Moving Sand, Moving Water, Moving People

by Heather Marie Spitzberg

As a child I lived on a narrow street without shoulders or painted lines. Across the pavement was what we called the swamp. Beyond the swamp was a small clear lake. Our feet entered that cool water and emerged with cuts from mussels to become covered in sand and pine pitch. I wondered about that sand, misplaced as it was, at the edge of the otherwise rocky shore.

We shared that place with a scattering of other homes and hundreds of hemlocks and oaks. I glided from water to land as effortlessly as the beavers inhabiting the stream that fed the lake. My dad and I regularly walked the stream, and I delighted in beavers slapping their tails to warn others of our arrival.

In 1985 Hurricane Gloria doused us with rain, wind, and panic. Birches weren’t supposed to be horizontal against a sky the color of a yellowed bruise. After days of helping crews remove debris from the roads, we inspected the river. A fallen maple created a new bridge to cross. A sheared-off tree top blocked the deer path we followed. The beavers’ dam had broken. Water poured over the breached sticks and mud as it might out of a pitcher. The animals had begun rebuilding in a different place, further downstream. I wish my young self knew to study the advantages of that location over the other.

In 1994 I stood on the shore of a private-access beach, spiral-bound notebook in hand, salted air frizzing my hair. Finished with my count of Piping Plover nests, I slid my notebook into my waistband and walked to where the land ended at fast flowing water between me and the next beach to the south. In the middle of the river that fed acres of tidal marshes behind the beaches floated a brachiosaurus-sized machine that scooped buckets of sand onto a barge.

The beach maintenance person told me they were returning the canal to where it belonged after Bob moved it. He meant Hurricane Bob, which had devastated the New England coast over two years prior. Twenty feet away, on the other side of the flowing water, was a public-access beach. Once the birds fledge, he said, they’ll pump sand on the dunes to restore them, too. He pointed to where snow fencing and months-old Christmas trees wrangled sand into a pile attempting to grow valuable dunes.

The naturalist in me held back a scoff at the idea that a canal or dunes belonged anywhere other than where they existed, no matter human need, history, or understanding.

The young woman in me who had been raised by local government employees in the Country’s Live Free or Die state saw the consequences of twenty feet of shore on tax base, tourism, and the owner’s sense of, well, ownership.

In the mid-twentieth century, my mom grew up outside of Daytona Beach before moving north. The beach she knew formed one half of a track with cars speeding onto the adjacent Route A1A for a race’s second leg. Flattened dunes provided seating for the throngs of fans, precursors to today’s NASCAR enthusiasts.

We visited throughout my childhood, years after the beach was rescued from the racetrack. Dunes had been restored and hotels built. Mom commented on the beach’s improvement, even with its risky towers. Perhaps that was true, for a while. Until the sand eroded like the snowbirds flying north in the summer.

In 2018 I visited a town in southern Florida connected to the mainland by bridges. On the southern tip of the island, at the end of a breakwater, squatted a round structure that looked like a misplaced granary. Curious, I learned it was a decades-old sand pump that became necessary with the expansion of a non-navigable entry to the Intracoastal. The expansion interfered with natural sand drift, preventing sand from traveling further south. Now, erosion on the shore to the north of the pump created a three-foot drop between the dry sand where children played and the wet area where waves crashed and joggers ran.

Around the corner from that pump station stood a wall of white plastic sandbags. They were not temporary. Along with a grassed berm, they protected a waterfront building that appeared less than a decade old. A seawall and mighty boulders tried to hold back the waves, which crashed into the rocks, spraying warm salty mist onto my eyelids. With tide in half-way and the moon only three-quarters full, larger waves were assured

In 1987 we moved from that house across from the swamp. As much as I loved the location, I never trusted it. Our home sat dozens of feet higher than the grade of the road in a notch that had been blasted out of a face of granite. I feared the boulders, and trees, and millions of pounds of dirt hanging above us. None of those slipped; the water got us. Pouring rain on the frozen ground created sheets of water flowing overland toward the lake. The house held strong, but the window wells filled, and thirty-six inches of water flowed into our basement. Our cat drowned.

We left for unrelated reasons, but it felt right.

Heather Marie Spitzberg has over twenty years of environmental science, law, and writing experience. She lives in New York’s Capital Region with her husband, twin son and daughter, and rescued dog, Thor.


by Daniel Marcus

The house was full of people and the insect hum of their voices.  Their presence made his living room look oddly foreign and it was easy for Bob to imagine for a moment that he, too, was a guest.  He stood awkwardly next to the fireplace, drink in hand.  People approached, inquired, veered off. Nearly everyone had brought something to eat or drink and every available surface in the kitchen was loaded with casseroles, salads, plates of cookies, sushi mandalas, paella pans.  There was something about bereavement and food.  It wasn’t comfort — there could be no comfort — but it was deeply tribal nonetheless.  What Bob really wanted was a good, stiff drink, but he was afraid of where that would lead, so he sipped his glass of Pinot and tried to not look like he wished they would all just fucking leave.

A cluster of Jenna’s friends, bristling with piercings and spiky hair, huddled near the door.  Bob had known most of them since pre-school.  A willowy girl in sleeveless denim, Lu, caught his eye.  She walked up to him and gave him a loose-limbed hug.

