks upon the deathly cold of the metal, that was the worst of all. The wooden cross hadn’t been this bad. Wood didn’t grip your flesh when it was cold, threatening to rip the skin from your back with every slight movement, every shiver or convulsion that racked his frame.
    Last time, things had been easier ...
    He let his head fall. At the foot of the cross were his followers, his disciples, scattered around with a variety of facial expressions. A couple of them were in conversation, occasionally glancing up at him. And was that doubt in their eyes? If so, he couldn’t blame them. Others were crying, praying, averting their gaze, as if the spectacle was far too much. Others looked positively bored with his execution; fiddling with their mobile phones, no doubt updating their Facebook statuses, letting everybody know where they were, what they were doing, and with whom. ‘At a crucifixion with Brian Jamieson, Ellery Casper, and Janine Rawlinson. Having a great day out!’ One of them was listening to an iPod, fingering the touch-screen controls, desperately trying to find the right play-list for the situation. Further down the hill, another of his so-called followers was sitting on a rock, a laptop open on their knees, using the time to catch up on their surfing activities.
    What had happened to the human race? He had thought they were shallow, self-obsessed, hypocritical narcissists on his last visit, but that was nothing to what he’d experienced this time.
    And how had the plan gone wrong? Why had they decided to kill him again? After two thousand years of following his philosophy, of living their lives according to his words, how could his church – yes, his church - be so unenlightened? They’d failed to believe him once he’d revealed his identity, not one show of faith amongst them. The miracles had scared rather than inspired them. ‘Magic,’ they’d whispered. ‘He’s one of those David Blaine types.’
    But his disciples had believed. Oh, yes. Even when the church dismissed him, there had been those who believed.
    And look at them now. Who needs miracles when you’ve got modern technology to enchant you?
    They’d followed him here; trotting along like the good sheep they were, escorting him to his death. And now that the spectacle was drawing to a close, some had decided to depart. The disciple with the iPod looked up from his gadget, met the eyes of his master with no apparent emotion, turned around and headed back down the hill; fiddling with his toy and searching for some appropriate leaving music.
    It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Not this time. It should have worked out differently. Twice, now. Twice, with no success.
    Raising his head, Christ took one last look at the heavens. It would be another two thousand years before he was able to return again.
    ‘Oh, well,’ he thought. ‘Third time’s a charm ...’

David Elliot Bio

    David Elliott is a writer and musician, living in Cheshire UK. His short fiction has been published by a wide variety of magazines, including The Rusty Nail, Danse Macabre, The Horror Zine, Linguistic Erosion, Twisted Tongue, and Delivered.


Liam Spencer

Scientists that have access to all levels of research
done for decades or even centuries
to test and test and retest and retest
proving this and that
building on knowledge and advances
Marching society ever further and faster
than the now proven evolution
those that we all owe so much to
in our daily lives

Yet, on tv and radio
they are reduced to begging people to understand
varying dangers from climate change to food safety
They sit opposed to quacks
with narrow and incorrect views of the bible

The tv and radio shows treat them as equals
instead of the opposites they are;
The Sane vs the stupid

John reads the Liam Spencer poem
from Down in the Dirt magazine
video videonot yet rated
See YouTube video
of John reading the Liam Spencer poem VS in v118 of Down in the Dirt magazine live 9/4/13 in Chicago at her the Café Gallery poetry open mic


Liam Spencer

The wine pours into my glass
A close friend to lean on
A deadly enemy and thief
Allowing a freer life and an earlier death
Life burning feverishly

Drinking to remember or to forget
To meet or to distance
Be included or excluded
To forget a bitterness in life
To live a bitterness better forgotten

We all have our reasons
Just pour me another

John reads the Liam Spencer poem
from v118 of Down in the Dirt magazine
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of John reading the Liam Spencer poem Another in v118 of Down in the Dirt magazine live 9/4/13 in Chicago at her the Café Gallery poetry open mic

A Resourceful Man

Bob Strother

    The pen light beam played slowly across the bedroom walls and furniture. Once it steadied, Adrian Randall crept to the darkened doorway and placed his finger on the light switch. The burglar was apparently so intent on rifling the jewelry cabinet, he didn’t notice a thing until the overhead light flicked on. Then he spun around and dropped to a crouch, eyes wide and jittery. Adrian leaned casually against the doorjamb, a gleaming blue-black .380 automatic in his hand. “Surprise.”
    “I thought you were out!” the burglar said, straightening, his pulse clearly throbbing in his neck. “I rang your phone and knocked on the door.”
    “I was out,” Adrian said. “I just slipped back in. It’s a big house. You couldn’t have heard me.”
    “Well, this is my luck running true to form,” the burglar said. “Earlier today someone dented my car in the supermarket parking lot, and this afternoon I got stuck in an elevator for half an hour.”
    “Yes,” Adrian said. “I’ve always heard bad things come in threes.”
    The burglar glanced down at the diamond choker he still held in his hand, then at Adrian’s gun, and finally at the open leather satchel beside his feet. “I suppose I should return this to its proper place.”
    “No, no” Adrian said. “It’s all right. You can keep it.”
    The burglar raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure? It’s a beautiful piece.” Adrian nodded, and the burglar let the necklace slide from his hand into the bag. “I must say, you’re being very gracious about all this.”
    “It’s actually very interesting,” Adrian said. “I’ve never encountered a burglar before, at least not someone I’ve actually known to be a burglar. And you don’t appear to be a violent man. As a matter of fact, you don’t look to be a burglar; judging from your tweed jacket and flannel trousers, you look more like a college professor—sound like one, too.”
    “True enough, although that usually works to my advantage.”
    “I can see that it would.”
    The two men were quiet for a moment, just standing there looking at each other, then the burglar shrugged. “What do we do now?”
    Adrian tilted his head and let a half smile play across his lips. He tucked the pistol in his waistband and buttoned his navy blazer over it. “For starters, why don’t we retire to my study?”
    When the men were seated, Adrian in an upholstered chair, the burglar and his satchel on a love seat opposite him, Adrian asked, “Is burglary what you do for a living, or just a sideline? Do you have a regular job?”
    “I studied business management in college, but never felt suited to the regular workplace. Burglary is probably my only real skill. Fortunately, it provides enough for drinkable wines, some original but unremarkable art, and the occasional opera or a night out with the ladies.”
    “Nonsense,” Adrian said. “You’re well-spoken, at least somewhat cultured, and obviously not averse to risk-taking. It seems to me a resourceful man could parlay those attributes into a lucrative career.”
    The burglar sighed. “You’re very kind, sir, and generous with your encouragement, but sadly, I’ve already done two stretches in prison. The first time I worked in the laundry, the second time in the print shop—neither a truly valuable experience. And now, I suppose, you’ll be calling the police soon. The third time’s the charm, you know, probably get a life sentence.”
    “Let’s not jump to hasty conclusions,” Adrian said. “The more we talk, the more I think I might be able to use a man of your skills.” He rose from the chair. “Would you care for a glass of cabernet? I have a very nice 2006 Chateau Branda from the Napa Valley.”
    The burglar smiled for the first time. “That would be lovely,” he said.
    Adrian went to a large mahogany bar, selected a bottle, and checked the label. Then he opened and decanted it and poured two glasses.
    The burglar took his and swirled the wine gently, then brought the glass to his nose. “Excellent color and bouquet,” he said. He sipped the liquid, rolled it over his tongue, and smiled for the second time. “It’s as good a California wine as I’ve tasted.”
    Adrian returned his smile. “My wife gave it to me.”
    “She’s a woman of rare judgment,” the burglar remarked, raising his glass. “Here’s to your wife.”
    “To my wife,” Adrian said. He checked his watch. “Do you by any chance play chess?”
    “I do, but I noticed you checking the time. Are you expecting someone?”
    “My wife will be along shortly, although I’m not sure of the timing.”
    A frown creased the burglar’s forehead. “Won’t she think it unusual, my being here?”
    “I’ll tell her you’re a business colleague,” Adrian said. “Let me get that chess set.”
    The men played for over an hour, finishing the cabernet as they did so. Adrian took the first two games and wondered if the burglar was letting him win to stay on his good side. During a break, they discussed various topics including religion and politics. The burglar was agnostic, he said, which was no surprise to Adrian, as he felt much the same way himself. Adrian was surprised to learn the man held fairly strong Republican sympathies. It seemed incongruous, he thought, with the man’s chosen profession.
    At one point, the burglar asked, “What do you do for a living, if I might inquire? Your home is magnificent, albeit somewhat remote, and your grounds are immaculate.” He hesitated briefly and then added, “Your security system, though, could be updated. In fact, I might be able to give you a few pointers on that if you like.”
    Adrian chuckled. “You might, indeed. To answer your question, it’s a family manufacturing business—not my family, but rather my wife’s. She inherited control from her father. You could say I married into my wealth.”
    “Not a bad way to go about it, I’d think.”
    “It has its moments,” Adrian said, “but its drawbacks, too.”
    The burglar looked slowly around the well-appointed room. “Perhaps so, but none appear obvious to me at the moment.”
     “Care for another game of chess?” Adrian asked.
    They were midway through the next game when Adrian heard the front door open and close, and the sound of his wife’s keys being tossed onto the foyer table. He stuffed the automatic into the waistband behind his back.
    “Adrian,” his wife called out. “Are you home?”
    “I’m in the study, dear.”
    Despite everything, when she appeared in the doorway, Adrian couldn’t help but be taken with his wife’s beauty. Too bad it didn’t extend to her soul.
    “Oh,” she said, advancing into the room. “I didn’t realize you had company.”
    The two men stood. “This is my colleague,” Adrian said. “Mister ... Smith”
    The burglar nodded deferentially in her direction. “John,” he offered. “John Smith.”
    The woman gave him a vacant smile and turned back to Adrian. “I thought you were working late tonight, dear.”
    “I was out,” Adrian said, “but not working. Rather, I was following you to the home of your most recent lover. But then, we don’t need to get into a recitation of all your sins, do we? Not in front of our guest.” He walked calmly to the fireplace and lifted an iron poker from its stand. It had a good bit of heft, he thought, plenty enough to do the job.
    Adrian swung the poker in a vicious arc, striking his wife on the top of her head. She dropped to her knees. He hit her twice more and she pitched forward onto her face.
    The burglar stood aghast, witnessing the bloody spectacle, mouth gaping open. After a moment, he asked, “Is she dead?”
    “I certainly hope so,” Adrian replied.
    “But why did you kill her?”
    “Oh, I didn’t kill her,” Adrian said.
    “I don’t understand,” the burglar said.
    “It’s not relevant whether you understand. The police will understand, though. My poor wife surprised you while you were burglarizing our home, and you beat her to death with this poker. Fortunately, I surprised you in the act.”
    Adrian pulled the automatic from his waistband and shot the burglar through the heart. “At least your skills didn’t go to waste in some prison cell,” he said as the burglar collapsed onto the carpet. And then he set about tidying up and arranging things—all the important little details that would support his story for the police.
    Sometimes, Adrian mused as he folded the burglar’s hand around the poker, bad things come in fours.

The Politics of Pain

Steven Wineman

    It is possible to move away from a vast, unbearable pain by delving into it deeper and deeper.

