THEN FOR SO LONG YOU WERE SILENT by Taylor Johnson

“[W]here black subjectivity exists for its social and political meaningfulness rather than…”

-Kevin Quashie

 

Which you needed. Which might have been tacit

agreement, conciliative affect. Then you were awash

with your own spit. The creek that you were

 

was wanted by all the unmuddied feet.

In droves they came flashing their milk teeth,

brandishing straws. Then a slow crawl

 

back to the water. Then a hammering

your fist against the earth, upon which

you still beat. Then the dark asks

 

to lave its dissonance

on your ungrateful hands.


Taylor Johnson is proud of being from Washington, DC. They’ve received fellowships and scholarships from Callaloo, Cave Canem, Lambda Literary foundation, VONA, the Fine Arts Work Center, and the Vermont Studio Center. Their work appears in, or is forthcoming from, CALLALOO, the minnesota review, Vinyl Poetry, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Winter Tangerine, and elsewhere.

KLIMT KITTY by Christine Stoddard

Christine Stoddard is a Salvadoran-Scottish-American writer and artist who lives in Brooklyn. Her visuals have appeared in the New York Transit Museum, the Ground Zero Hurricane Katrina Museum, the Poe Museum, and beyond. In 2014, Folio Magazine named her one of the top 20 media visionaries in their 20s for founding Quail Bell Magazine. She also is a Puffin Foundation grantee, Tom Tom Festival artist, and Artbridge winner.

BONE BROTH by Mia Leonin

It begins with a recipe. No, it begins with a phone call.

 

Aunt Frances calls from the cosmos’ first flicker –

when animals stood up on hind legs, gawking

hang-jawed at the stars.

 

Aunt Frances calls

and sighs her breath of blood orange

and sardines into the phone.

 

Her moon is a blind man’s thumb

in a forest. Her star, the rusted spur

of a forgotten Sunday afternoon movie.

 

Aunt Frances calls, all mush-mouthed and grackled.

Her punctuation, her parentheses even,

sinks between the ellipses of her meds.

 

After all these years, her mind still can’t drown itself.

It bobs to the surface: seven hospitalizations

and thirty-two electroshock treatments in three months.

 

As a child, I held my bladder to avoid the uterus-shaped rubber bag

hanging in her bathroom, its tubes snaking within the folds

of the mold-splotched shower curtain.

 

Collapsed sack, moon sickness, hysteria –

Grandmother heckled.

Mother rolled her eyes.

 

Aunt Frances commanded nothing.

The cockroaches didn’t even scatter

when she shook a cereal box.

 

As steam rises from a boiling pot

and stuns the window, I too will rise

and write my aunt’s name against the cold.

 

I will make her a soup.

 

I’ll roast sturdy femurs of lamb and mutton with dried rosemary.

I’ll cover their bones with cold spring water

and stir clockwise until the broth boils.

For three days this broth will bubble

until bones soften to flesh, indentations

appear to the touch.

 

I will make her a soup.

 

Bone marrow will congeal and seep strength

into her blood. Minerals and amino acids

will leach into her organism.

 

Aunt Francis’ mind has circled the cure

these many decades:

Lithium, Lexapro, Paxil, Zoloft.

 

Her Nurse Ratched

was never movie trivia:

They’d just tackle and zap us with no anesthesia.

 

I will make her a soup.

 

I’ll pour broth and bones

through cheesecloth

and squeeze out the good.

 

May lymph and liver flush away her woes.

May thyroid metabolize her testimony:

 

she was the family snow globe,

a transparent sphere, shaken

and set down in a faraway corner.

 

Aunt Frances and I are the only family we have left.

 

Into the broth, I will lower precious stones: ruby

to fortify her blood, sapphire to sharpen her mind,

emerald to honor her birth.

 

I’ll pick the partridge clean of its ribcage,

add turnip and rutabaga,

root bags of cruciferous earth nuzzlers.

 

I’ll place gold ducats

and laurel-stamped doubloons

at the bottom of her bowl.

 

May this soup’s estuaries swift her away on a pontoon

of seared sunlight and yellow jonquils.