“You guys okay?” she asked.

Bob had a sudden, vivid memory of a trip to Marine World, maybe six years back, an impossibly distant other life.  It was just Jenna, Lu, and him.  The girls orbited about him like wild, giggling moons as they explored the park.  They slept, curled up in the back seat together, the entire drive home.  It was a good day. 

Bob shrugged, smiled sadly. How could we be okay?

“Sorry — stupid question.”  She looked away, biting her lip.  A single tear tracked down her cheek.  She took a breath, looked up at him again.  “How’s Mrs. P. holding up?”

“She’s hanging in there.  I’m really glad you came, Lu.” 

In fact, Mrs. P. hadn’t stopped crying for three days and was upstairs now in a shade-darkened room, tossing in a sweat-drenched Ambien doze.  Bob was almost glad of his hostly duties because they took him off the front lines with her.  He felt a stab of guilt at the thought. 

Jenna’s friends were the first to leave.  Lu turned on her way out and gave him a sad, little wave. Bob’s colleagues from the office were next — a handshake conga line and a pat on the shoulder from the head of the firm.  His secretary hugged him and cried a little. 

“Give my best to Allie,” she said.

“I will,” Bob promised.  

After the neighbors left, and a few other parents from the school community paid their respects and backed out the door looking guiltily relieved (fellow travelers for many years, their connection now abruptly severed), there was just Allie’s sister, Darcy, and her deadwood husband, Frank. 

Darcy flitted about cleaning while Frank helped himself to a healthy dose of Glenlivet from Bob’s liquor cabinet.

“Hell of a thing,” Frank said. “So young.”

Bob remembered Jenna’s description of him as “that fucking retard Aunt Darcy married” and nearly smiled, then caught himself, and a wave of grief rushed through him like the ocean through a rocky channel, leaving him breathless for a moment.

“You okay, Bob?” Frank asked, a hint of slur in his voice.

“Yeah, I’m fine, Frank.  I just need to sit down.”

Bob sat in one of the two floral patterned wing chairs bookending the fireplace.  Frank stood watching him for a moment, then sat in the matching chair, resting his drink on his thigh. 

They spoke no further and Bob tried to will his mind empty of thought. 

After a few moments, Darcy appeared, pushing back an errant blonde lock from her forehead.

“All clean,” she said.  She was a ditz, but Bob had come to like her, even love her, over the years.  Her luck with men was almost comically abysmal. 

“Thanks, Darce,” Bob said.  “You didn’t have to do all that.”

She leaned over and pecked him on the cheek.  “Don’t worry about it.  You just take care of Allie and yourself.”

When they left, silence descended on the house with the finality of a closing curtain.  Bob returned to the chair next to the fireplace and sipped his drink.

Upstairs, Allie awakened and began to weep, a soft, desperate keening that seemed to come from everywhere in the house at once. 

Bob sighed.  He didn’t want to face her and felt it again, that pinprick of guilt. Her grief was no more acute than his, he felt, but it demanded more attention.  Infinite attention, really — a black hole that swallowed all solace.  He didn’t blame her at all.  He just didn’t know how to help her.  He couldn’t even help himself. 

He set his glass on the coffee table and went upstairs.  The hallway was dark.  The door to Jenna’s room was open a crack.  He walked past without looking in.  His bedroom door was shut and he placed his palm flat against it.  From within, the sound of weeping continued. 


There was no answer.

He gently pushed the door open. The air in the room was humid and had a strange, oceanic smell.  Allie sat on the edge of the bed.  Her grief had an animal quality: primal, pre-verbal.  He sat next to her, put his hand on her shoulder. She vibrated with a fine tremor, like a bird.  Every now and then she would gasp, a breathing reflex. The keening would catch, then continue.    

Bob pulled back the collar of her nightgown just a bit, kissed her bare shoulder, and left her there.

Bob’s home office was a long card table in a corner of the garage.  There was a multipurpose printer, a big monitor, a keyboard. Several rows of shelves sagged under a haphazard collection of tools, books, and boxes with faded, peeling labels.  In the opposite corner, amidst a litter of discarded plastic lawn toys, sat a red bicycle with flat tires and training wheels. Faded blue ribbons dangled limply from the handlebars.

He sat down and stared at the flat, grey screen until he imagined motion within its depths. He pushed back his chair and went back in the house.  He cocked his head to listen.  Allie had stopped crying.  He imagined her sitting on the edge of the bed staring off into nothing. The furnace sighed on.  A car whispered past on the street outside. 

Bob poured himself two fingers of Glenlivet and returned to the garage.  He sat at his desk and took a sip of whiskey. His eyes watered and his chest filled with heat. 

He missed her so badly.  It was like a physical hypersensitivity, a migraine or an opiate withdrawal, a painfully acute awareness of smells and changes in light.

He double-clicked a shortcut on his desktop and her homepage appeared.  There were dozens of pictures, mostly of Jenna smiling, occupying a center of gravity among several friends, a couple of somber art-school poses and several with Allie and Bob.  He was glad that she wasn’t embarrassed to post them. 