-Barbara Kingsolver, Small Wonder

    Several years before my son was born, I was in brief relationship with a woman who liked to sing lullabies at night. The tunes were pleasant, and in the glow of getting to know her I cheerfully sang along.
    Then it hit me what most of these songs were actually saying: shut up and go to sleep. The words seemed sweet and gentle – “hush little baby, don’t you cry” and that kind of thing; and yes, the melodies were meant to literally lull you to sleep. But lurking barely below that saccharine surface there was an ugly attitude toward little kids, a reflection of how overwhelming it can be for dragged out parents to have to deal with crying babies, a narrative about whose needs count and how conflicting needs get resolved between adults and children, all kinds of cultural assumptions and norms, and just a hint of the tragedy of how kids learn to deal (and not deal) with emotional pain.
    At the time I didn’t think it through in quite so many dimensions, but I had a strong reaction. I thought about myself, my own capacity as a man to cry – something I treasure and feel incredibly lucky to have kept intact against the long odds of male socialization. If I feel safe enough to cry with someone, I’m certainly not looking to be told to quiet down and go to sleep. I want to be held; I want my crying, and the sadness or pain that underlies it, to be accepted; I want to feel the other person’s comfort with my feelings. I don’t want to be lulled out of it, or told that things aren’t really so bad, or advised how to solve the problem – among other things because crying as an expression of pain is not a problem!
    One of the great things about my reaction against lullabies was that it helped prepare me to be a parent. During my son’s infancy and well into his childhood, when he got upset I would hold him and tell him that he was doing a great job expressing his feelings, and he should cry as long as he needed to. He got that message not only from my words, but through many nonverbal channels – the softness of my voice, the relaxed muscle tone of my body against his, the emotional clarity that I fully meant what I was saying.
    Almost paradoxically, this acceptance of his crying helped my son to calm down. He would usually cry for a few minutes and go through a progression of steps to getting settled and peacefully nestled against me. Then he’d be ready to go on with his day.
    I say it was almost a paradox because, obviously, I wasn’t telling my son to stay upset forever. “Crying as long as you need to” also means stopping when you’re ready. But the point is that I wasn’t telling him to calm down. My focus really was not on trying to get him to move beyond his upset. There was no ploy, no reverse psychology. I was celebrating his expression of his feelings. That this was the exact thing that helped him to move beyond his upset, to restore equilibrium and regain a sense of rightness and peace with himself and the world, sure has the flavor of paradox.
    The mirror image is that telling kids to shut up – that it’s not okay to cry – can keep them crying for a lot longer. Or, more broadly, that resisting pain can cause a lot more pain.
    There is a whole range of things that adults do when kids get upset. “You’re doing a great job expressing your feelings” and “shut up” are at two ends of a long continuum. (Shut up is not even at the farthest point on its end, since of course there are still many adults who hit their kids.) It’s common to see little kids in public who are wailing in their strollers while their parents try to give every indication of ignoring them, or whose parents frantically shush them or just yell at their kids to be quiet. On the other hand there are lots of parents who comfort their crying children, but do it to get them to stop crying. They would never dream of telling their kids to shut up, and many don’t use the more sedate “quiet down”; children they love are in distress, and the parents want to make them feel better. But they don’t recognize or validate that there is something healthy and vital and right in the full throated expression of emotional pain. They want to make the pain go away, and for all of their kindness and love, they are still communicating to their kids that there is something intolerable about pain.
    Then there are the countless ways that adults try to distract kids when they cry. With a toy, or a tickle, or food, or music, or a smile, or a funny face. It often works, if by “working” you mean that the child stops crying and gets interested in something new and “positive.” But what does it teach kids to be distracted away from their pain? What are the costs?
    There are parallels to this in the ways that most of us use painkillers throughout our lives. Have a headache, a back ache, knee pain, shoulder pain, stomach ache, a rotten cold; take a pill and get relief. Make it go away. The term is both telling and ironic – painkiller. Telling because it reflects so literally the intensity, the vehemence and desperation in our attitudes toward pain. And ironic because it is so obviously impossible to kill pain; because drugs that numb pain for temporary periods are ascribed the power to annihilate; because attempts to annihilate can cause pain which is often worse than the problem they are trying to wipe out.

    Several years ago, during a period when I needed to be on the computer almost all the time at work, I started having pain in my wrists and then my forearms. It was persistent and got worse, and I ended up going to several doctors and getting several diagnoses, trying acupuncture, doing physical therapy and occupational therapy, using a lot of ice, taking a lot of ibuprofen, and then Neurontin, wearing braces on both wrists, using voice activated software, trying several different kinds of mice, and learning to use a mouse with either hand. Eventually I had an MRI of my upper spine, which I was told showed progressive disc degeneration, and surgery was recommended. Before going ahead with surgery, I thought I should get a second opinion.
    The second-opinion doctor looked at my MRI and said it was normal. He told me the disc degeneration was typical for someone my age and nothing to worry about. He said surgery was a really bad idea and would at best be a waste of time. He asked whether the pain in my arms was constant or came and went; whether it stayed in the same places or moved around. No other doctor had asked me that. I told him that it came and went, moved around, and the intensity fluctuated. He nodded knowingly and proceeded to tell me that there was actually nothing wrong with my arms except that I had misfiring neurotransmitters which were giving me pain signals when there was no actual injury.
    I wasn’t entirely convinced. The doc dripped arrogance, and by that point I had been told so many different things by so many doctors that it was far from clear why I should believe one story over another. But I decided to hold off on surgery.
    Then came the interesting part of the story: when my arms started to hurt I would think, well, this might just be kaplooey neurotransmitters, let’s see what happens. And what happened, with striking consistency, was that the pain would pass. Over time (maybe a year or so) I resumed typing, stopped icing my arms every day, stopped using the wrist braces. I was still on the computer just as much, and I was able to do my work with minimal, transient pain. In hindsight, I think the most important thing was that I wasn’t in a state of expectant tension all the time, waiting for pain to strike or get worse. When my arms did hurt, I didn’t clench up, but instead took a kind of inquisitive attitude; and later, as I gained confidence that the pain was not serious, I simply told myself that it would pass.

    Pain and painkillers are, of course, big business. USA Today reports that nationwide in 2010, pharmacies sold the staggering equivalent of 111 tons of pure oxycodone and hydrocodone, “enough to give forty 5-mg Percocets and twenty-four 5-mg Vicodins to every person in the United States.” ( story/2012-04-05/painkiller- sales-spike/54022528/1) Synthetic painkillers account for 70% of total pharmaceutical sales. ( We spend more than $1 billion annually on acetaminophen (; $11 billion a year on antidepressants ( And even those figures pale compared to alcohol sales, a very substantial portion of which surely serves to numb pain. Beer alone brought in almost $99 billion in 2011. ( Total alcohol revenue, despite a drop in 2009, has predictably increased since the start of the Great Recession. (
    Behind the big numbers of the pain trade sprawls the sheer volume of suffering in our society – physical, emotional, and the richly intricate interplay between the two. It’s scarcely possible that all of this pain could be the normally occurring downside of life in a healthy, functional society. Yes, unquestionably a portion of it is unavoidable, from stubbed toes to some (though not all) instances of cancer. But we know from our own mundane experiences of tension headaches and stomach aches that stress causes pain – and the reverse, that pain causes stress. The more severe the stress, the more intense the suffering is likely to be, other things being equal.
    The sources of stress in our society are so many, so varied, and so deeply ingrained that it’s hard to know where to begin. The ways that children are treated that crushes their spirits. The treatment of people in huge ranges of situations as less-than and “Other” based on their race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, country of origin, and any other pretexts people use to try to gain the upper hand. Epidemic levels of sexual abuse and other forms of physical and emotional violence. The organization of workplaces that strips most people of meaningful control over their work. The through-the-roof levels of incarceration and lengths of prison sentences, above all impacting African-American men. The extreme stratification of wealth and power. Pervasive economic insecurity and expanding levels of poverty since the onset of the Great Recession. Innumerable environmental toxins and the ongoing degradations of the environment, including the rapid escalation of extreme weather events driven by climate change.
    Then there is the largely ignored pain experienced by those who enact or benefit from oppression. In Born to Belonging, Mab Segrest quotes from the diary of a Southern white woman who wrote that, upon witnessing the grief of a family being separated during a slave auction, “It excited me so I quietly took opium.” Oppression is possible only when those who dominate can shield themselves from the raw reality of others’ suffering. The hazing rituals in military training, the elaborate trails of code words for demonizing and dehumanizing the Other, all serve the same function as opiates and other pain-”killers”: they numb us to our own felt experience, to our natural capacity for empathy, to the destruction of our own spirits that happens when we participate actively or complicity in violence against others.
    The whole picture is a maze of abuse and victimization, of intersecting power dynamics and roles, with pain swirling, snaking, smashing its way around the entire maze. And coiled around that is our learned aversion to pain, our clenching resistance, our conviction that pain is intolerable; an aversion driven by childrearing, by the spiderwebs of culture, by Big Pharma, by health professionals, by shame, by terror, by addiction, by the psychological imperatives of oppression. We learn to think of this as a normal state of affairs.
    Dr. John Sarno, in his book Mind Over Back Pain, contends that most people with chronic back problems actually have nothing structurally wrong with their backs. Sarno says that he has found indistinguishable back structures among people who do and don’t report back pain. He believes stress triggers most back pain, and that people who view themselves as having “back problems” reinforce the stress at the first sign of pain, assuming that it’s the start of a major episode. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not that back pain is psychosomatic in the sense of being illusory. The pain is real, caused by physical constriction – a kind of clenching – in the affected areas that results from escalating stress.
    I have suffered from back pain for most of my life. Starting in my mid-thirties, and for a period of twenty-five years, I had episodes that were bad enough for me to go to the chiropractor, usually two or three times a year. Sometimes it was hard to turn my head; or I would have throbbing in my shoulder blades, or deep, intense pain in my lower back. A few times it was so bad that I could barely walk. Naturally I thought of myself as someone with a bad back. Just like the people John Sarno has treated, there were certain kinds of twinges, stiffness on waking, and abrupt pains that I associated with my back “going out”. When they happened I braced myself for the worst, and then the worst usually happened, reinforcing my beliefs that these were in fact warning signs and that I did in fact have chronic structural back problems.
    I read Sarno’s book reluctantly after it was recommended to me. I had lots of reasons for my reluctance. I’m wary of pop advice books. I feared that there would be some sort of daily exercises I would be told to do. After so many years it was hard for me to muster much hope that there was anything I could do to make my back better. And there was a place in me that wasn’t necessarily keen on the entire idea of giving up my back pain, which was after all part of my sense of self. An identity as someone who suffers is not the easiest thing to change.
    But I read the book anyway, and a lot of it made sense. In particular, the notion that expectations and fears can cause physical constriction, which in turn causes physical pain, rang true for me. And it turned out that there were no exercises, no regimen, no spiritual practices. All I had to do, when my back started to hurt, was tell myself that there was nothing structurally wrong, that the pain was not serious, and that this was not the start of an episode. Which I have done with stunning success. In about three years since reading Sarno, I have not needed to go to the chiropractor. I still have minor aches and pains in various parts of my back on a regular basis. But, simply, this is no longer a big deal.
    My experience with my back is so similar to what happened with my arms that you might think I would have reached the same conclusion on my own, without ever reading Sarno – assume that pain will pass and see what happens. But I didn’t. Instead I assumed that the results I got from relaxing rather than clenching when my arms hurt was unique to that one part of my body. Like personal identity, beliefs about pain are hard to change.

    Last year I read Jon Kabat-Zinn’s wonderful Full Catastrophe Living, which describes the use of meditation to manage pain and stress. The core practice is to breathe from the diaphragm and to focus your awareness on your breathing. I had read Thich Nhat Hahn a number of years earlier and tried mindful breathing for a while at that point; but it didn’t take hold.
    This time something shifted. Some of the reasons I don’t entirely understand; but one I do. Kabat-Zinn talks about experiencing your breathing (and your pain, which I’m coming to) without any ulterior purpose. The best way to achieve results, he says, is not to try to achieve any results at all. The results – which of course you do want, even if you are not trying to achieve them – may be relaxation, pain reduction, coping with anxiety or depression, enhancing the quality of your life, overcoming the debilitating impacts of stress and illness in order to regain the ability to function. But all you do is to be as fully aware as you can of your breathing and the accompanying physical sensations and feelings.
    Well: I can recognize a paradox when I see one. And not just any paradox. This took me all the way back to my first years as a parent, to holding my son when he was upset and telling him to cry as much as he needed to. It seemed to me that the wisdom I had stumbled onto as a father about affirming my child’s crying had taken me to the threshold of a deeper truth about stress and pain that I could also apply to myself. At least I thought it was worth a try.
    So I, who have had a lifelong aversion to spiritual practice or any kind of self-improvement regimen, started meditating every morning. I liked it right away, and found myself more relaxed, lighter – physically and emotionally – not just when I was doing the mindful breathing, but also afterward. At the same time, I ran into major challenges. At first I could barely feel anything in my belly when I breathed. That’s the area of my body where I was severely physically abused by my older brother when I was growing up. Then, when I started being able to feel sensations in and around my stomach as I meditated, it was staggering. I could feel, with depth and clarity, just how much stress I was carrying in my gut, and had been carrying for more than half a century. And I let myself feel it. I breathed with the feelings, with the stress, and didn’t try to make it better or anything other than what it was.
    I have broadened this practice to many other places of pain – physical and emotional. Pains in various parts of my back, in my hamstrings and thighs, my pelvis, ankles, intestines, hemorrhoidal pain. Fractures in my psyche, legacies of childhood traumas, places in me that got broken a long time ago and never have fully healed.
    In the last year, my entire attitude to pain has changed. In some ways this is a new stage in a longer evolution, from clenching at any hint of pain to shrugging it off, and then gaining confidence in the structural integrity of my body. But those phases were still ways of working around pain. I could tell myself that this twinge in my arm was nothing more than a misfiring neurotransmitter, or the ache in my shoulder would surely pass and not to get hung up about it; and sure enough the pains would pass. That was a good thing – way better than clenching myself into a state of surplus pain. But now, at least at times, I’m doing something that is neither clenching nor circumventing. I am delving into my pain.
    There are moments now when I have the space and attention to focus my awareness on my pain. I find I can do this without those old layers of worry or dread or self-fulfilling expectation that this is the beginning of something bad. I do it with curiosity and real affection for the part of me that is hurting. I actually embrace it – not in the sense of anything like masochism, any more than my embrace of my son’s crying was sadism. In my son’s case I was celebrating his ability to express his pain, not the fact that he was suffering. With myself, I am embracing my ability to feel, the very fact that I have a body that has needs and is hurting, and my understanding that by accepting and exploring my pain, I am taking care of myself. Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about being with your breathing – and by extension with your pain.
    There is an amazing release from fear through this kind of acceptance and active attending to my pain. For those of us who are survivors of physical and/or sexual abuse (and there are many, many of us), there is something of elemental importance about accepting and exploring our pain: we are reclaiming our bodies. In the moment of abuse, and in the traumatic aftermath, healthy connection with our bodies is exactly what we lose. We fluctuate between the loss of our ability to feel key areas of our bodies (dissociation) and being flooded and overwhelmed by unbearable feelings.
    Now I tell myself as I start to meditate, ‘However fragmented my “self” may be, I have one body. The same body houses all the parts of me. I’m breathing with one diaphragm, I have one belly that rises and falls, the same breath sustains everything inside me. I have one body that feels pain.’ Then I breathe and let the sensations in my body be what they are. It sounds simple and obvious, but believe me, it isn’t. It is a treasure of reconnection, of steps toward wholeness.