 

As a child, Aunt Frances stared

at a strand of her hair, pulling it

like a lost guitar chord snapped into silence.

 

Baptismal comb raked over her scalp. Liturgical scissors

snipping kyrie, kyrie. A cascade of water passed over

Aunt Frances’ head, the knotted and coarse made clean.

 

May her spleen Zeitgeist her most humiliating memories:

 

she danced the watusi,

her yellow-crocheted bikini

dripping into the snow.

 

Her cupid lips bellowed operatic

as she threatened my mother with a steak knife.

At Christmas she mailed us exquisitely wrapped TV dinners.

 

Aunt Frances: I want to stuff your pockets with stones

to see if you float, drown,

or finally save yourself.

 

Instead, I will drop stones into your soup.

 

Soaked and scrubbed,

an explosion trillions of years ago, blasted

minuscule craters and unseen ridges

 

into these stones, like you,

the stuff of stars.


Notes:

“Bone Broth” ends with a paraphrase of Carl Sagan’s quote, “We are made of star stuff.”

OUR HOUSE OF BROKEN THINGS by Donna Miscolta

by Donna Miscolta

For most of my childhood, I never ate toast.

I don’t remember why I said this. I wasn’t one for non sequiturs, but looking back, it’s hard to construct a context for my confession. I was eleven years old when I divulged this to Ella, a watchful and intense thirteen-year-old, with whom I was in love. We were sitting at the table in her gleaming kitchen with its shiny appliances, its double-door refrigerator, large-capacity microwave, six-slice toaster. Ella herself glinted in the sunlight that streamed through the window behind her. I tried not to stare every time she put her lips to her Pepsi can and tilted her head back.

“You’re still a child,” she told me, which I supposed was intended to give me hope that I might yet eat toast at my family’s breakfast table. I refused to believe the alternative – that she was being heartlessly condescending.

Still, I reminded her, “I’m advanced for my age.”

“When did this discussion become about you, Alexander?”

We were at her house to come up with a project that would help save the environment. We were in the Environment Club at school, though that afternoon we had severed ties with our faculty advisor and we were now a renegade club. Ella had joined the club because she believed she could make a difference. I was in it because it didn’t require physical coordination, ability to carry a tune, a sense of spatial relations, or other skill missing from my repertoire. But that aside, I was interested in the environment, though my concern up until then had not gone beyond a diligence in removing contaminants from our family recycling bin, continually compromised by my sister’s chewing gum which she aimed indiscriminately into any available receptacle.

I was rarely self-indulgent, so Ella’s reprimand stung.

“Tree-planting,” I said, getting back to the subject. “I vote for planting a tree.” Ella wrinkled her brow, making delicate impressions in her forehead. “Is that what we’re about, Alexander? Symbolism?” she said. “Aren’t we capable of something more?”

I hadn’t known Ella more than a few days, and I certainly had doubts about myself, but I was smart enough to answer yes.

“Then let’s go for my plan.”

She raised her Pepsi and when I raised mine to meet hers, my hand shook.

 

As I walked through the gate to my family’s house, I peeled off a piece of the rotting wood, not maliciously, but absentmindedly, and carried it inside with me. My father sat at his worktable in an alcove off the living room, which he called his office, a space Mia claimed should have been a yoga room and my mother maintained should have been just an alcove and pointed to its lack of electrical outlets as proof. Telephone and computer cords snaked from the alcove office across the living room, tangling with the television and lamp cords in a crowded electrical strip. The visible wires gave a sense of exposure and vulnerability to our lives.

“Home already?” my father asked from his desk which wobbled from a loose screw.

My father said that every afternoon when I came through the door, even on Thursdays when I stayed for Environment Club. He just got so absorbed in his work that the space between my leaving for school and coming home passed quickly for him. My father and I lived in separate time zones. He regretted it more than I did, which was only right.

“Got any homework,” he asked.

I still held the piece of rotting wood and now tossed it into a potted fern, itself rotting at the edges.