In her most recent photograph, just a few days before she died, she had shaved her head and carved, in the emerging stubble, swirling Maori-like designs.  She had a pierced eyebrow and upper lip.  This too was something of an art-school pic, but in spite of its edginess, it seemed to capture better than the others the essence of Jenna as a much younger girl. He could see her peering out, smiling, just behind the hardware and the adolescent piss-off frown. 

Her profile said she liked basketball (he knew that), Rimbaud (he had no idea), and motorcycles (he’d have to have a talk with her) — and it hit him again, that surge of grief (have a talk with her) so acute he lost track of himself for a moment. 

Her status read:

Smith is nice.  Mt Holyoke is a gothic prison. Amherst is Amherst. In Logan now, waiting for the plane home. I love airports, monuments to transience. The static hiss between stations!

She must have posted from her cell phone, minutes before the explosion.  Bob tried to imagine it – an instant of heat and light, intense pressure, a sound like the sky ripping open. He hoped it was fast, that she didn’t have time to register what was happening. He wondered if she thought of them in those last milliseconds, then cursed his narcissism.    

It seemed he was living half the time in fugue – replaying snippets of time with her, random moments, conversations real and imagined.  They surfaced haphazardly, pulled him in, played themselves out, and left him stunned and empty.

His eyes kept returning to the icon in the upper right corner of the screen, a yellow smiley-face in side profile beneath a word bubble.  Inside the bubble: Clik2Chat.

He slid the cursor over the icon, hovered for a moment, then willed his finger down on the mouse button.

Jenna’s avatar appeared next to his keyboard: a smiling, translucent, foot-tall pixie.  Tiny diamonds of dust swam in the light beams emanating from small, twin sources beneath the screen.  The scan had been taken about a year before, so it captured Jenna before her severe phase.  Her hair was shoulder length and she wore jeans and a plain, green t-shirt. She tilted her head, a coltish gesture he knew well.

“Hey, Dad. What’s up?”

Bob’s breath caught in his throat.  The voice was almost right – Jenna, with syllables oddly clipped.  He knew it was nothing more than a bit of digital magic cranked out by a kid hunkered down in a cubicle amidst a litter of Nerf toys and empty soda cans, but it was still a shock.

Jenna tilted her head the other way.

“Hey, Dad.  What’s up?”

This is stupid, he thought.

“Hi, Jen.”  His voice cracked.

“Hey!  How are you?”

Bob didn’t say anything. The avatar shifted her weight, brushed back her hair.

“You’ve probably figured out that I’m somewhere else right now.  My little Doppel-G here will record whatever you want to tell me and I’ll have a look at it later.” 

“We miss you terribly.”

Jemma frowned disarmingly.

“Sorry, didn’t get that.”

“We love you.”

Jenna smiled.  “I love you, too, Dad.”

“We’ll always love you.”

“I love you, too, Dad.”

From far away he heard the high whine of engines, a plane settling in to SFO final approach.  He cocked his head, listening, until he couldn’t hear it any more.  

“You haven’t said anything for awhile, so I’m gonna go.  Bye!”

“No!” Bob shouted, startling himself.  “Wait!”

Jenna tilted her head again, looking, he imagined, just a trifle impatient.

The static hiss between stations, he thought.

Something rustled outside, probably a raccoon.  He closed his eyes and saw clever, busy hands.

“You haven’t said anything for awhile, so I’m gonna go.  Bye!”

He did nothing this time.  After a few seconds, the image winked out. 

He sat there for a long time.  When he was ready, he pushed his chair back, stood up, and stretched.  He let himself back into the house and went upstairs.  Allie was sleeping again, her breathing deep and regular. 

He slipped his clothes off and slid under the sheets, careful not to wake her.  She whimpered softly, turned on her side facing away from him, and backed closer.  He curled to fit her, feeling her warmth, draping his arm across her hip.  He shifted restlessly as he drifted off to sleep and she moved in response, their somnambular dance as familiar as walking. 

Daniel Marcus’ short fiction has appeared in many literary and genre venues, including Asimov’s SF, ZYZZYVA, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Witness. Some of these stories were collected in “Binding Energy,” described by as “a cross between Raymond Carver and William Gibson.” He is also the author of the novels Burn Rate and A Crack in Everything. He has taught Creative Writing at the UC Berkeley Extension Program and Gotham Writers’ Workshop.

Queen of the Sunken City

by Susan DeFreitas

The King of King Street poled his skiff across Calhoun, looking for his queen. Sometimes in the mornings she could be found around Market, meeting her day’s appointments with “dem tourists from foreign,” as his granny used to say.

Tourists had been coming to the Sunken City of the South since long before it had sunk—coming to see the Rainbow Row and the Battery and the grand old churches built upon the backs of slaves. Coming to take the tours, most of which omitted such distasteful details.

Tours such as this one here on Calhoun Street—which, like all of the streets downtown, was no longer a street at all, but a glittering canal, reflecting the half-submerged historic homes and churches that appeared on all the postcards. A fellow in a flat hat at the helm of a water taxi steered it slowly into the mangroves of Francis Marion Square, telling stories to white folk made whiter by their reflective nanoscreen, which made their whiteness gleam.