    Conventional wisdom says pain is a signal that something is wrong, and this seems obviously to be true. But on the ground, we so easily slide into viewing pain itself as the thing that is wrong. From there it is an easy step to try to deal with pain by wiping it out.
    If we can learn to tolerate our pain, to truly treat it as a signal, and to become inquisitive about its underlying causes, we would start asking all kinds of questions. How much of this pain has to do with something that is structurally wrong, and how much is surplus pain caused by clenching? How much pain will be left if I can unclench? When there is a structural problem causing my pain, how much of that is a function of stress? What is my body’s capacity to heal itself? How much can ease with my pain, and gently exploring it, nurture or simply unblock my body’s innate ability to heal or recover? What roles do larger social forces play in my pain? What role does the sense of being acted upon, that pain or stress or illness are things that happen to me, have in the frequency, intensity, and duration of my pain? How can experiences of agency – for example that I am able to tolerate pain, that pain offers me the opportunity to connect with and care for my body, that there are concrete things I can do to manage my pain and practice self-love – foster healing and recovery? What role (if any) should medical interventions play, and what types of interventions, and who should decide? When does pain become overwhelming to the point that it makes sense to numb it – and who decides? And what kind of numbing, if and when that choice is made (there are huge differences, for example, between ice, ibuprofen, and alcohol)?
    All of these are political questions, not just the one tucked into the list about the role of larger social forces. They are political because they all revolve around who assumes power in relation to each person’s experience of pain. Whether you define your own pain or have it defined for you – by health professionals, by corporate marketing, by internalized cultural values and beliefs – is a question of political significance under any circumstances, let alone in a society whose suffering is as pervasive and intense as ours. And there is nothing more profoundly political than the question of agency: the ability, as the old slogan goes, to make decisions that affect our lives.
    Thinking of these as political questions does not in the slightest mean that they are abstract. This calls up another fine old adage, namely that the personal is political. It’s hard to imagine anything more concrete and personal than how we deal with our pain. Choices about whether to get hooked on pain-“killing” drugs and the entire array of numbing devices are real issues of vital importance in people’s daily lives. So are choices about whether and how to actively inquire into the sources of our pain. This unfortunately is still not a conventional wisdom, but power relations are everywhere, and the more we can understand the interwoven relationships between power and pain, the better our prospects for dealing with both.
    Despite everything I’ve said about numbing pain, I do believe there are times and places for it. In the moment when abuse happens, often the best we can do is to dissociate as a means of psychic survival. At a very different place on the pain spectrum, I get dental fillings without Novocaine, but I would never willingly have a root canal unnumbed. There are always critical questions about managing pain that have to do with the exercise of power. How many dentists ask their patients if they want Novocaine rather than simply assuming it? How many of us walk into our doctors’ offices seeing ourselves – and being seen by the professionals – as decision makers? What is the actual range of options of someone who is being abused, or who has been abused? What are the mechanisms and supports we need in our lives in order to recognize our options and make active choices to deal with our pain?

    I want to make a confession: I don’t dance. I took a dance class in seventh grade, and through my early adolescence I did make an effort at parties where I tried to convince myself I was having a good time. But dancing became increasingly free form (this was the sixties), I was a socially awkward intellectual type, and I checked out.
    If you bear with me for a little while, you’ll see the point of this reveal.
    My (now ex-) partner Suzi was in labor with our son for a long time. We wanted to have a natural birth, we went to a birthing class, and Suzi chose a gynecologist who worked with a team of midwives. When her water broke it was around midnight but the labor came on slowly, and it was the next afternoon when we went to the hospital. We had a large, comfortable birthing room with a jacuzzi and lots of space to move around. Our midwife was great, and we had lined up two friends to be there as a support team.
    The first afternoon we did a lot of walking and waiting. By some point in the evening Suzi went into hard labor, but the dilation was still progressing very slowly. Then everything intensified and we all thought she was in transition until the midwife measured her and she was something like 5 centimeters. We were stunned, and of course it was hardest for Suzi, who was in excruciating pain during the contractions.
    For the rest of the night, there was a recurring theme, a kind of call-and-response which I’m sure has been repeated in the course of countless labors. During contractions Suzi would moan, “I can’t do this,” and we, her support team, would tell her, “You can do it, Suzi!” Eventually I began to feel that there was something not right about this cheerleading. But I didn’t know what else we could do. We were moving into the second day of labor, I’d had not a lot of sleep and was right on that edge between adrenalin rush and exhaustion, and likewise on the edge between excitement and deep anxiety. In short, I was not thinking especially clearly. I just wanted Suzi to dilate and have the baby. But the pace of her dilation remained glacial.
    Early the next morning we reached a crisis point. Suzi was sitting up, and the four of us – the midwife, our two friends and I – were arrayed in a semicircle in front of her. She yet again was saying that she couldn’t do it. But this felt different: partly because she was in between contractions when she said it; partly because of all the nonverbal cues, the tone of her voice, the desperate, defeated look in her eyes.
    This time, before anyone had a chance to tell Suzi for the umpteenth time that she could do it, I heard myself say, “It’s not whether you can, it’s whether you want to.”
    Suzi looked at me, mustered the energy to frown, and asked in a small voice, “What do you mean?”
    Without hesitating, and honestly without thinking, I said, “If you can find the place in you that wants to have this baby without drugs, then you’ll be able to do it. And if you can’t find that place, I’ll do everything in my power to get you drugs, I’ll argue with the midwives and go to the doctor if I have to, because you shouldn’t go through this kind of pain against your will.”
    Suzi got really quiet, and she seemed to go far away. That went on for a long time, though I have no idea what it measured in minutes. I remember at one point one of our friends gently asked her what was going on, and Suzi glanced up and said, almost in a mumble, “I’m trying to find that place.” Then she went away again.
    Another long stretch, until finally Suzi lifted her eyes and said, in a clear voice, “Okay, I can do this.”
    I think we all understood in that moment that we had come into a state of grace. I know for myself that what I was able to say to Suzi at that point of crisis was not something I did in any normal sense. It came through me. Of course there are things about me, my sensibilities to issues of power and self-determination, that helped to make this possible. But I was somehow tapping a wisdom that is surely more than who I am.
    One of our friends said, “Let’s give Suzi and Steve a little while to spend alone,” and our friends and the midwife left the birthing room.
    Suzi and I decided to play some music. We had brought a boombox and tapes, probably because some advice book had said that music can be a good thing during labor. We put on something up-tempo, Latin music.
    And then we danced.

Steven Wineman Bio

    Steven Wineman is a writer, parent, mental health worker, and longtime social change activist. He is the author of The Politics of Human Services (South End Press) and Power-Under: Trauma and Nonviolent Social Change ( His nonfiction has appeared in The Round Table, Voice Male, Out of Line, and Nonviolent Change Journal. His play Jay, or The Seduction was produced at Columbia University, and his fiction has appeared in Conium Review and Blue Lake Review.


Jonathan Beale

A silent geometry found at night.
The mid sun weaving colours: -chords,
Dust is woven in the warm wind.
Low days howl whistle in the west.
Rotten wooded western saloons breathe,
Cactus, cedar, grass, tumbleweed,
Grow silently in a dark hellish beneath.
The leathered saddled back,
Leather leggings (a second skin) leather life.
Coffee, Night fires; tales of days relived by tongue and cheek,
Whiskey with, and when the money has come.
And the Women too, when we find our private Klondike (our gold)
The equine day treads away - and will fly- unseen.
A long lonely day (although private) still remains, so long, and so dry

about Jonathan Beale

    Jonathan Beale’s work has appeared in Decanto, Voices of Israel in English, Penwood Review, MiracleEzine, The Screech Owl, Danse Macabre, Voices of Hellenism Literary Journal, The Journal, Poetic Diversity and Ink Sweat & Tears. His work has been commended in Decanto and Cafe Writers competitions 2012. He studied philosophy at Birkbeck College London, and is from Middlesex England.

To Fear a Fear

Hannah Haas

    No matter how hard one tries, one cannot explain fear, nor can they understand it. Everyone has a fear, whether it’s hidden, strange, or normal. So many people try to run from their fears, but that only makes us “fears” lonelier. I am what one might call a “fear,” but no one ever thinks of me that way as they assume I don’t have feelings just as they do. Everyone fears my kind for one main reason; they all think we will attack them and deprive them of their dignity or reputation. Fearing a fear is exactly why fears existed, exactly why I was one, too. There was one particular day where I thought all of that might have changed.
    I was standing alone, no one to comfort me but the graceful chimes of the wind and the warmth of the sun’s rays. In the distance, I clearly identified a small female nearing my location. For all I knew, she could’ve been anywhere from three years of age to around twenty years old, but that was only my assumption. It was the first time in years that anyone had approached me, alone. That was the strange part; she didn’t have anyone to accompany her. No one ever came near me without a partner to protect them. Sitting down slowly and cautiously, to show her that I meant her no harm, I sat still.
    The young female was only feet away from me at this point. I called to her, letting her know that I was talking to her. She misunderstood my call, jumping back in shock, no; rather, it was in fear. Why must this always happen? I asked myself, guilt filling the emptiness of my soul. Despising myself for scaring her, I laid down on the ground, blocking my mind from the world. I barely heard her faint scream. “Mommy! Look, it has big teeth and gray hair.” What is “gray?” I wondered silently. The girl’s mother did not come, as there was no one else in sight. “Mommy?” She had despair in her voice. She neared me once more, reaching out to touch me. An invisible barrier blocked her hand from reaching me, so I tried placing my hand at hers but the barrier still blocked us both.
    That’s when I saw it. When I looked really closely, I could see a large, glass structure keeping us apart. The young girl backed away when I stood up, clawing at the glass. She began to run away, calling for her mother as she fled. That was when I realized that no matter what I did, I would always be a fear, and I couldn’t change that.
    Though fears come in forms as vast as of places to the fear of something, I am neither; I am a wolf. Even though I, myself, am a fear, I have a fear to. It is a fear that I have been living my whole life, and now I realize to be true. My fear is that I truly am a fear and will always be one. So to this day, I remain caged from the world, in what humans call a “zoo,” because to them, I am nothing more than a danger to the world. Nothing more than a fear.

Hello, my name is Dave.