“Yep,” I said, settling down in the permanently reclining recliner chair to watch TV, since my father had turned his attention back to his work. My mother would not be home for a few hours and Mia was at volleyball practice spiking balls across the net at the heads of her opponents, so I watched reruns of Gilligan’s Island. The remote control was broken, preventing me from channel surfing during commercials, and I stared at the ads for laundry detergent and furniture polish that showed families in spotless, shiny homes with furnishings and appliances that had all their arms and legs and buttons and knobs intact.

 

My family’s toaster broke when I was six, and that’s when I realized that when something stopped working in our house, it never got repaired. Not really repaired. There would be duct tape or scotch tape or rubber bands, Elmer’s glue, staples, Ace bandages, dental floss – some kind of emergency first-aid administered as a temporary measure. Sometimes temporary was a few days, sometimes it was years. And when temporary was over, the failed object would sit ignored and untouched, until someone set it out of sight – under the table or on the front porch. Eventually it would find its way to a pile of junk in the side yard where it would rust and rot, and fallen leaves would compost in the rifts and hollows.

Things were rarely replaced. We just learned to go without toast. And without hot water in the bathroom sink, without a screen in the screen door, without the use of three out of four burners on the stove. We were neither indolent nor indigent – just, I think, immobilized when it came to fixing the daily mishaps of our lives, never thinking about what it all added up to. “You’ve got to take the long view,” said my father who had plans to one day remodel the family home into an architectural jewel, which is how he justified the slow disintegration around us.

“Sacrifice now for future gain.”

My mother disagreed. “We could die tomorrow,” she grumbled, “without having had an unbroken sofa to sit on.”

“Or the house could burn down,” Mia said, like a mediator putting an offer on the table.

My mother shot her a look, though, of course, Mia, despite her worst intentions, was not capable of such a solution. But I knew my mother worried just a little.

 

When Mia came home, she dumped her books and gym bag on the floor and switched the TV channel to Sally Jessy Raphael. She liked to watch the exhibitionism of the guests – the thirteen-year-old sluts, the obese women who strutted in bustiers and mini-skirts, the drag queens. I wondered about Mia’s social life. Worried about her, in fact.

“Hey, loser, did you do your homework?” she said, without a trace of affection.

“No.” Stupidly, I always answered her.

“You are such a disappointment.” She sighed deeply, threw a ratty pillow at me and stretched out on the couch, her feet at the end that was held together with packing tape. We watched the misfits on TV, comparing the discord in their lives against our own.

My father was an architect, my mother an office manager in an insurance firm, and each was in the wrong career. And then there was my sister, who was in the wrong family. Me, I was in the wrong grade, having been skipped a year in elementary school and so at eleven years old, I was the smallest, smartest boy in the seventh grade, and had embarked on a comfortable phase of ignorance, low expectations and invisibility, with no reason to change. Until Ella moved in down the street and joined the Environment Club.

As I watched the shrieking and hair-pulling on TV, I tried not to think of Ella’s plan and what consequences might ensue. Sally ended, and we heard our mother’s car pull up, so Mia jumped up to shut off the TV. She was still wearing her practice shorts and jersey, but after her hour on the couch, she had lost that breathless glow of physical exertion. She did a few jumping jacks and then some toe touches to make the blood rush to her head, so that it looked as if she had just schlepped her books, her gym bag and her athletic, but fatigued, body the eight blocks from the high school.

When our mother walked in, she, as usual, directed her first words at Mia, since anything less would provoke an accusation of disinterest, neglect, or the highest crime – favoritism toward me. “How was practice?”

“It would be a lot more convenient if I could drive,” Mia said, stomping out of the room and dragging books and bag.

“I feel like a mule,” she yelled behind her.

“I think she means ass,” I said.

My mother was not amused. Very little amused Nora Ramos at the end of a workday. She stared at me. “She doesn’t turn sixteen for eight months.”

My mother always presented these arguments to me as if I was the one in need of logic. I nodded sympathetically.

“Have you finished your homework?”

“Almost.” I could get away with such fibs because I knew my mother still wanted to believe I was living up to my potential.

“Well, do the rest after dinner.” She patted me kindly and I let her. She was afraid to touch my sister. Mia had grown too loud.