“Here to the south side of the square, just beyond the Lindsey Graham Memorial Mangroves, you’ll see the statue of John C. Calhoun,” the guide said, stilling the motor. He gestured to the bronze statue on high, which the King always thought of as the white man in the sky. “Calhoun was one of the state’s most illustrious citizens. He served as a senator and US Vice President in the years leading up to the First Civil War, and he was an prominent advocate of states’ rights.”

King almost laughed as he poled on past, his dark skin bare to the sun. The only reason the white man in the sky had escaped being sunk was because the city fathers had seen fit to raise him up so high. And why? Long ago, any Black folks who happened to pass would do their best to deface him. Rumor had it the statue of John C. Calhoun was missing the pinky finger of its left hand, which sat casually upon the man’s hip, as if he were disciplining a dog.

“King,” came a voice from down the way. “How you going, boss?”

“All right, all right.” King shaded his eyes from the sun. There upon the wrought-iron balcony of the Floating Flophouse stood Nestor, tying up his catch. “How you keeping, Nesta?”

“Fine, man, fine. You see?” Nestor held aloft a glistening magenta fan from which dangled strands of blue.

“Man, you crazy,” King told him. “You eat that thing?”

“You en eat jellyfish chop chop?”

“I eat saltfish chop-up.”

Nestor laughed. “Saltfish? You try. I en able with shark, man. Shark got teeth.”

King just shook his head. Like King’s granny, Nestor hailed from the islands to the south—what was left of them now—which is why he talked so broad. He’d made the harbor last spring on his cunning Third World raft, a riprap of sea trash, slipped in under the guard, and promptly installed himself amid the rotting grandeur of the Floating Flophouse. (Which did not actually float, though rumor had it, upon occasion, the air mattresses of its inhabitants did.)

“Nesta,” said King. “You seen the queen?”

The man smiled, showing teeth. “Queen Street way she dey.”

King lifted his hand in thanks and poled past.

Past Society, Wentworth, Hassell, and down by Market, where the boardwalks of the city converged—where tourists stepped up from sleek water taxis to wander the stalls of the New Market, which sat atop the roof of the old.

Altogether, a pod of scuba divers dropped off the promenade, their airbreathers affixed to their faces. Even as one group dropped, a barker stood at dock, rustling up the next. “See the Sunken City in all its grandeur! Shipwrecks, pirates, and Blackbeard’s Revenge! Opulent marble malls, mausoleums, and museums! Swim inside the Circular Church!”

King sucked his teeth in derision as he poled past. Of course, he had taken such a tour himself once—who could resist the invitation to see the Sunken City from below? But just like the water-taxi tours, the scuba tours were full of hokum. The mall, museum, and mausoleums were real enough, as was the Circular Church, which really was a wonder—much of the stained glass was still intact, and when the sun shone through it, illuminating beds of kelp swaying in your wake, and the headset played “Amazing Grace,” it was enough to make the Devil himself get religion.

But the Queen Anne’s Revenge was no more than a rich man’s yacht from the 2040s worked over by crafty hucksters. It had been picked up from the Ashley River by Hurricane Yvette and dashed against the Old Slave Mart, as if in recompense—and the skeletons of those so-called pirates were no more than the city’s poorest citizens, whose bodies had lain so long under the sodden trash, awaiting emergency management, that they’d never been claimed or buried.

King knew that now—knew too the real reason the seas had risen, the heaviest buildings had sunk, and the great storms had grown so fierce. All of this he knew because of the queen, and today, he’d decided, was the day he would present to her what it was he knew. A humble craft, but an old one, in which he might find favor.

King stopped to drop his dipper in an eddy that had formed near Jacob’s Alley and fished out a bright yellow bag—#4 plastic, good quality—and added it to the pile at his feet. Soon he’d have enough for another basket, like those tied up on display to the fore of his craft, which would fetch a good price at the market.

When King reached Queen Street, he anchored his pole and turned his skiff in one smooth, practiced maneuver. From a nearby rowboat, patched up with cheap nanobond, three boys were watching him, but they looked away when he caught them. Their plastic roses were loosely folded, their sea baskets slack and lopsided. King lifted his chin in their direction, in dismissal, and away they rowed down Queen.

And there she stood, a vision in yellow beside St. Philips Church. The tourists she was addressing bore only superficial resemblance to those he’d seen in the water taxi, and to those strapping on scuba gear at the market; some were white and some were black, and some murmured to one another in a language King thought perhaps was French, but all of them were attired in such a style that his finest sea basket would not have fetched a price sufficient, he suspected, to purchase even one of their shoes.

“In 1835,” the queen was saying, “the original church burned to the ground. Three years later, the church that stands before you now was built, in the Wren-Gibbs style, common in the churches of Charleston.”

The queen’s immense yellow sunhat bobbed as she spoke. Her manner and bearing bespoke a lineage stretching back to Nefertiti, and her elocution, her various degrees from good Canadian colleges. But she was not above dressing the part of the guide, in anachronistic style—in that full, flowing sundress that brushed the tops of her sandals, in that beribboned hat so broad a brood of children could have gathered in its shade, all of it as yellow as the #4 plastic King had just fished from the canal. The color gleamed against her blue-black skin.