E. Branden Hart

     “Hello, my name is Dave, and I’m an alcoholic.”
    “Hi Dave.”
    “I’ve never done this before. I guess I start at the beginning? Okay. Problem is, I don’t know where the beginning is anymore. Maybe it was the first time I took a drink. I was sixteen, and my parents weren’t home, and I just wanted to know if I could pound a shot without wincing. I could—it took some work, but I downed a shot of mescal without making a face. It didn’t do much—relaxed me a little is all–but I liked the feeling.
    “Or maybe it was the first time I got drunk. I was seventeen and asked one of my friends if I could hang out and drink with him. We’d been friends forever, but he’d started drinking with his older brother when we were freshmen, and I was all goody-two-shoes when it came to drinking. But I’d decided if I was going to start drinking, the summer before I left for college was as good a time as any. That night, I stayed up until five in the morning smoking cigarettes and drinking beer, made out with my friend’s girlfriend, and basically enjoyed the hell out of life. I’ve been chasing that high for almost fifteen years now.
    “Then again, I’m starting to wonder if it all began before that. I’m beginning to think I had a problem with alcohol before I ever had my first drink.
    “For a while, I didn’t think I had a problem. After all, people who have drinking problems end up in jail, drop out of school, things like that. In college, I was always that guy who got a little too tipsy too early in the night. But then I’d pass out before I made an ass out of myself. I did stupid shit, sure, but never as stupid as my friends who would get wasted and go wandering around the neighborhood at three in the morning, stealing lawn ornaments and trying to blow them up with firecrackers.
    “Once I graduated college, I got a job at a publishing company as a proofreader. A lot of younger people worked there, and we all enjoyed going out after work to get shitfaced—sometimes two or three times a week. I found out pretty quick that not everyone had trained like I had in college—I could have six beers and be on my way to catching a good buzz, but my coworkers would start slurring their words after two.
    “My coworkers would come into work the next morning, swearing that they would never drink again. Me? I was used to it—I had majored in being perpetually hungover in college. But one by one, people began to drop out of our drinking circle, until it was just me and one or two friends left—and we had all started to prefer drinking at our respective homes, alone, since it meant we didn’t have to drive anywhere.
    “Fast forward ten years: I’m married, with a daughter. Her name’s Katey, and she’s four. My drinking is under control—or so I think. I’m excelling at my job—I’ve been promoted five times in the past ten years, and am managing one of the largest accounts at my office. Been doing a damn good job of it too—there was talk of another promotion, and I won two different awards for superb client satisfaction within weeks of each other. People constantly complimented me on what a great manager I was—even my boss—and I was in a position to get a hell of a raise because of the work I’d been doing.
    “I was the epitome of organization and productivity, especially when it came to my drinking schedule. Every morning, I would wake up at 5 o’clock, about an hour before my wife and daughter. I would stand outside, smoke cigarettes, and chug beer—sometimes up to four of them—in that hour. In the meantime, and in between cigarettes, I would make the coffee, pull up some work on my laptop, organize laundry from the night before, do anything I could to make it look like I was living a normal life between the hours of 5 and 6 in the morning, rather than standing on the porch getting drunk.
    “I would spend the hour between 6 and 7 AM drinking coffee to cover my breath and eating Tums to fight back the bile that was always lingering in the back of my throat. I’d kiss my wife good morning, hug my daughter, and sit in the room with them while they were eating breakfast. They never knew how hard it was for me to do that—to sit, watching them eat peacefully, when my mind was racing through all I had to do at work and whether I would be able to have another few beers beforehand.
    “I’d kiss them goodbye, they would leave, and I’d sit by the door for five minutes, listening for them to come back. It happened more than you’d think—my daughter would forget her homework, or my wife would forget her cell phone, and on more than one occasion they came back in the house right as I was getting my next beer of the morning.
    “I would go into work at the last possible minute, chugging beer the entire time I was getting ready. Some mornings I would get so drunk that I couldn’t go into work at all, and I would spend the day drinking and listening in on conference calls where nobody ever asked me any questions or assigned me any work. I enjoyed those days—I could earn money while I was drinking, which made a lot of sense to me at the time.
    “About three months ago, I had a few days off around Christmas. I was trying to enjoy some time away from work with the family, but sneaking my drinking around my wife and daughter always put me on edge. In the evenings it wasn’t so bad—my wife always just considered me a heavy drinker and never thought I had a ‘problem,’ so she didn’t mind if I put back an eighteen pack of beer as long as I was sweet to her and paid attention to my daughter. But in the mornings, while they were home, I had to get up at five, drink beer for about an hour, then switch to coffee. The coffee, combined with the Tums, would mask my breath enough for the first kiss of the morning for them both. Then, I’d head upstairs to my study, where I would pour a little Amaretto in my coffee. Once I finished my coffee, I’d go downstairs, pour myself a glass of orange juice, and then go outside for a cigarette. I had a bottle of vodka hidden underneath my grill, and I’d repeat that cycle until it was finally three in the afternoon, which my wife thought was an acceptable time for normal people to start drinking.
    “It was around noon on Christmas Eve, and I had been drinking more than usual. My wife was stressed out—we were having a party that night—and her being stressed out always stresses me out, so I was going a little heavy on the vodka and orange juice. After lunch, she asked me to drive to the convenience store for some butter, and asked if I could I take our daughter along. My wife wanted Katey to pick out her favorite dessert for after dinner that night.
    “I didn’t realize how drunk I was until I hit a curb on the way out of our neighborhood. In my defense, it was a really high curb, but I’d still navigated around it hundreds of times before without a problem. My daughter spoke up from the back seat and asked me if something was wrong; I mumbled something and laughed. I remember looking at her in the rearview mirror, seeing her hug her doll a little tighter.
    “At the convenience store, I set my daughter to the task of picking her favorite candy, and went to get the butter. I noticed that they had some new holiday beers in, so I went ahead and picked up a six pack—why not? When I got up to the counter, the clerk told me about the new scratch-off tickets they had, and I bought three of them, thinking, “Hell, it’s Christmas!” I paid and left, thinking about how awesome it would be to win the lottery and be able to quit work so I could concentrate on drinking. I got in the car, opened one of the beers, put it in the cupholder, and drove away.
    “As I was driving back home, I couldn’t help thinking I’d forgotten something in the store and chanced a glance in the back seat. Nope, the butter was there—that’s all I’d needed—and that’s when I heard a ‘crunch’ and felt something crash into the side of my head.
    “Two thoughts went through my head. One was, ‘Oh my god—Katey!’ and the other was ‘Shit—I spilled my beer!’ If I’m honest with myself, I’m not so sure the one about Katey came first.
    “It wasn’t a bad wreck and nobody else was involved—I’d swerved onto the sidewalk and crashed into a street lamp. But as I came to, I noticed that the windshield had been completely shattered, and most of what was in the car had been thrown onto the hood or the sidewalk in front of me. I took an account of everything, and that’s when I noticed the tiny arm splayed out on the sidewalk in front of the car.
    “I jumped out of the car, only then noticing that what had been an annoying stitch in my side had grown into a roaring pain that shot up my back and into the back of my head, and I remember thinking, without any irony whatsoever, ‘It’s going to take more than a six pack to get rid of this pain.’
    “The arm, it wasn’t Katey’s. It was her doll’s.
    “Relief flooded over me, and my first thought was, ‘I’m going to drink an entire twelve-pack when I get home, no questions asked. I deserve to celebrate the fact that Katey is safe and sound, sitting in the...’
    “I paused, not wanting to believe it. I jumped back into the car and looked in the backseat. Katey wasn’t there.
    “The car wouldn’t start.
    “I jumped out and started running back to the convenience store, remembering what I’d forgotten there.
    “My lungs screamed for me to slow down as I ran back to the store. Bile burned the back of my throat. I threw up twice on the way. I wanted a drink so bad.
    “It took me a full minute to get my story out to the clerk, who didn’t believe me at first. When I finally managed to put together a semi-accurate description of what Katey had been wearing that morning, he said that yes, he remembered her. He also remembered the nice man she’d left with—the man who wasn’t me. He remembered hearing the man saying something about ‘...finding her daddy, she shouldn’t worry at all,’ right before the two of them left in his van.
    “It’s been three months, and we still haven’t found Katey. The cops, they don’t know who the guy is. The license plate came back as unregistered, and the cameras at the convenience store never got a good shot of his face.
    “Part of me wants to find him, and wants to put him through hell for what he’s done to Katey. But after all of this, after everything that happened, my one reservation is that if I find this man, and kill him, I might go to jail. And alcohol isn’t easy to come by in jail.
    “I guess I won’t ever know when my problem with alcohol began. But I knew I had a problem one day not long after Katey was gone. I was sitting out on my porch at five in the morning, finishing my first beer of the day, about to open another. The morning silence was broken by screeching tires, followed by the crystalline crunch of metal on metal. And I know this should have sparked some kind of autonomic response in me—I know I should have totally freaked out, and thought about the crash that I had the day Katey was kidnapped—but honestly, the only thing I could think of at that moment was how nice it was to be getting drunk and not have to go into work for another three hours.
    “I guess I knew I had a problem when the possibility of being without a drink made me feel like I was choking. And I think I’ve been choking longer than I’d like to admit.
    “I guess I realized recently that, despite everything that’s happened, I have two choices: I can either keep using alcohol and die with it, or stop drinking and live without it. And in the end, I guess I knew for sure that I had a problem when I couldn’t figure out which of those choices was more appealing.
    “I guess I need help. But, I guess you already knew that. Thanks for listening.”
    “Thank you Dave.”

Online Dating Profiles

Stanley M Noah

Must like travel. Must like fine dining.
Must like working-out, fitness.
yada yada yada
Must have a sense of humor.
Must be a Christian, attend church. yada yada
Must be Jewish.
Must like dancing. yada
Must like animals.
Must be accepting to my kids even though they don’t like you.
yada yada
Must like eating healthy foods. Must like shared interest.
more yadas
Must like dressing up, social events. Must like volunteer work.
Must like my friends. And
if not, that’s a deal-breaker. yada
Must be romantic, quite romantic.
ba ba ba
Must be non smoker, light drinker. And if not, that’s a deal-breaker.
yada yada
Must have chemistry. I’ll know it when we first meet.
And please—no games, no players. No photo. I will not reply.
Flirts are nice. But will be deleted.
Send me a real message.

calling down mountains

Kaitlin Allen

    “Appalachians,” I say. Hard “c.”
    And you smile at me –
    The simpering one
    The humoring one
    The one I hate.
    Not as much as I hate my own smile with its crooked teeth, my own voice with its crooked words. Not near as much as that.
    I have trained the south out of my speech, the rocks out of my tongue. Trained like safety-pinned curtains, like twist-tied vines.
    But here my sibilants decide to make their stand.
    So you smile at me, tip your head to get a better feel of the word on your ears.
    The tip-tops of my ears grow red, I know because I can feel the heat.
    You press a glass into my hand letting yours linger.
    It’s bitter going down my throat, pride washed down with wine. I don’t like the taste of either.
    You can tell, the wrinkles by your eyes say, but you keep smiling as you order me a cola.
    You pay for everything I want. You watch me eat far too much far too fast.
    And if you notice the dirt beneath my bitten fingernails, you do not sneer.
    For this, I love you enough to forgive all your smiles.
    For this, I am content to be the girl you want to write.
    I will be the muse in the corner of your glass-walled flat.
    I will live the adjectives you want: unstudied, fresh, naîve.
    Then I will lose all of these to you and the city.
    I will leave and in going, leave you one last tale.
    I will leave before you see I have become someone else.
    You have become someone else too.
    This time, you are an artist.
    You find the wide-set of my eyes charming, the unstraightened twist of my nose, the slight curve of my hips.
    This time, I know better than to eat too much.
    Out to dinner with that couple you know, I curl my fingers around a fine-stemmed wine glass. My nails are clean and red.
    Your friend mentions their mountain home.
    It’s a quaint little cabin miles from civilization, miles from anywhere.
    But I know the name of its town.
    They invite us to join them.
    You agree for us both.
    “Oh, the Appalachians.” My tongue slides traitorous over the softened “c.”
    “I knew someone who lived there once.”