 

We ate dinner in the battered and broken living room as Tom Brokaw delivered the evening news about the latest disaster or scandal, the downturn in the stock market, the human interest story that brought lumps to our throats, because even as we sat amid our deterioration, we knew there were people out there less fortunate than we were.

“And you kids think you’ve got it bad,” my father would say, shaking his head.

“It’s all relative,” my mother would say back each time.

It was an exchange as automatic as achoo-gesundheit, or thank you-you’re welcome.

 

I met Ella a few days after she moved in down the street. I was walking to the bus stop for school when I saw her emerge from the big house. It was the biggest and newest house on the block, on the lot where a house much like ours had once stood, and the Franklins, a family totally unlike ours, once lived. The Franklins used professional landscapers for their yard and each summer held a neighborhood party and served barbecue outdoors against a backdrop of dahlias. From the patio, we could see inside to the graceful, well-kept interior, where afghans draped across sofas were merely decorative and not camouflage for tattered upholstery. When they put their house on the market to buy a bigger one, a developer bought it, stripped it to its foundation, and built a new one, both quaint and imposing in its farmhouse style and bulk, and incongruous on our suburban street. When the seller held an open house, the neighborhood trooped through to see what they could not afford. Mia and I accompanied our dad, but our mother declined. We reported to her the features – hardwood floors, coved ceilings, gourmet kitchen, five bedrooms, three and a half baths, walk-in closets, utility room, family room, study, all of which my mother listened to with pursed lips and pained brow. My father assessed it all with a critical eye. “Shoddy workmanship,” he said. “Second-rate materials. Inefficient floor plan.”

“Yeah,” Mia said with the sarcasm honed since she was three, “that house is totally disgusting.”

That morning as I followed Ella to the bus stop, I thought of how I knew what the inside of her house looked like and I felt privileged with knowledge as I observed her movements, her clothes, her body. Ella was slim but sturdy. She wore flared jeans, a white crewneck pullover and Reeboks. She wore what most kids wore, but everything looked different on her – better, more natural. And the backpack slung over her shoulder was neither a burden nor an accessory. Her hair was sleek and short, though long enough to bounce as she walked.

I told myself I was interested in girls only insofar as they offered a comparison against which to measure my sister and her high-strung sensibilities. Mia, first-born, was first in loudness, meanness and stinginess. It wasn’t just an adolescent thing. It was in her bones, her fingernails, in the hairs she left in the bathtub after shaving her legs. I didn’t hate her. That was in my bones – not to hate. Even so, my sister had long discredited girls in my eyes. While I knew that not every girl was going to stick her foot in my path to trip me, put Friskies in my cereal bowl, or steal my allowance, I regarded most with suspicion. Even the quiet ones. There seemed to be among all of them a scheme which involved my humiliation or exclusion. Ella, I would find out, was different. She needed me for other things.
I was looking at the back of her neck when she turned around and then I could see the blades of her collarbone, and, for the first time, all of my family’s imperfections seemed so plainly pathetic.

“I’m Ella,” she said.

Most girls didn’t talk to me unless they had to, like Morgan Hansen, the cheerleader who told me to stay ten feet away from her locker, which happened to be right above mine.

I looked at Ella, or rather, her collarbone. “Hi,” I answered, fixed on this surprisingly engaging part of a girl’s anatomy.

“Is your name Alexander?”

“Yeah,” I said, feeling stupid that I hadn’t introduced myself. “How’d you know?”

“It says so on your math homework.”

I looked at the paper sticking out of my book. I never put it in my backpack in the morning since I always finished my homework on the bus.

“What, are you a detective?” I asked, forgetting for a moment who I was talking to and falling into the sarcasm I used as a defense against most girls.

“No, just observant.” There was no conceit, no sarcasm, no malice. Just a statement.

I wanted to say something to let her know that I was observant, too. Because I was. It was my defining feature. But someone else had claimed her attention and I watched her mingle easily with the other kids at the bus stop as I stood alone.

On the bus, I watched Ella some more and in second period I turned in an incomplete math assignment.

 

Ella wasn’t in any of my classes and she wasn’t on the bus home that afternoon. When I walked past her house, I looked straight ahead, but I thought of Ella, impeccable, singular Ella, inside its newness, its unbrokenness.