“Two years later,” the queen was saying, “the statesman and outspoken advocate of slavery John C. Calhoun was buried in the West Church Yard here, and then, during the First Civil War, moved to the East Yard, for fear his grave would be desecrated by Union troops. However, efforts to protect Calhoun’s grave would ultimately prove in vain, as the massive tomb built by the state legislature in 1880 would in fact be desecrated, in 2054, just before Hurricane Yvette. Unbeknownst to the elders of St. Philips Church, a crafty activist would carve his own epitaph—or should I say, epithet? ‘Here lies John C. Calhoun, a real motherfucker.’”

The group tittered; this was, after all, as advertised, “The Truly Troublesome True History of the Sunken City of the South.” King could have listened to the queen all day. Which in fact he had, more than once, though he’d never approached her so boldly.

“John King,” she said, turning to him. “What can I do for you today?”

Floating there at her feet, the king felt a fool—what, after all, had he expected, interrupting her this way? He stood there on his skiff for a moment tongue tied, all his troubles doubled: the great tower of St. Philips rising above and rippling below, the tourists in their fine clothes, and in the center of it all the queen, lemon yellow and blue-black in her immense beribboned hat. He may have been the King of King Street, but here, he could see, just two blocks to the east, he was no more than riff raff, sea trash.

Finally, he lifted that yellow #4 plastic bag. “Yes, ma’am,” he said, and then, in his best approximation of the Queen’s English: “My apologies for interrupting. I thought perhaps your group might be interested in a traditional African American handcraft dating back in this region nearly four hundred years. Might I offer a demonstration?”

Under her hat, the queen lifted an elegant eyebrow. “Please,” she said, “by all means.”

King explained the way peoples from West Africa enslaved in the Sunken City—long ago, before it had sunk—had woven baskets of bulrush. Their descendants had carried on the tradition with sweetgrass, and now, in modern times, folks made such baskets with sturdy recycled plastics, deposited daily in the canals of the historic peninsula—likewise the city’s iconic roses, prized as souvenirs, once folded from the fronds of the palmetto.

Now the fine tourists listened to John King speak, as if he really were a king. Now the queen watched him from beneath the benevolent brim of her hat—in such a manner as to suggest perhaps, in time, she might grant him a private audience.

By the time he turned, lifted a hand in farewell, and poled his skiff down Queen Street, one perfect yellow rose lay folded at her feet.

Susan DeFreitas has never been able to choose between fantasy and reality, so she lives and writes in both. A first-generation American of Caribbean descent, she is the author of the novel Hot Season, which won a Gold IPPY Award for Best Fiction of the Mountain West. Her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry has been featured in the Writer’s Chronicle, the Huffington Post, the Utne ReaderStory Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, High Desert Journal, and many other journals and anthologies. In 2017, The Oregonian named her “One of 25 Oregon Authors Every Oregonian Must Read.”

Letter from the Editor

It is the night before the fifth issue of Sinking City is released & there is a rip current warning in effect. It’s mid-February & I can’t remember the last time I touched the ocean.

In the Arabian peninsula, Jabal Al-taweel freezes & thaws as it stretches to the sky. In Cape Cod, the temperature skirts above & below freezing, turning snow to slurry before freezing to the ground.

In Marquette, Michigan, where Krys Malcolm Belc lives, there is currently a blizzard. The National Weather Radar shows a light-blue storm, shaped like a semi-colon, spanning the entire width of the Upper Peninsula.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of Lake Michigan, Chicago barely thaws from last month’s polar vortex. A light snow is falling on Cermak & California as commuters wait for the 21 Bus to take them East or West.

In Southern Louisiana, rain clouds will withdraw, only to circle back & rain again by midnight tonight.

Today in Beijing, the temperature is -5 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, in Bogotá, the humid air hangs at a balmy 13°C. In Emperatriz Ung’s poems, dishes break like blossoms under the heel & fuse together again.

This year, the ground hog did not see his shadow, predicting an early spring. In his 132 year history, Punxsutawney Phil’s shadow has evaded him only 19 of times; 5 of those instances occurred since 2007. A February 7th report stated that the past 5 years have been the hottest in the history of recorded weather.

In Sinking City’s fifth issue, 19 poets, writers, & artists show what it means to live in a world teetering on apocalypse. It’s the first issue produced by a second generation of editors, & we’ve sought to honor & expand this magazine’s founding mission. Often, these pieces are less about the environment itself, & more about the challenges of intersecting identities during our historical moment.

In the morning, Coral Gables will be doused with rain as we graduate students assume our day-to-day positions as teaching assistants, administrators, & scholars. I will sweat inside my navy-blue raincoat & attempt (unsuccessfully) to leap over growing puddles in my bright pink Converse sneakers. Meanwhile, my family in the midwest will prepare for lake effect snow, & wait for me to crack a joke about how I’m never moving back. We’ll all laugh. Then I’ll remember the approaching hurricane season. I’ll remembering that Miami Beach will be entirely under water by the time my future children are old enough for college.