Roland Stoecker

so many paper thin layers of my soul
over the years,
becoming a stranger
to the stranger
I was

Janet Kuypers reads the Roland Stoecker poem
from Down in the Dirt mag, v118
video videonot yet rated
See YouTube video
of Janet Kuypers reading this Roland Stoecker poem Paper in Down in the Dirt mag, v118 live 8/14/13 at the open mic the Café Gallery in Chicago

Welcome To My Seaworld

Joshua Sidley

    Jacob Medina was one for keeping an ear to the ground, and within ten minutes of leaving the 110th Street subway station he had a clear understanding of what kids in the neighborhood—his neighborhood, once upon a time—thought about his clothing and his hair and his walk. He disagreed with most of what he picked up, though he believed one of the floating voices—maybe a boy, more likely a broody girl—had grasped the genius of his stylelessness, she (or he) just got it.
    In the time of his exile from Manhattan’s Cathedral Parkway, Jacob Medina had a New York State Identification Number assigned to him by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. To most non-inmates it was his name. To most inmates, he had no name, or many names...or any name that was screamed at him loudly enough, angrily enough. He was an uncontemptuous convict, impartial and unexcitable, except when he wasn’t. It meant something if you fucked with him; if you let him be, that was okay, too. He wasn’t there long enough to be presented with a fight he could win, though in losing, his bloodied face was always stiff with opposition, as if to say the next time would go down harder for everyone. Which it had.
    His release came in November, eleven months after his admittance. On both days, it rained, long and heavy. This enraged him, that the memories of each were indistinguishable. He kept his head, though. All the way out—making the sort of small talk he hated with the guard who was his escort—he kept his head.
    With Columbia University and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine among its neighbors, the Amsterdam Nursing Home sat on Amsterdam Avenue and 112th Street. Today, there was nowhere else Jacob Medina wanted to be more. Tomorrow, of course, would be very different. Or not—it would depend, as it always did, on Miriam Salas.
    An orderly knocked twice on her door, saying she had a visitor. When she emerged, she looked almost exactly as he’d imagined. The same was true for her, it seemed, as she appraised Jacob in the hallway for too long. “Still?” she said at last. The orderly grinned understanding and left them.
    “I was wearing this when I went in,” he said. “The kids like it. I heard them on the way here.”
    “Ugh. The kids,” she scoffed and turned. He followed her.
    <>I“Come visit first thing,” he said once inside her room. “I hope you meant it.”
    “Of course I did, you wary orphan,” she said and sat slowly down in the chair she had likely been sitting in before the interruption and, quite possibly, since his conviction. “Naturally, it was a time-sensitive offer.”
    “Please. You’re like rock and roll. You’ll never die.”
    She gave him a warning look, which he got.
    “So what do people talk about when they come around?”
    She smiled in anger. “No one comes. This place is fucking depressing.”
    “I thought this was one of the best homes in the city.”
    “Dying is depressing.”
    He sighed in agreement. “Okay, so what should we talk about?”
    “How about criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree?”
    He smiled at her, his cheeks dimpling. “Most people would say it’s too late for a lecture.”
    “Most know there’s a million fucking ways I could end this sentence and make my point.”
    “So make it.”
    “Most people are hopelessly goddamn stupid. Match point.”
    Her cellphone rang on the table beside the chair. She picked it up on the third ring, which by then sounded a lot like the theme to The Godfather. She explained swiftly, rather coldly, that she couldn’t talk at the moment: no, it was not an emergency: no, she wasn’t sure that it was not an emergency, how can one know that until the consequences are dealt: and what exactly was the appeal of such dipshit circular logic? She broke the connection and tossed the phone back on the table. It struck the edge of a stand-alone photo frame which Jacob hadn’t noticed until now.
    Lately, she had been getting calls at odd, wayward hours, she told him. “It doesn’t help that the smarter these phones get, the clearer the stupidity poisoning my brain. At least with my old dumbphone, everything was on an even keel.”
    “Who’s that?” he asked and pointed at the picture.
    She unanswered unforthrightly, “Margaret.”
    He waited, thinking he was supposed to know who that was; then he asked if it was her picture or if someone had brought it to her. Miriam shrugged slightly, as if to imply that the picture hadn’t been there one day, and the next day it had.
    “What are your plans?”
    “To give you an enthusiastic account of the trains I missed and the trains I didn’t miss to get here.”
    “The depth of your ambition frightens me, kiddo,” she said lightly, smiling. “You’ve scared me shitless, you’ll be glad to know.”
    Jacob Medina wanted desperately to talk about the importance of this visit and what it would determine. But he knew that he could not speak plainly today. He wondered if the situation was an ironic one, the concept always just beyond his grasp. “Actually, I was thinking about visiting Renny.”
    Miriam stared, unable to speak for what seemed a very long time.
    “He didn’t promise nothing when I was inside. And he only visited me twice, so it’s not like I got a hard-on for him or anything.”
    “Of course not. But what about his daughter?”
    That was very slippery of her but totally understandable. Lily was a damn fine-looking woman and had always liked him. Or seemed to. “She don’t like me.”
    “She doesn’t. You’re absolutely right. Good on you for seeing it.”
    He thanked her cheerlessly.
    “Lily’s secret—which isn’t of course a secret to me—is that she’s a dyke, masquerading as a bored hetero, and men exist solely to reaffirm her choice.”
    “Is it a choice really?
    “When they’re built like a brick shithouse, it’s destiny. When they’re built like my granddaughter, it’s a in she has one.”
    “That’s beautiful,” he said, eyeing her shrewdly. “Speaking of destiny—”
    “Don’t see Renny. It’s not a good idea now.”
    Jacob was perfectly still.
    Then, reconsidering: “He’s supposed to call me on my dumbass smartphone next week. You know what his calls are like?”
    He waited.
    “Tells me who he thinks is moving against him, which he’s usually dead wrong about. Then he goes on and on about books that mean a great deal to him and nobody else. If I say I like the same book, he says I don’t get it like he does. My child. You know who his favorite author is?”
    He thought he might but shook his head.
    “Robert Ludlum. Seriously. Any author who’s had movies made from his books, most could tell you right off if the book was better or not. Mario Puzo, John Grisham, hell, even Stephen King—whose stories all roll into one bloody mess—people can tell you if the book was better than the movie.”
    He agreed with that one. Those movies usually sucked.
    “Ask someone if a Ludlum book was better than the movie. Go ahead. They’ll probably say yeah, you know, just to say it. Sounds like it should be true and maybe it is. But they don’t really know. They. Don’t. Know. That’s my child all over. I can’t trust his word or his ways anymore. I can’t take the chance.”
    He locked eyes with Miriam Salas. Hers was the most purposeful gaze he had ever seen.
    A done deal. What he came for he now had. For the rest of the visit, he could relax. He would do his best. “Who’s Margaret?”
    “Wait just a second.” She raised her head, then her voice. “Is that you, Manny?”
    “Yes,” a man answered on the other side of her door. “A visitor for you.”
    Miriam threw her head back and roared. “I know that! He’s in here already.”
    “Not him,” said Manny. “Somebody else.”
    “Well, tell them to wait. No, tell them to come back tomorrow. I can’t handle two at once—not at my age.”
    Jacob hadn’t heard his footsteps before, but now he could hear Manny walking away, his pace uncertain.
    She looked back at him and narrowed her eyes and shook her head. “He didn’t get it.”
    Jacob wasn’t sure he got it, though he promised himself to review it later.
    “How’s Anthony?”
    “Tony Shakespeare?” She leaned forward. “Christ. You ever see the Twilight Zone?”
    He thought about it. “Guy with the glasses, loves to read. Survives a nuclear war, then finds the library— ”
    “Perfect!” said Miriam and leaned even farther forward in her chair. “That is a perfect, spot-on example. It’s like that entire series was bought and paid for by Merriam-Webster. It existed just to teach people—maybe not with every episode but almost every goddamn episode—the definition of irony. That’s all it was, you know?”
    He wanted to say he didn’t. He nodded.
    “Tony got accepted into NYU’s writing program this year. He writes this story, and they let him in. Just like that. I mean his grades are okay, nothing special but nothing that’s going to keep him out either, I guess. And it wasn’t just one story, it was a few. But according to Gloria, it was this one story that sealed the deal. How she knows that, who the hell knows. It took him longer than all the others combined, she says. Probably spied on him the whole time. You know how she gets.”
    He nodded, but Miriam didn’t look over to receive the nod.
    “So. High school. A guy and a girl. Here it goes. Girl’s beautiful, guy’s okay. He’s got friends and some kind of charisma because he’s had girlfriends before. He’s not a loser is what I’m trying to say. But the girl is untouchable, flawless. Jocks and rich guys barely get the time of day from her. And girls fucking hate her. Not to her face, but she knows it and she owns it, like anyone would. Then one day they bump into each other coming out of Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. They go to that LaGuardia school for Art and Music and shit. Remember the movie Fame?”
    “I know the school,” he said.
    “Well, they had to go see some show as an assignment. I think because they’re acting students. Or musicians. Or maybe singers. Whatever they are, this show is their homework but the teacher says it won’t feel like homework. They’ll adore it, they’ll even thank him later. But they both hated it! Hated it, like a damn trip to the dentist. They’re laughing together at how much they hate this thing. So spring forward a week and they’ve gotten to hanging out a little bit after school every day. Brought together by a hate they shared one time—it’s bullshit but it’s cute bullshit. And it turns out they got a bunch of other things in common. Music, movies, the usual and some unusuals. Story went a little long on that part, like he was trying to show off.”
    “Probably what got him in,” he said without meaning to. “That part.”
    “More like the part that comes next. Listen. They get to fooling around one day. Her house, I think. Nobody around. Things heat up, she takes off her shirt and her pants. Guess what he finds.”
    Jacob winced. “No!”
    “No what?”
    “Like that movie?”
    “Girl turns out to be a—”
    “Now that would have been something! That would have met with some hearty disapproval from Gloria, I’ll tell you that right now. You know how she gets.”
    He looked at her wearily. “So what was it? Scars? Whip marks? Burns?”
    “Keep guessing.”
    “Gunshot wounds?” He flinched the moment the words were out.
    “Colder. One more try.”
    “Hell, I don’t know.” He stared vaguely, discontentedly, away from her. “Tattoos?”
    She tapped her nose twice, her eyes wide. “All over her back and all colored up. Like a freaking mural. But not a dragon, thank Christ! I doubt any school admits a guy for the quality of his fan fiction.”
    “So what was it then?”
    “The ocean,” she said, smiling. “That’s what she tells him, anyway. Of course it looks more to him like a goddamn fish tank with a few fish. That’s what it would like on any normal-sized back, right? Maybe, maybe if she weighed three hundred pounds.”
    He shook his head. “It would just look like a saltwater tank.”
    She looked at him.
    “Those are generally bigger. Because of the chemicals and stuff.”
    “The author would like to thank Jacques Cousteau for his contribution,” she said over his head.
    He rolled his eyes. “My pleasure.”
    When her irritation wore off, she looked at the floor and remembered. “Now, our hero learns something about himself. He doesn’t like tattoos. Not. One. Bit. He’s never given it much thought before, but once he sees her unrobed, he knows this ain’t gonna work out. Of course, that doesn’t stop him from letting things take their natural course right then.”
    Naturally, he wanted to say but didn’t.