The next morning Ella wasn’t at the bus stop, but I saw her go past in a car, an elegant looking woman, probably her mother, driving. Ella waved and I stared dumbly back, unsure if she was acknowledging me or the bus stop crowd in general. Even without Ella to watch on the bus, I didn’t do my math homework. She was a distraction even when she wasn’t there in front of me. It was Ella I was thinking of when I failed to answer when called on in history class, when I blurted out of turn in English class, when I accidentally sent my pencil airborne over two rows of students in Spanish class. “Discúlpame,” I said, though my plea for forgiveness was rather half-hearted. It would all earn me a visit to the seventh-grade counselor by the end of the week. They kept a close watch on me at school, concerned about any mismatch between my advanced academic placement and my social readiness. I occasionally transgressed on purpose, maybe for the attention, maybe to test the system.

But I had an ally in Ms. Noonan, who stood up for any and all members of the Environment Club. She was the faculty advisor for the club, the membership of which fluctuated from a low of one (me) to a high of five or six when we had our end-of-the-quarter party at the Pizza Palace, Ms. Noonan’s treat. By school policy Ms. Noonan could disband the club for lack of participation, but she generously proclaimed that if even one student was interested in saving the environment, she would gladly give her time. I doubted that her motives were so pure. I knew mine weren’t. The club made us feel as if we were doing something worthy without having to do much of anything at all. Our weekly meetings were spent writing cliché-ridden opinion pieces for the school newspaper and thinking up slogans for Ms. Noonan’s bulletin board.

After not seeing Ella all that day, I was ready to put pen to paper in a fiery tirade against every conceivable threat to the planet. But when I walked into Ms. Noonan’s classroom after school, Ella was there, seated at a desk in the front row. Ms. Noonan sat across from her, beaming, gratified not only for someone other than me showing up, but for someone like Ella, to give credibility, even glamour to our otherwise dubious club.

“Look who’s joined our cause, Alexander.” Ms. Noonan was almost giddy. “This is Ella.”

“We know each other,” said Ella.

This declaration from Ella ensured my loyalty to her. I sat down smugly next to Ella. But Ms. Noonan was still the boss.

“Ella,” she said, “why don’t you start the discussion, something in today’s headline, a special interest of yours. Just anything you want to talk about.”

“Talk about?” Ella asked, her face softly scrunching.

Ms. Noonan nodded her head in encouragement.

“What good does it do to just talk?” Ella looked at me as if she didn’t trust Ms. Noonan. I couldn’t say that the Environment Club was just a nice opportunity to complain about the problems of the world and the self-absorbed, tunnel-visioned people in it. I couldn’t say that I was satisfied just to point out the wrongs, that I had no compulsion to right them. So I feebly pointed out the poster that hung on Ms. Noonan’s bulletin board.

“What else?” Ella asked.

“Ella,” Ms. Noonan said, her voice patient, “our group is small so our impact is small.”

“Well,” Ella said quietly, “I think the effort is small.”

“We need to be reasonable in our undertakings. After all, we have limited resources.” Limited resources was what we used in our slogans on our posters, in our editorials in the school newspaper, in our letters to our elected officials. Limited resources was our anthem, our rallying cry, and now our justification for our feeble actions to save the environment.

“Right, Alexander?”

But I was on Ella’s side. “I think the effort is small, too.” I could see that Ms. Noonan was taking the criticism personally, and for an instant I regretted my words as I foresaw the end of the pizza parties. But only for an instant, because then I blurted, “Infinitesimal, in fact.” I rose from my chair and left the room in a disappointed shuffle I copied from Mia, whose repertoire of postures and exits I had been witness to since my high-chair days.

I waited in the hall, expecting Ella to follow, but she didn’t. At least not right away. After ten minutes I was about to give up, questioning my action and the motive behind it. What principle had I stood up for, what ideal had I pursued, I wondered. Then Ella came out of Ms. Noonan’s classroom. We were the only ones in the hallway and I listened to Ella’s soft soles pulse against the unswept floor, and watched dust motes halo at her head as she came toward me.