As I prepare to release the fifth issue of Sinking City into the world, I find myself meditating on the words of recently departed Mary Oliver: Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination. Through the process of compiling this issue, I have found myself pausing, again & again, to linger on the images & stories of these 19 contributors. Again & again, I am transported by their work, to new places & new perspectives.

When the storm clears again, I will fix my gaze on the sky & wait to see what new birds will pass by in their migration. I often wonder if lifelong Floridians have grown used to the sight of them, the way that I, in my final year at the University of Miami, no longer feel a pang of sublimity at the sight of a royal poinciana arcing across the road.

Where ever you are, in your own late winter, on behalf of the MFA program at the University of Miami, it is my honor to offer you these worlds of imagination.


Stephanie Lane Sutton
Managing Editor, Sinking City


I love the steady and dignified waddle of the emperor penguin. It’s a beautiful species that for years I dreamed I would one day see in person on some transformative trip to Antarctica, that austere land where life affirmed itself almost in defiance of the harsh landscape. A landscape vastly different than the south Texas/Mexico border where I grew up and where I live. Eventually, though, I realized that my presence would inevitably disrupt the penguins and that my joy would come at least in some measure at their expense. Therefore, if I truly appreciated their existence, I would have to stay away.

It was this same logic that for years kept me away from the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, a 2088-acre parcel of abundant biodiversity located here in the southern tip of Texas. I appreciated that it was home to so much life, and I also understood the reasoning behind encouraging visitors who might otherwise not come to appreciate the biodiversity in our backyards. I didn’t need to go, though, comforted by the knowledge that at least a small corner of this subtropical ecosystem threatened by urban sprawl was protected. Then the unthinkable happened: Donald Trump became president. Let me rephrase that: the worst-case scenario happened.

After then President Bush Jr’s signature of the Secure Fence Act in 2006, south Texas got a version of a border wall, more like separate sections of one in different iterations – a mix and match of concrete levee-border walls, 18 foot tall bollards, and Jersey barriers. Despite the objections to them by the community, they went up, the nearest one standing adjacent to part of the World Birding Center in Hidalgo, only a 15-minute drive from my childhood home in McAllen. These sections of walls remain ugly in every way, but I found some solace in the knowledge that life in all its forms might circumvent them, though they were a proven danger for border crossers.

What the new president proposes, though, is worse and is prefaced by the most blatant xenophobic rhetoric splayed on national media outlets. His plan is an even larger and more continuous wall that would cut through the entire area, including the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. And yes, this upsets me for all the reasons that you, the reader, may already suspect: the wall would disrupt and in some cases decimate the non-human life of not only the Refuge but of the entire northern Mexico/southern Texas region. It would also wreak political havoc between the United States and Mexico. It would also damage cultural relations between the communities on both sides of the border marked here by the Rio Grande, or the Río Bravo, if you stand on the river’s southern edge. It would directly endanger the very lives of undocumented immigrants.

A few weeks ago, the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club organized an event at the Refuge to raise awareness about the proposed wall. I visited and was heartened to see their representatives spreading the word through social media and signed postcards destined for Senator Cronyn requesting a public hearing. Eventually I moved away from the crowds, walked the trails among a great array of native plants and a few creatures visible to the naked eye. I suspected most of the animals would still hide away from any hint of human contact. Then I saw it—a lizard skittering away. Then I saw another one, then another. Some of them took a second to eye me before running off. For a brief moment I felt like my five-year-old self wandering through the brush in the ejido in Mexico where I was born, where I spent the first years of my life. The ejido, a collective of subsistence farming, is hidden away a few kilometers from the border town of Nuevo Progreso. Before my family emigrated to the U.S. in the name of survival, I spent my days chasing lizards through and around the one room house with its earthen floor, or eating tiny yellow berries from the granjeno, or wandering through the brush of mesquite, cactus, and huisache, marveling at the turtles with their beautiful checkered shells and love of prickly pear.

All this came back to me in the quiet of the refuge. I felt nostalgia then but also a simmering anger like a low-grade fever, anger at the myths sold to me as truths in the classrooms of American schools —the myth of the self-made man who achieves success with no one’s help and creates wealth seemingly out of thin air, the myth of Manifest Destiny which is the self-made-man myth superimposed on the nation. Under their logic, social forces don’t exist and so success comes to those who want it most. Under their logic, nature is there to be exploited, and America is wealthier because it is filled with self-reliant and therefore superior people, not because its government has exploited and impoverished other nations, like those in Latin America. Under their logic, a wall is justified because it keeps the inferior people who have only themselves to blame for their poverty out of the superior people’s nation. This is self-interest and self-aggrandizement disguised as objective reason, disguised as common sense. And unless this dangerous logic, this lie, is disavowed —unless the nation comes to understand the interrelatedness of all life, human and non-human, and the fact that wealth is only possible through the appropriation of finite natural resources— I fear that the literal and metaphorical walls won’t stop, that all life will be endangered then, even the emperor penguin in Antarctica.