    “But the kid has heart. He really does like this girl a lot. She’s goddamn gorgeous and they have all kinds of silly shit in common. He wants to look past this! So one day he asks her if she has plans to get any more tattoos.”
    He raised his eyebrows in a pained expression.
    “Yes, sir. She tells him she’s got plans to squeeze in as many types of fish as she possibly can, big and small. No sharks, though. When she strips, it’ll be welcome to my seaworld! And if she runs out of space, her ass is up for grabs. No pun intended here, but in the story—well, you know.”
    He was starting to doubt he knew anything anymore. “I don’t know how you can remember all this.”
    She stared rancorously at him. “It’s Tony! It’s the beginning of something. And the ending is what makes it. Listen. He tells her. Just flat-out says he’s not liking all the tattoos. Can’t. Nothing personal, and he absolutely against-all-odds wants to remain friends. He tells her they have a connection and he doesn’t wanna lose it. He tells her it’s probably his loss anyway and he tries damn hard to sound like he means it.”
    “Does he?”
    She considered. “Can’t remember. Ask Tony.”
    He thought that was the cruelest thing anyone had ever said to him.
    “Nothing’s the same after that, of course. They still meet up after school, except now it’s only every couple days. Then it’s once a week, maybe. He always waits for her but apparently she’s got somewhere else to be most days. It’s killing him but he doesn’t know what to do about it, until—”
    “He follows her,” Jacob interrupted, absently.
    She bowed her head slowly, keeping eyes on him. “It’s what you would do, right? A man’s tactic. Yes, he follows her. Ditches his last class one day and waits across the street for her to show up. When she appears and starts walking, so does he, staying a block behind. Lucky for him, it doesn’t take too long to get to where she’s headed. Guess where.”
    He wanted to say he was tired of guessing. So he did.
    “That’s exactly right,” she said with a frown, eyebrows raised. “A tattoo parlor. He doesn’t want to wait after that. He feels the situation is even more hopeless now, she’s getting more tattoos just like she said she would. But then he gets an idea and decides to wait anyway. When she finally comes back out, he lets her get a couple of blocks away, then he goes into the tattoo parlor himself.”
    This surprised Jacob, for some reason.
    “He speaks to the tattooist, says he’s a friend of the girl with the ocean on her back. Describes her perfectly as well as her tattoos. Says he admires the guy’s work and was wondering how long it would take to finish up what she has planned. Believe it or not, his sister—who of course doesn’t exist—wants to have something similar done. That’s what he tells him. So the guy says that, based on her new request, it should take about 5 more sessions. The guy says she’s going all out, going all the way and in a hurry to get it all done. Even the goddamn tattooist is freaked out by her commitment.”
    “Poor kid,” he said.
    Miriam snorted. “Exactly! That’s what you’re supposed to think, and why not. He just got hit over the head with confirmation that she definitely ain’t the one for him and he needs to just move on.”
    Her cellphone rang again. She picked it up without saying anything. “Call me in a few days,” she said after a few moments. Then she looked at Jacob. “Call me tomorrow,” she said and sighed and hung up.
    They watched each other in frightened triumph.
    “Sorry about that,” said Miriam, looking helpless. “Do you want me to finish? You don’t gotta say yes just because it’s Tony.”
    “Are we near the end?”
    “Yes,” she said, sounding suddenly sick. “We are.”
    “Well, this part I don’t like so much. It’s not cute bullshit, but bullshit bullshit. You remember those movies with Molly Ringwald? Sixteen Candles and, like, five others?”
    Jacob told her he remembered them well, he was both proud and sorry to say.
    “Well, thanks to Renny, so do I. And in half those movies, you got a boy and girl who’d been best friends since they were in diapers. Somehow one falls in love with the other as soon as the diaper comes off, but years go by and the other is completely goddamn clueless the whole time. Then, in high school the wrong guy, or girl, steps in and hilarity and heartbreak ensues. Then, in the last five minutes our brokenhearted dumbass realizes that this longtime best pal is actually their soul mate...and maybe they themselves knew it all along? Puh-lease.”
    “So our guy has a readymade soul mate to take the sting out of losing tattoo lady? What was she, a lifelong neighbor?”
    She giggled. “What else? Lived in the apartment down the hall from him. Isn’t that convenient as all hell! Except—and I gotta give Tony credit here—it’s not the end. You think you’re getting some nice gooey conclusion out of left field, but the real end is what sells it. Remember the tattooist said the girl had 5 more sessions to finish what she wanted done. 5 days. And that shit takes time to heal, right? So a couple of weeks later, she’s waiting for him after school. He hasn’t seen or spoken to her in all that time. But there she is, and she wants to talk. Wants to show him something.”
    “Let me guess—nevermind.”
    “It’s not what you think. Trust me. So they walk over to Alice Tully Hall. Where it all began. There’s a stairway nearby that leads to the subway. She takes him down there and waits until there’s no one going up or down. Once they’re alone, she lifts her shirt.” She grinned, savoring the moment. When he looked sufficiently hungry, she said: “Nothing.”
    This did not surprise Jacob, for some reason. “She had it all removed.”
    “No,” said Miriam flatly. “You don’t go to a tattoo parlor to get shit removed. That’s surgery. With lasers. Remember how when the kid first saw her back, it looked like a fish tank to him—well, let’s just say she had the tank filled. Instead of an assortment of fish, she chose just one thing.”
    He looked first amazed, then disappointed. “What? His face?”
    She shook her head. “Sand.”
    He closed his eyes. “Of course. Perfectly flesh-colored, right? Probably couldn’t even tell unless you saw it up close, right?”
    She nodded once. “It’s part of the ocean, she tells him happily. And if the ocean were packed solid with sand, then everybody could walk on water. And we’d all be closer to Jesus.”
    Jacob sat back in his chair and breathed. “So she loves him and she’s crazy,” he said and squinted at the floor. “It’s bittersweet.”
    “It’s a Twilight Zone, is what it is. It’s just irony, signed and sealed. Approved and stamped. At the last minute Tony throws in the devoted neighbor girl and then hits us with tattoo lady’s wacky religious excuse to appease the guy—or herself—and boom, the curtain closes.”
    “That’s the end?”
    “Yes. Well, no—the very end is him getting off at his station. An elevated platform, the kid lives somewhere in Queens. He’s walking along, alone, thinking he’s got a hard decision to make. It sucks that he’s gonna have to hurt somebody, but at the same time he feels like he’s walking on—”
    “Water?” he guessed.
    “Air,” she said, smiling. “Yeah, I know. I call that irony lite.”
    He was staring down, with his mouth ajar, at the floor. “So that’s Tony. That’s where he is. Good for him, then.”
    Miriam arched her back. “Yeah, he’ll be okay, I think. He can only get better, right?”
    “Tell him that next time you see him.”
    “No one much comes around. Too depressing. I told you.”
    “Someone was just here. Remember that guy, what was his—Manny! He said—”
    “That don’t count. Trust me. That’s no visitor, that’s a goddamn nuisance,” she said, looking lonely and unsatisfied.
    “What about Renny?”
    There was a resounding silence.
    “He’s decaying. Getting...dreamy. Up here.” She tapped her forehead with her index finger and Jacob looked away, knowing what it would call to mind. Knowing she knew. “He’s taking chances he never did before. Look what happened to you.”
    Her room seemed suddenly unreal in the yellow light coming from the window. The rain had stopped at some point during Tony’s story, and now the sun was out, beautiful and in control. He raised his hands and dropped them helplessly. “That was my own fault.”
    “The hell it was!” she said hoarsely. “Cops were crawling all over the place. You know why? Because the disturbance that was supposed to distract them from what you were doing hit twenty minutes early. You had time to drop off the stuff but before you could unload the piece, they had already finished dealing with Renny’s diversion. Jumping the gun just like he did with those damn relay races in school. Fucking embarrassment that was. That—and this. My child.”
    She convinced him. Seeing Renny wasn’t going to do any good.
    “It wasn’t your fault, kiddo.”
    “Okay,” he said.
    “Know that.”
    “I do,” he lied.
    “You know he shaves now? I’m talking about Tony.”
    He hesitated, then nodded. “He’s starting college. Of course he shaves.”
    “Except one side of his neck he goes with the grain, and the other side, against. He thinks it don’t make a difference, even though he looks like he’s been laying out at the beach with his entire body covered except half his neck. That’s what happens when you don’t have a man around.”
    “Gloria doesn’t tell him?”
    “Maybe she does. Probably she does, but he’s probably thinking what the hell does she know about it?”
    He almost said he would tell him. But he wouldn’t be seeing Tony either. “Someone will say something eventually,” he said.
    “Miss Miriam,” Manny called to her from the hallway. “Another visitor for you.”
    “Jesus H. Christ!”
    Jacob smiled. “Nobody comes around, huh?”
    “A lot of nobodies come around. But you?” She rose to her feet with an impatient sigh. “I’m glad you came. You were good for all of us.”
    He believed her and followed her lead. “Me too,” he said and stood up. They hugged briefly. At the door he said in a pensive voice, “If you filled the ocean with sand, wouldn’t that just make quicksand?”
    Miriam frowned and raised an eyebrow. “Maybe that’s why Columbia wouldn’t take him.”
    “Oh. I was wondering if he applied.”
    “Of course he did. He wanted to stay in the neighborhood, if possible.”
    He said, faltering, “The neighborhood. Right.”
    “Bye, kiddo.”
    The door closed gently and he started on his way out. In the waiting area by the entrance, he saw a middle-aged woman standing against a wall. He recognized her immediately. Margaret. He didn’t know who she was, nor did he want to guess anymore. Suddenly, his knees were shaking. He walked out before she could see him.
    A few minutes later, crossing the street at Amsterdam and 112th Street, he looked up to see if the poster of Johnny Depp from Public Enemies was still in the third floor window of the brownstone there. It was. That meant no one had been using the apartment. Renny owned it but Jacob had been living in it for almost three years before his conviction. He took out his keys and opened the front door with confidence. He walked past the stairway and—for the first time since he had lived there—waited for the elevator. When he got to the apartment, he inserted his key into the lock and breathed. It turned.
    Inside, nothing at all had changed. It was a small studio, tastefully furnished. One wall was exposed brick which still pleased him. His bed was made, though the staleness of the sheets made him wince. He sat down and was about to reach under the mattress when something in the corner of the room caught his eye.
    An empty fish tank. Forty gallons, unused.
    The idea to start a saltwater aquarium came about a year and a half ago. One day he had seen a display in a store window, a brightly lit 55 gallon tank filled with angels, clowns, gobies, tangs, dragonets, hatchets, wrasse and danios, and he had been struck by the possibility of awakening daily to something beautiful that needed him. But Renny had been keeping him busy then, so he’d kept putting it off, figuring he wouldn’t be so active for much longer. In Renny’s—Miriam’s—business, people who made moves one right after the other usually didn’t last.
    I can’t trust his word or his
    ways anymore.
    Now he got up from the bed and walked over to it, stepping on a roach on the way. He bent down and picked up the tank which was covered in a fine dust. He was about to blow on it, then stopped himself when he saw the mouse droppings inside. Instead, he went back to the bed and placed the empty tank next to him. He stared at it for a few minutes. Warring emotions crossed his face with no winner in sight.
    Then he reached under the mattress again and pulled out a Baby Eagle 9915R semi-automatic pistol. He released the magazine, looked at it, then reinserted it. He repositioned the fish tank on the opposite end of the bed, away from him. Suddenly, he grabbed the pillow from underneath the sheet and placed it on the floor near the tank. If it fell, it should land on the pillow, he thought. Then he sat back down on the bed, aimed the pistol at his forehead, and fired.