“That was quite a dramatic exit,” she said.

“Cinematic,” I said admiringly.

Ella looked at me, puzzled. “I meant yours.”

“Oh.” I wondered if I looked confused. “I was making a statement,” I said, almost defensively.

“That’s what I was explaining to Ms. Noonan. That we are not about words. We’re about action. Come on. We have work to do.”

I followed Ella out of the building and onto the street where we caught a city bus. I was aware of the half inch of space between us on the seat, and as Ella looked out the window I looked at her up close – the small ear lobes, the slim nose, the fine lashes, all lending a fragility to her face, all balanced by the resolute chin. Her left hand anchored her backpack to her lap, and I thought of what it might feel like to lay my hand over hers.

“It has to be meaningful,” Ella said, suddenly turning toward me.

“I know,” I said too earnestly.

“We need a project that will stir people to action.”

“I know,” I said again, though not as earnestly.

Ella eyed me curiously, then turned back to the window.

“We could plant trees,” I proposed, borrowing a suggestion from a poster I had done for Ms. Noonan’s bulletin board, Breathe free, plant a tree.

“Maybe,” Ella said with a small shrug.

I decided to wait for her to come up with an idea. Maybe I would shrug it off.

Then she was tapping my knee. “Look,” she said, and I stared at her hand on my leg until I realized she meant for me to look out the window. The bus was stopped for some dawdling pedestrians and I was able to read the sign that sprung up at the edge of a weedy lot. It exclaimed Coming Soon! For Your Shopping Convenience! Six New Boutiques! The sign made Ella grimace. I myself found all those exclamation points irritating.

“That is so unnecessary.” Ella was indignant and I nodded in support, but kept my mouth shut.

“All that stuff,” she said, shaking her head. “It just encourages buying and using and…”

“Wasting,” I said, finally catching on. “It’s criminal.”

Ella stared at me. “Of course,” she said softly. “Someone needs to bring that sign down.”

“Vandalism?” I asked. “It’s criminal.”

And Ella shrugged, never giving me a chance.

 

It would take all of three minutes to throw kerosene and a match on the sign and spray-paint the sidewalk in front of it with some pithy slogan. I would’ve settled for the all-purpose Save the Earth which required less paint, but Ella insisted on Stop Consumption, though consumption made me think of a character wracked with cough and spit in a Dickens novel. I said this out loud to Ella, but she gave me an icy stare. Humor or showing off, whichever I was guilty of, had no place in the mission, as Ella called it, which was to be executed on Saturday, early in the morning when traffic at that corner was practically non-existent.

 

Friday evening I was feeling restless, so I wandered into the living room where my father was reading the paper. He seemed untroubled by the ruins of our living room, even though the broken recliner he sat in leaned farther back than it should have. His long frame overshot either end of the chair. He had been a pole-vaulter in college. Mia had inherited his athleticism. I got his nearsightedness, though I didn’t require glasses yet. I expected they would come in handy if one day anyone suggested I join the pole vaulting team. I would point to my corrective lenses in their fragile wire frames and, with feigned regret, decline. I didn’t care to know the feeling of lifting myself 17 feet in the air, just to come crashing down on my back, the sky farther away than ever. On his desk in his alcove office, there was a picture of my father in mid-air, but still, you knew it was inevitable, the fall back to earth.

I hadn’t sought advice from him since I was in the second grade when I had taken it upon myself to redesign my elementary school. I suppose it was as much approval as advice I was seeking when I presented him with my blueprint for what resembled an amusement park.

“Very imaginative,” my father had said. Then he tousled my head playfully and he chuckled in a way that grown-ups do when they understand something kids don’t. “Not very realistic.”

My father was Ben Casey, not the TV doctor of 60’s television, but Ben Casey, Architect for the Future. It was printed on his business cards, stacks of them in his desk drawer and whenever he had the opportunity to pass one along to a potential client, he would always be dismayed by the person’s response to his name. If the person was my father’s age or older, he or she would invariably make a joke. “Switching careers?” “Got tired of saving lives?” My father would perform his chuckle, but underneath he would panic at the thought that he indeed was in the wrong career, because he wished he really could save lives – maybe ours, at least his own. If the person made no mention of Dr. Casey, then my father would know he was dealing with a person much younger than himself, and he resented that too.