But I do what I must and what I cannot help: I write and bear witness to this world evermore splintered, bordered, and policed by a people obsessed with category and hierarchy, with concrete and bullets, disdainful of a natural world foreign to and traumatized by these borders, a natural world from which we are born and from which we can never escape. The lizard, the mesquite, the river, the penguin are all made of the same elements, the same atoms that constitute us, the same atoms that are the light of the sun and the stars. This is a truth greater than any wall, a truth that the powerful ignore to the detriment of every living thing in the Refuge, which is them, which is us. And so I write. And hope. And despair. And hope.


José Antonio Rodríguez’s most recent book is the memoir House Built on Ashes. His work has appeared in journals and magazines like The New Yorker, The New Republic, POETRY, and The Texas Observer. He lives in south Texas and is assistant professor of creative writing at The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. Learn more at

TWO POEMS by Jackson Burgess


felt more like a stage dive

at karaoke night onto empty floor

than falling into a pile of arms like

I’d hoped. They leveled the old theater

and smoke shop, let our old meadow

grow wild. I’m yelling timber at my heart

beneath flickering neon when I see

your 60-year-old doppelganger pass.

There is no other way to say it:

I’m not the man I made myself out to be.

Most nights devolve into 80-proof

ballads and me boring strangers with

tales of your brow, your gait,

the slant of your tongue on mine.

When I enter the room, I don’t

brighten corners, I scatter

bone shards with which I garnish

these lines you wish I wouldn’t write.

There is no other way to say this:

I will love you even when

I tell you I don’t. I don’t believe

memory and objectivity can

share a bed, I’ve already thrown

the dice too slack-hand, now you and I

will never be going home again.



I came back to Los Angeles

with a pocket full of photos and a pocket full of glass,

eyes brimming with ginger ale I’d hoped would mix well

with whatever they were drinking these days,

but I was not prepared for these tabletops

and pocketknife lines, the hell they hock up

when 6am is time for another bump. And that’s all

to say nothing of the sledgehammers, the crowbars

and tall cranes, grave robbers ripping through

our old smoke spot, the Denny’s where Rockwell

puked in the sink, the field where Lily and I

discovered our monopoly on sunlight—

now the hedges are trimmed below eye height,

the windows overlook pristine cement, and all my friends

left for Echo Park to try and be somebody.

I don’t want to be somebody. I know I am only as tall

and strong as a cornstalk, which is fine by me

as long as I end up a part of a row. But I’m still stuck

on the bitter throat drip and rolled up bills, Youssef’s sad look

when he called us walking clichés, and that stench clinging

to my jeans even now, three days after that skunk

sent me and Skyler pounding dirt, the fists put through walls,

my achy jaw, our laughter, naked outside Dodger Stadium,

the chemical bath and dog hair, love notes composed in smoke

but forgotten come morning, and who will save us

from the great gray blank? Who’s going to re-set

the bones in our arms, dust us off, put us down in beds

that aren’t chainlinked or hooked to IVs

in the hospital I swore I’d never see again?

For the moment everyone’s heart’s still going and the sky

hasn’t become a pair of arms, but I’m too scared

of ambulance lights to breathe—we’re empty windowpanes,

gnarled up knuckle hugs, I’ve become everything

we once swore against, and all my friends

just keep slicing straws, they’re going to be somebody

better than whoever they left back on 29th ,

they’re going to trade any semblance of stability

for buckets of snow and salt, and here I am,

broke and out of breath, shambling after pleasure zealots

who have long since stopped looking back.


Jackson Burgess‘s debut full-length poetry collection, Atrophy, is forthcoming from Write Bloody Publishing. He is also the author of Pocket Full of Glass, winner of the Clockwise Chapbook Competition (Tebot Bach, 2017). He received his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and lives in Los Angeles. (

from LOSING MIAMI by Gabriel Ojeda-Sague

start with sinking:

I was raised in a city
that could be swallowed
by the sea within
the next century


start there


I rest in the sake
of returning,
like drinking from the well


    my spirit talks

    to you


        to see a ficus
        as the memory of an ocean









there is no shape to the frenetic
odd nerves, the dogs on the other side
of the fence, the thin film on the water,
a single green bump in the middle,
waiting with one eye open:
    need for food


        I am hopeful about bakeries
        where periods hang like pearls
        one word aiming at another


solo lo plástico
    como siempre


así forma un merengue
de botellas sobre el agua









just as much as me and more


            Francisco, bring me a tissue
    I want to clean up the hairs on the floor
        of the bathroom


I want my friend to see me as someone
he could love, I mean really love


I want to get squeezed till I turn out
dented like a pipe


      if a lizard gets in the door
      get him with a napkin
      let him live
      get him with a napkin









between islands, pronounces potion
    let it be a weed in the drawers, stopped
    hammering particles into clothing
    had the water isolate itself in his throat
        that’s the river

        I said
        no that’s the river
        that one
        I thought it was…
        no it’s that
                I put a capsule
            back in his throat
          suck the water back up
         pop the bubble that is choking him
    it grew blue in my room
   it absolutely wished to be bigger








lovers “at the bottom” of the ocean
necklace “at the bottom” of the ocean
shipwrecks “at the bottom” of the ocean
corpses “at the bottom” of the ocean
all myths, ningún fondo de las cosas
malagredecidas, no bottom to a hell-bat
not a sink nor a belly crease


stolen static “in the middle of the”
dripping cotton “in the middle of the”
life at rest “in the middle of the”
birth of iron “in the middle of the”
city’s wedding “in the middle of the”









an heirloom day, started slowly
gets a track of anger through its center
in reaction to one’s own appetite
steadily impossible and sinking