Jacquelyne Kibler

    The wind was strong and the sand was fine and all exposed flesh and every fabric fold carried the sparkling pieces like a pastry glaze. The day, with its high sun and salty smell, was perfect but for this small, constant thing. The Hanalei Bay beach was a long stripe of tan against Jurassic jungle as many Kauai beaches were. The fine sand and spacious coasts represented the age and tradition of this place, of gusts and currents and shifts that knew climate and storms—some experienced, some only surmised by human minds.
    It was here that Thomas and Veronica, a not-so-young, not-so-old married couple took a reprieve from Veronica’s family, leaving them all at the hotel to juggle a toddler nephew and infant niece. The strong wind turned their wide towels into windsocks as they wrestled them into the sand and pinned them with beach bags and water bottles. A scattering of vacationers and locals covered the shore—teenagers chased and punted a soccer ball, an older couple perched in recliners with heavy paperbacks, sunbathers of all shapes and sizes extended in the sand. Veronica watched a little boy in Spiderman swim trunks, frog-squat and chatter to himself as he built what was probably his first sandcastle.
    “It’s exfoliating,” Veronica said as Thomas moved sunscreen across her sand-encrusted back like a windshield wiper. Thomas grunted as a gust of sand kicked his face. Veronica took it as a slight against her “sunny side” comment as Thomas often labeled them, sometimes as a compliment, sometimes as a criticism, his moods like mountain storms—sweeps of sheer sun and sopping clouds in the same afternoon. It was probably her third or fourth sunny comment today. This morning, Thomas’ phone alarm accidentally went off at 4:00 a.m. Thomas did not sleep well and the bed was filled with sighs and successive tosses and turns. Veronica, annoyed but determined to embrace this parent-funded vacation, got up and made coffee. As she poured her own mug, she paused at half a glass, then filled it with milk. She invited Thomas on the quiet balcony. “How often do you get to see the sun rise on Hawaii?” she said. Thomas conceded a smile as the blue light crept into the palm trees and the engorged bird of paradise lit at the sun’s first rays. That one shouldn’t count, Veronica thought. It made them happy with softly chirping conversation, their bellies full of warm, Kona coffee.
    Another comment was made in the car when her sister’s baby would not stop howling during the fifteen minute drive to Hanalei center. Her sister, squished between Veronica and the backseat window of the rented minivan, craned over the baby in the seat in front of her, cooing and shaking a rattle amidst her mother’s subtle glares of impatience and her husband’s disconnected indifference. (He was the man after all. It was not his job.) Veronica looked at her own husband, jaw tense with irritation—he did not like loud noises. At her mother’s fourth stare, Veronica shrugged and pointed out that babies will be babies, that this little one had a healthy set of lungs. Her sister gave her a wan smile—condescending but appreciative—but the car was silent and Thomas just stared out the window and exhaled long and quiet breaths, his chest rising between the bridge mounts of his shoulders. She looked past him into the green walls of bushy trees with yellow flowers like bits of taffy she wanted to pluck and sink into her mouth, into everyone’s mouths.
    The baby having a good set of lungs—that comment was probably a little bright, like heat on a salt-and-sun rash. But the exfoliating comment was more of a joke, and it irritated her that he didn’t see it that way, that he didn’t chuckle, that he opted to huff at her optimism. A babyshould have a good set of lungs.
    “That’s fine,” Veronica said and lay on her stomach, feeling the rolling sand press her belly from beneath the towel.
    “It’s not rubbed in,” Thomas said.
    “It’s fine. It’ll soak in.” She turned her head away from him, gazed across the long, horizon of sand, and thought of the tiny, buggy eyed crabs peaking from their holes and being able to blink into their homes at the slightest disturbance.
    Veronica envied the crab. She was two weeks late and she was never late. She brushed off the first week to the stress of taking on more private voice lessons and the next few days after that she was simply too busy getting everything ready for the vacation, and a few days after that, here she was—breasts two tender mounds smashed beneath her and a nose that could smell barbecued shrimp on the other side of the hotel. She was pregnant, and she envied those scampering, hovel-driven little crabs.
     After seven years of marriage, Thomas and Veronica finally talked about it in a serious manner. They both thought that they might want children, which was a big step from the not having children that began their courtship. But they would wait a while longer. What’s the hurry? Like so many of their artsy master-degree peers, they worked a series of low-paying or part-time jobs and projects to scrap together a decent two-bedroom apartment living, the most space they’d had, the most money they’d made, most of which was sifted into student loans equaling their monthly rent. “You’re lucky to have a job in this economy,” her dad frequently said, eyes more to Thomas than Veronica. Yes, they were, and so they would wait, wait this economy out. Wait until Thomas found an editor position. Wait until Veronica found a contract at any of the three school districts where she taught children five to fifteen years old, and at various levels of squirmy rebellion, how to sing. Wait until they had a proper house with a proper yard. They would be responsible and wait.
    If they had kids too soon they might need toask for help from Veronica’s parents. She had watched her sister try to buy happiness in her marriage and create a makeshift ideal family out of thick-inked checks from their parents until her husband succumbed to his father’s business. The tacky strings already pulled at the brows of Thomas and Veronica—the meals out her parents insisted they indulge in but the tense moment when the check arrived, Thomas only able to lay money down for a round of drinks. This trip to the lush and bountiful island of Kauai was also insisted upon and plane tickets paid. Veronica and Thomas were most grateful, of course, who wouldn’t be? They could never have afforded a vacation let alone a trip to paradise and the surface was splashy and foamy and fun but the undertow, like Kauai’s infamous riptides, tugged their toes and shins, pulling them to their knees, grounding themselves with handfuls of wet dirt trying to remember who they were amidst the foggy communication and paper cut comments that formed the roots of her family. Comments that buffed the conservative family life of her sister and the masculine bread-winning occupation of her sister’s husband. Happiness was a liberal pursuit. Her mother and sister often swirled “DINKs” (dual income no kids) into the conversations at social gatherings. Followed by “But they are the best aunt and uncle!” After hitting thirty, it was a cemented label in the family consciousness. They obviously wouldn’t,couldn’t have children.
    Veronica studied her husband in a new and meticulous way during this trip. She watched with an oven warmth as he took their nephew, Jimmy, into the waves, the boy giggling and squealing and clinging to him like a monkey as he dipped him toward the oncoming surf and pulled him upright as the wave crashed over their legs. This warmth chilled as he huffed awake, softly cursing on their second night as the baby’s squeals sank through the walls from next door. And then today’s car ride—understandable but questionable. Could he or couldn’t he? Not a proper scale really, she thought, they were not his children, it was not his crying baby. And of course, there was her, someone who used trite, sunny comments to coat her own soft melancholia or “musician’s temper.” What good would a sunny remark be to a screaming child and writhing husband? Could she or couldn’t she? So many did, naturally, no big deal, like they were picking out a large appliance. Everyone needs a dishwasher right? It’s what people do. Thomas and Veronica’s apartment didn’t have a dishwasher. With just two people, washing dishes by hand is easy, almost meditative. If they had baby, they should get a dishwasher, a bigger place, life insurance. Never mind that they would be responsible for the safety and well-being of an entire life form. A dishwasher’s just the beginning.
    Veronica exhaled and the wind responded with a kick that flopped the corner of her towel over her face. She refused to move it. The light fought through the brightly patterned fabric. She could almost make out the tropical pattern. She closed her eyes and imagined herself beneath the beach in the wet under layers and tried to forget about the dishwasher. Three of her choirs sangThe Sound of Music’s “Do Re Mi” this past year. Those vowels, sometimes shiny and golden and sometimes grinding with rusty dissonance, trotted between her temples.
    Thomas touched her back and moved the mane of wind-tangled hair to her shoulder.Don’t move the towel, she thought. It’s too bright. But he didn’t touch it. He just kept touching her back, laying a kiss here and there.
    “It’s nice, just the two of us,” he said.
    She nodded and whispered, “Yes, it is.”
    “You gonna come out of there?”
    She pulled the towel from her face, quick, as if she were ripping off a bandage. The sun was shrouded behind a cloud and it wasn’t as burning bright as she’d anticipated. She turned onto her back.
    “I’m out,” she said.
    “You know that won’t be us, right?”
    “What do you mean?”
    “Your sister, the doting wife and overwhelmed mother. Jim just sitting there like some lion watching his pride. Nothing like that.”
    She agreed and they vented a bit about the way her family behaved, the way they were good people but not like them. They uncoiled each other and reignited their small little world. Their conversation was interrupted by the little boy in the Spiderman swim trunks who asked, yellow bucket in hand, if he could borrow their sand. “Take as much as you like,” Thomas said. The boy plunged his bucket near the foot of their towels and filled it. “Thank you,” he said when he was finished and galloped back to his castle. “Rascal,” Thomas said and grinned. She wanted to tell him then, almost blurted it out. But a hinge in her gut swung closed and stopped her. She needed a little more time, she was still tip-toeing about, still not used to this uneven sand, and she wanted to fully enjoy that moment, to not be thinking about the necessity or non-necessity of kitchen appliances. The surf began to pick-up and the previously floppy waves turned to strong swells, attracting the soccer-kicking teenagers and others into the water. Hot and sandblasted, Veronica and Thomas joined them in the waves.
    They floated and dipped in the ocean, treaded water as they kissed, arms and legs flapping awkwardly for balance. Veronica licked the saltwater from her lips and watched her hand move against the green glow. They caught waves with their bodies and Veronica felt the hinge loosen and swivel under the whipping and swaying currents as she lost herself in the water’s push, rolling into the sand in whatever manner it chose for her. A higher but not menacing hump of water bubbled from the ocean. Thomas said, “You going for it?” Veronica nodded. They both smiled. The wave boiled over, forming a foam-tipped hook as the wave began to break. Veronica paddled forward and caught the break, the water sending her far onto the beach, she looked up to see their towels just a few feet away.
    She looked around to brag to Thomas, but she didn’t see him in the water or on the beach. By now, the water was speckled with bobbing heads. She splashed to her feet, forcing her legs through the water, yelling his name. Since they married, she had always been pressed by terrible imaginings: if Thomas was late coming home from work or an errand, if he went for a bike ride, if he went to the corner store. There was always some horrible thing that could befall him. Now it was a riptide or shark. Waist deep, breath heavy, nostrils and throat burning with saltwater and panic, she looked back to the shore and spotted Thomas. He was releasing the hand of the sand-borrowing boy as he grabbed the leg of his father, the father had a little girl on his hip, a tight panic releasing from his face. The man shook Thomas’ hand and said a few words. Thomas waved goodbye to the little boy. The boy clung to his father’s leg, but was coaxed into giving a quick wave.
    She fought her way out of the water, meeting Thomas half-way.
    “What happened?” she asked.
    “You won’t believe it. That freaking wave just plowed that kid over and was taking him out. I had to grab him.”
    “Is he all right?”
    “Sure, just a mouthful of saltwater. Kid’s not much older than Jimmy. Treacherous.” He looked to the water. “You want to go back to the place?”
    Thomas covered farmer’s markets to child molestation, all with a supreme journalist’s calm, words sterilized to adjective-free pegs of facts. “Treacherous” was Thomas becoming emotional. Veronica smiled and kissed him on the side of his mouth, said she was going to rinse off but they shouldn’t head back to the hotel just yet.
    Veronica took a towel and walked to the shower. As she tromped down the beach, strong feet in warm, malleable sand, she saw the uneven humps of the boys obliterated sandcastle. He now sat wrapped in a towel, engulfed by his father’s embrace. A gust of sand hit her back, but it was no longer a detraction from the bright, salty day but a compliment to it like an unexpected and strange dessert. She entered the brown cement building with the bathrooms and open shower stalls. She looked forward to telling him now. They could do this, and without a dishwasher. She imagined his toothy grin, the one that was nearly giddy, the one he couldn’t help, the one he’d give her when he liked her “sunny side” comments. She imagined his squinting eyes, his embrace, his fingers touching her belly.
    As the water sprayed cool and clear across her face, spilling down her shoulders, and spraying her toes, the hinge in her gut returned. Except it was in a different place and growing, not like apprehension but very real like a claw readying its talons. The sensation grew, one large pinch in her lower belly. A warmth started slithering down her thighs and she looked down to see a red line curving around the drain. The sand too, fallen from her back and from bathers before her, formed little round rivulets, calm little spirals formed by the force and whim of water.


Janet Kuypers

    so I was at this bar, on the coast of florida -- the west coast, the gulf side, you know. it was this place called lana kai, and my friend gave me a ride all the way from naples, which is a good forty-five minutes south of the place.

    and so we were sitting there at the bar, which is half indoors and half on the beach, and all these old men kept staring at my friend’s chest. a couple guys bought us beer and one guy asked me to dance. I was surprised he asked me to dance, and not my friend -- men were usually more attracted to her.

    but the guys were jerks anyway -- one looked like a marine with that haircut and must have been high on something, one looked like he decided to forgo hygiene, another was twice my age. it’s not as if I try to pick up men in bars anyway.

    so after a while I couldn’t stand being at the bar, next to the reggae band that was playing (I never really liked reggae music anyway, I mean, it’s too slow to dance to), so I begged my friend to come walk with me on the beach.

    christ, I felt like a ten-year-old with a bucket and shovel when I kicked off my black suede shoes and ran into the water. I always loved the feel of sand when it’s drenched in water. it feels like clay as it seeps around my toes, pulling me into the ground.

    so there I was, splashing in the water, wearing a black sequin dress, throwing my purse to the shore, taking a swig from my can of miller lite. this was life, I thought. pure and simple. an army couldn’t have dragged me out of the water.

    so my friend found some guy to hit on, as she usually does, and she wanted me to hit on his friend. I found him ugly as all sin, and impossible to talk to. I told him that one of the rafts on the shore was mine, and instead of driving to the bar I sailed. and he believed me. I told my friend flat out that I wouldn’t go with him. she was pissed that I didn’t find him good-looking.

    so then He strolled up from the bar to the beach, an intriguing stranger, and He walked up right next to me in the water, still wearing his shoes, seeming to know that I needed to be saved. as most knights in shining armor would.

    and He said hello to me, and He started talking to me, and He cracked a few jokes, and He made me laugh.

    and okay, I’ll admit it -- he was good-looking, really good looking. I remember at one point, looking at him made me think of a greek statue, He had this curly hair, this sharp chin, these strong cheek bones. but those greek statues could never talk to me, they have no color, they don’t come alive. they’re made of stone.

    His name was Clay. and when we talked He crept into my pores, the way the sand made it’s way between my toes. His voice tunneled into me, boring me hollow, making me anxiously wait to be filled with more and more of His words.

    my friend disappeared with her new-found monosyllabic lover, for hours, until long after the bar closed, leaving me stranded. there I was, forty-five miles north of my home at 2:20 in the morning with no means of transportation. it could have been worse, I could have been somewhere other than on the beach, I could have been sober, and I might not have had a knight in shining armor named Clay to save me.

    and as He drove me home (an hour and a half out of his way), I couldn’t help but run my fingers through his hair, it was an uncontrollable impulse, like the urge to drag your fingers deep into the wet sand. I told Him I was just trying to keep Him awake for the drive.

    it’s almost better if I never see Him again. then I can always think of Him this way.

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(3:10) Live at Beach Poets 08/14/05
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(4:36) recorded on the Pacific Ocean
12/07 near the Galapagos Islands

done this before

Janet Kuypers

I keep looking back at your picture. I’ll flip it over to stop from staring at it while I read a page from my book, but a minute won’t pass before I’ll have to turn the photo over again to see your face. It’s as if I can’t get away from it.

My flight was delayed, I’m at O’Hare Airport, the airport that departs three planes every second, or is it one plane every three seconds, oh shit, I don’t remember. I have to wait at least three hours for my next flight, hey, if so many planes take off here, then why can’t I get on one of them? Oh well, so I decided to waste my time in one of the airport cocktail bars, by gate L 4. I thought I’d start with a white zinfandel and work my way to mixed drinks, but this wine tastes so good that I think I might just have to have another.
I’m so exasperated, I hate to wait, and all I have is a good book to keep me company. I used your photo from my wallet as a bookmark. I need these things to keep me sane.

It really isn’t bad here in the cocktail bar by gate L 4, the chairs aren’t that uncomfortable, even though they’re a pretty ugly shade of green that doesn’t match anything in the room. It really isn’t that bad, in a foreign city, in a foreign airport. Not when I’ve got my Sutter Home White Zinfandel. And my picture of you.

You know, there’s a blonde girl dressed well with a bad perm across the bar, and she’s smoking a cigarette. I know I don’t smoke, but I’m almost tempted to ask her for one just so I can hold the cigarette the way you do.
I’d like to taste the tar, the nicotine, the way I taste it in your kiss. You think I don’t like it, but I do.

They’re playing a song in the cocktail bar, a song that reminds me of an ex. I wanted to marry that man. He had a knack of being able to envelope me, to take my troubles away.
I don’t know if I can take away my troubles myself anymore. I don’t know if the liquor’s helping, or the cigarettes. Your photo helps, my little bookmark. At least for now it helps.

Sitting in this L 4 cocktail bar reminds me of my brother. When I was young he’d always pick us up at the airport, but if he wasn’t waiting at the gate we knew to look for him at the seafood cocktail bar. a part of me expects him to come walking through the doorway now, flannel shirt, ski jacket, wind-blown greasy hair, coke-bottle glasses. You know, when I’d look at his eyes through those glasses, his eyes looked twice as big as they actually were.
I could imagine him now, I could imagine the smell of his Levi’s of dirt from the construction site. I remember that smell from my father; I’d smell it every day when he came home from work. It’s my brother’s business now, he’s got his own family now to worry about instead of a little sister. So I’ll just sit here at this airport cocktail bar, remembering the days when I’d sit with him in a place like this and I was too young to drink.

God, I want to see my brother walking in to this bar at L 4, ordering a shrimp cocktail. I want to see you, babbling on about a movie you reviewed or a gig your band had. I want something that isn’t so foreign, like this bar. Or maybe I want something that isn’t so familiar.

I took your picture out of my wallet, the wallet that has so many pictures of men who have come and gone in my life, men who have hurt me, men who I have gone through like... like dish washing liquid, or like something I use all the time and replace all the time and don’t think twice about.

I’ll just sit here, in this airport, trying to care just the right amount, not too much, but not too little.
So I’ll just sit here, in this airport cocktail bar, looking at your photo, and wondering if I’ve done this before.

Done This Before
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of The Other Side live, including this poem in Chicago 10/21/03 (3:01)

Dreams Turned Into Nightmares

Janet Kuypers

    Analyze this. Get yourself on track. All men are scum anyway, Christ, this was just your reaffirmation of it. None of these people really matter. Just get back to your work, get yourself focused again. That’s how to demonstrate your worth.
    You don’t care about your work. Who are you trying to impress? Let it pile up. It doesn’t matter. God, why does it always feel like this? Why is it that you have to depend on others for your worth, and when there is one little crumb of affection thrown at you, you savor it and pray that it’s a sign for more and you hope and your pray and then when nothing comes it’s all the same again except this time all of your hopes are shot.
    Why are there times like this when you feel so alone? There are other times when you relish in your solitude. Look at the dishes pile up. You should be doing laundry. Slob. Bitch. Can’t even clean up after yourself.
    Why does everything have to hurt you so much? Why are you crying so much more now? Why do you look for ways to feel bad, reasons to cry? What do you feel guilty for? Why do you go through this?
    Oh, don’t even try to daydream and get yourself out of this. It will always be the same, you have to remember that. You can try to dream that you deserve something better, but don’t bother. You will always keep trying, with the hope that it will get better, and you will keep failing, every single god-damn time, and that’s the way it will go, forever and ever, on and on. It won’t stop, not until you do. Can you resign yourself to this? Can you resign yourself to not trying, or are you going to keep building your hopes up for nothing?
    What is the good of anything that you’ve done? Are you any happier for it?
    God, how do you go through these cycles? How the Hell can you deal with it? There’s got to be a way to get out of it. Try not to think of it.
    You’re so lonely. All you’ve got left to you is your mind, and it’s destroying you, slowly. When will it destroy you altogether? When? It’s only a matter of time.
    Why do you dream? Are you trying to escape reality? Are you trying to create a new reality? I think you dream and dream until you think that it’s all actually real, and then when someone in your life proves your dream wrong you whole world falls to pieces. Piece. Little pieces. Look, there goes a few now. Try to pick them up, you’re going to lose them if you don’t pick them up and try to piece them back together again, and then you’ll be destroyed. Can you create a new dream with what you have left?
    You want to slip into it again. It’s what keeps you alive, keeps you going. It’s the only thing that gives you hope. What the Hell do you need that hope for? You’ll be let down, you know it, if you can step down from that dream of yours. Get out of it! Stop. All these good dreams keep reminding you of what it could be like, if only you were someone else, if only you were someone liked and successful and important. And those bad dreams, those are your way of punishing yourself for dreaming. Your mind slips them in there, when no one else is looking, and then, because you live in your dreams so much, you have to play it out, and then you’ll cry and cry and there’s nothing you can do.
    You can’t face up to it, can you? You’ll be no better than this. Your life will be no better than this. Nothing will be better than this, better than dreams turned into nightmares.

Dreams Turned Into Nightmares
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Janet Kuypers Bio

    Janet Kuypers has a Communications degree in News/Editorial Journalism (starting in computer science engineering studies) from the UIUC. She had the equivalent of a minor in photography and specialized in creative writing. A portrait photographer for years in the early 1990s, she was also an acquaintance rape workshop facilitator, and she started her publishing career as an editor of two literary magazines. Later she was an art director, webmaster and photographer for a few magazines for a publishing company in Chicago, and this Journalism major was even the final featured poetry performer of 15 poets with a 10 minute feature at the 2006 Society of Professional Journalism Expo’s Chicago Poetry Showcase. This certified minister was even the officiant of a wedding in 2006.
    She sang with acoustic bands “Mom’s Favorite Vase”, “Weeds and Flowers” and “the Second Axing”, and does music sampling. Kuypers is published in books, magazines and on the internet around 9,300 times for writing, and over 17,800 times for art work in her professional career, and has been profiled in such magazines as Nation and Discover U, won the award for a Poetry Ambassador and was nominated as Poet of the Year for 2006 by the International Society of Poets. She has also been highlighted on radio stations, including WEFT (90.1FM), WLUW (88.7FM), WSUM (91.7FM), WZRD (88.3FM), WLS (8900AM), the internet radio stations ArtistFirst dot com,’s Poetry World Radio and Scars Internet Radio (SIR), and was even shortly on Q101 FM radio. She has also appeared on television for poetry in Nashville (in 1997), Chicago (in 1997), and northern Illinois (in a few appearances on the show for the Lake County Poets Society in 2006). Kuypers was also interviewed on her art work on Urbana’s WCIA channel 3 10 o’clock news.
    She turned her writing into performance art on her own and with musical groups like Pointless Orchestra, 5D/5D, The DMJ Art Connection, Order From Chaos, Peter Bartels, Jake and Haystack, the Bastard Trio, and the JoAnne Pow!ers Trio, and starting in 2005 Kuypers ran a monthly iPodCast of her work, as well mixed JK Radio — an Internet radio station — into Scars Internet Radio (both radio stations on the Internet air 2005-2009). She even managed the Chaotic Radio show (an hour long Internet radio show 1.5 years, 2006-2007) through and She has performed spoken word and music across the country - in the spring of 1998 she embarked on her first national poetry tour, with featured performances, among other venues, at the Albuquerque Spoken Word Festival during the National Poetry Slam; her bands have had concerts in Chicago and in Alaska; in 2003 she hosted and performed at a weekly poetry and music open mike (called Sing Your Life), and from 2002 through 2005 was a featured performance artist, doing quarterly performance art shows with readings, music and images.
    Since 2010 Kuypers also hosts the Chicago poetry open mic at the Café Gallery, while also broadcasting the Cafés weekly feature podcasts (and where she sometimes also performs impromptu mini-features of poetry or short stories or songs, in addition to other shows she performs live in the Chicago area).
    In addition to being published with Bernadette Miller in the short story collection book Domestic Blisters, as well as in a book of poetry turned to prose with Eric Bonholtzer in the book Duality, Kuypers has had many books of her own published: Hope Chest in the Attic, The Window, Close Cover Before Striking, (woman.) (spiral bound), Autumn Reason (novel in letter form), the Average Guy’s Guide (to Feminism), Contents Under Pressure, etc., and eventually The Key To Believing (2002 650 page novel), Changing Gears (travel journals around the United States), The Other Side (European travel book), The Boss Lady’s Editorials, The Boss Lady’s Editorials (2005 Expanded Edition), Seeing Things Differently, Change/Rearrange, Death Comes in Threes, Moving Performances, Six Eleven, Live at Cafe Aloha, Dreams, Rough Mixes, The Entropy Project, The Other Side (2006 edition), Stop., Sing Your Life, the hardcover art book (with an editorial) in cc&d v165.25, the Kuypers edition of Writings to Honour & Cherish, The Kuypers Edition: Blister and Burn, S&M, cc&d v170.5, cc&d v171.5: Living in Chaos, Tick Tock, cc&d v1273.22: Silent Screams, Taking It All In, It All Comes Down, Rising to the Surface, Galapagos, Chapter 38 (v1 and volume 1), Chapter 38 (v2 and Volume 2), Chapter 38 v3, Finally: Literature for the Snotty and Elite (Volume 1, Volume 2 and part 1 of a 3 part set), A Wake-Up Call From Tradition (part 2 of a 3 part set), (recovery), Dark Matter: the mind of Janet Kuypers , Evolution, Adolph Hitler, O .J. Simpson and U.S. Politics, the one thing the government still has no control over, (tweet), Get Your Buzz On, Janet & Jean Together, po•em, Taking Poetry to the Streets, the Cana-Dixie Chi-town Union, the Written Word, Dual, Prepare Her for This, uncorrect, Living in a Big World (color interior book with art and with “Seeing a Psychiatrist”), Pulled the Trigger (part 3 of a 3 part set), Venture to the Unknown (select writings with extensive color NASA/Huubble Space Telescope images), Janet Kuypers: Enriched, She’s an Open Book, “40”, Sexism and Other Stories, the Stories of Women, Prominent Pen (Kuypers edition), Elemental, the paperback book of the 2012 Datebook (which was also released as a spiral-bound cc&d ISSN# 2012 little spiral datebook, , Chaotic Elements, and Fusion, the (select) death poetry book Stabity Stabity Stab Stab Stab, the 2012 art book a Picture’s Worth 1,000 words (available with both b&w interior pages and full color interior pages, the 2013 ISSN# color art book Life, in Color, and Post Apocalyptic. Three collection books were also published of her work in 2004, Oeuvre (poetry), Exaro Versus (prose) and L’arte (art).

what is veganism?

A vegan (VEE-gun) is someone who does not consume any animal products. While vegetarians avoid flesh foods, vegans don’t consume dairy or egg products, as well as animal products in clothing and other sources.

why veganism?

This cruelty-free lifestyle provides many benefits, to animals, the environment and to ourselves. The meat and dairy industry abuses billions of animals. Animal agriculture takes an enormous toll on the land. Consumtion of animal products has been linked to heart disease, colon and breast cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and a host of other conditions.

so what is vegan action?

We can succeed in shifting agriculture away from factory farming, saving millions, or even billions of chickens, cows, pigs, sheep turkeys and other animals from cruelty.

We can free up land to restore to wilderness, pollute less water and air, reduce topsoil reosion, and prevent desertification.

We can improve the health and happiness of millions by preventing numerous occurrences od breast and prostate cancer, osteoporosis, and heart attacks, among other major health problems.

A vegan, cruelty-free lifestyle may be the most important step a person can take towards creatin a more just and compassionate society. Contact us for membership information, t-shirt sales or donations.

vegan action

po box 4353, berkeley, ca 94707-0353


MIT Vegetarian Support Group (VSG)


* To show the MIT Food Service that there is a large community of vegetarians at MIT (and other health-conscious people) whom they are alienating with current menus, and to give positive suggestions for change.

* To exchange recipes and names of Boston area veg restaurants

* To provide a resource to people seeking communal vegetarian cooking

* To provide an option for vegetarian freshmen

We also have a discussion group for all issues related to vegetarianism, which currently has about 150 members, many of whom are outside the Boston area. The group is focusing more toward outreach and evolving from what it has been in years past. We welcome new members, as well as the opportunity to inform people about the benefits of vegetarianism, to our health, the environment, animal welfare, and a variety of other issues.

The Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology

The Solar Energy Research & Education Foundation (SEREF), a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., established on Earth Day 1993 the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (CREST) as its central project. CREST’s three principal projects are to provide:

* on-site training and education workshops on the sustainable development interconnections of energy, economics and environment;

* on-line distance learning/training resources on CREST’s SOLSTICE computer, available from 144 countries through email and the Internet;

* on-disc training and educational resources through the use of interactive multimedia applications on CD-ROM computer discs - showcasing current achievements and future opportunities in sustainable energy development.

The CREST staff also does “on the road” presentations, demonstrations, and workshops showcasing its activities and available resources.

For More Information Please Contact: Deborah Anderson or (202) 289-0061

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