I give this and other
particles to my son
who is laying on the beach


Gabriel Ojeda-Sague is a Miami -> Philly, Latino, queer Leo. His first collection, Oil and Candle (March 2016, Timeless, Infinite Light), is a set of writings on Santería, war, and the precarity of Latino-American lives. He is also the author of 4 chapbooks, most recently Where Everything is in Halves (Be About It, 2015), poems against death through The Legend of Zelda, and ‘Yo’ Quiere Decir Sunburn (2016), poems of anxious bilingualism. His second full-length book Jazzercise is a Language is forthcoming from the Operating System in 2018. His work can be found at

TWO POEMS by David Freeman

The Emergency Broadcasting System

Godzilla, it is me. The President of the United States
of America. I am speaking to you now from a bunker.

Yes, you have eaten New York. That was a given
the day you rose out of its harbor. You ate Rutger Street

and Bogardus Place. Lincoln Square and our best Broadway
shows. You swallowed all of lower Manhattan and then you

moved down the coastline. New Jersey. Rhode Island.
Virginia. Gulping all. Leaving radioactive footprints

the size of football stadiums whenever you left.
I did my best to delay you, King Monster. I sent new tanks

and helicopters. I sent grown men to swat at your chest.
But you brushed them of and ate our eastern seaboard.

Our skyscrapers going down your green throat. There is nothing
left of California. Nothing left of the once great Midwest.

You have left each prairie full of your poison. But listen,
Godzilla. I am not here to stop you. I am alone in my bunker

and thinking of you. Your tremendous body, alone
and hungry, rolling around the world that we dropped fifty

nuclear warheads on, and still you kept on drinking
our lakes while they burned. I do not know what you

want but I know the sound that you make when
you want it. Like a freighter is having a baby.

Like a moon is giving birth to a moon. I am not
here to stop you. No, Godzilla. I am speaking to you

now from our emergency broadcasting system, hoping
that maybe you can hear me, to say that there is no one

alive in this bunker. No one alive on the surface.
It is me, your president. And I am telling you that I will

wait here, underneath the burned lentils of my
incredible country, eating nothing but canned chickpeas

for years, and thinking of the wasted and leveled Mount Rushmore.
I will stay here, Godzilla, in my tattered blue suit until either

you go back to the ocean you came from.
Or—after nine months of walking across Iowa—you stop

in a rye grass or flax field to give birth to a beautiful baby
green boy. Because I want to be there, Godzilla, when you

look down and see a monster as powerful as you.
I want your baby to look down and see me.

I want to be the first thing it eats.

Paradise EP

Clear the snow carefully; there are egg shells tucked underneath.
Move the jaw firmly; watch the teeth part aside for the tongue.
There are certain parts of a songbirds brain where if you

touch it after death, the songbirds legs will still move. I think if we had small
enough tools, we could make it sing Lana. It’s been raining almost all
week in Chicago. Yesterday, we spent the afternoon in bed, while

somewhere an unplugged fridge fell apart in a matter of hours. In some
ways, its more impressive to take it down than it is to assemble. Less
instructions, more pieces to eat. I am an ostrich in a laboratory.

I am trying to find my eggs in the incubators. Put an ear in
my mouth if you can spare one. Tell me what you hear when I’m loving.
The hatch doors open. I hold out my hands to catch my come

falling out of your mouth. I think if we had tools small enough,
we could make cicadas sing each of her albums. If we moved
very slowly and carefully. And we promised it’d been seventeen years.

David Freeman is an essayist and poet living in Chicago, IL. His poetry and nonfiction has previously appeared in Ink Lit Mag, Earthwords, and Sky Over Blue Review. He has work forthcoming in Small Plate: A New Anthology and The Honey Bee Review.

SLEEPING WITH A FAN by Wendy Taylor Carlisle

Sleeping with a Fan
The tropics require fewer add-ons–
shorts, bathing suits, beach towels, fans.
On the shore I learned to find fault with my body,
gave my fitted blue dress to Judy
blue was her color, anyway.
After the Latin model, I developed copia, 
an abundant vocabulary.
Once, a  lover gave me a short story,
a test to see if I understood. I did.
I walked back and forth across the Pont Neuf
with a Dutch TV producer in the cinematic rain,
when we returned to his room,
what you imagine happening, happened 
in a big bed where I found amazement watching a ceiling fan
 go round.  If I ever said my life was balanced,
what I meant was, on the edge of a sword.
Wendy Taylor Carlisle lives in the Arkansas Ozarks. She is the author of two books, Reading Berryman to the Dog and Discount Fireworks and 5 chapbooks, most recently They Went Down to the Beach to Play from Locofo Chaps, 2017. Her poems are available in Cider Press Review, Josephine Quarterly, Kentucky Review, Mom Egg Review, Rat’s Ass Review, NEBO Journal, and Damfino. For more information, check her website at