My father lowered his newspaper. “Something on your mind, Alexander?”

“Kind of.” I sat on the edge of the broken sofa so I wouldn’t sink back into its springless cavity. I looked at my father who had not tousled my head in years. “No, not really,” I said.

I decided to go down to the basement to see my mother. I took a cup of peppermint tea, but she was in the throes of concentration, her foot pumping the potter’s wheel, her hands persuading clay, her face muscles tense. I set the tea down on the worktable where she painted and glazed her creations, and then I sat on the bottom of the basement stairs to wait. And to watch my mother.

She didn’t seem like my mother then. She seemed someone different, and I sometimes thought this is who she wanted to be – someone other than the office manager who directed the flow of claims and policies on life and health and property, someone other than the mother in our house of broken things. She had gone underground, turning the dank and musty basement into a gallery of pots and vases, bowls, butter dishes, cups and saucers. Around the walls where my mother had installed shelves, colors and patterns swirled in garish, unchipped, uncracked perfection.

Everything screamed.

I watched a bowl emerge from my mother’s hands. She held it up to admire and I thought of a photo I’d seen of her holding a baby Mia all new and clean after a bath.

“What do you think, Alexander?”

“Excellent,” I said, genuinely admiring the bowl before it would be covered with immoderate strokes of color.
I decided to go to my room and ponder my situation. Mia’s door was open when I passed her room. Incense burned on her dresser and chanting came from her stereo. She was in a backbend, her upside-down face level with my shins. Still, she managed to direct her gaze up at me. At that angle she looked almost friendly, and I considered asking her for advice. But then she exhaled and offered her philosophy unsolicited. “Get enlightened, loser.”

I left Mia to her posing and went to my room, which was really a loft, only a rail where a wall should have been, and, of course, no door to slam shut against the world. When I was younger, I would create my own privacy by building a fort fashioned from blankets and rearranged furniture, until I realized my makeshift walls were superfluous in our house.

I puttered around in my room for a while, moved a few chess pieces, played air guitar to Carlos Santana, practiced bathroom graffiti on a piece of notebook paper. Eventually I heard my parents go to bed. Then Mia’s door closed, but I knew she wasn’t asleep. I wondered what she did when she didn’t have an audience, when she had no one to bully, when she felt safe. What would she say if she knew that tomorrow I would carry out a crime for a cause? I set my alarm for 5:30 and went to bed, thinking of Ella.

 

We were to rendezvous at the site by separate routes. I arrived first, lighter fluid sloshing in the container zipped into my sweatshirt. Rather than loiter at the sign, the object of our planned destruction, I hid behind the Port-a-Potty already in place in anticipation of the crew that would soon bulldoze the weedy lot. The corner was deserted except for a few pigeons that bobbed along the sidewalk. Six new boutiques would bring traffic and noise and litter and more pigeons and their gluey shit. But wasn’t it inevitable, I thought. And what would our little act of eco-terrorism accomplish? I dug in my pocket for the book of matches I had taken from our kitchen drawer. While I waited for Ella, I practiced lighting matches, each time letting the flame burn down nearly to my fingers before extinguishing it. Ella was late. I began to wonder if she’d chickened out. Just when I hoped that she had, just when I could start feeling betrayed, I saw her slim figure in blue jeans and a gray hooded sweatshirt slink behind the sign. She leaned into one of the posts as if trying to blend into it. A lost cause, I thought, and then I found myself jerking backward when she turned to look my way. Shielded by the Port-a-Potty, I stared at the spent matches in the dirt in front of me, sat there counting them over and over, until I knew that when I stood up Ella would be gone.

 

When I got home it was still early, though I knew my parents were up, my mother in the basement, my father in his alcove. Mia was still in bed, awake and daydreaming, plotting her fame on a TV talk show. I didn’t want to go inside, so I veered off to the side yard and sat near our pile of discards where metal rusted and wood rotted far too slowly. I took the book of matches from my pocket and struck a match and watched it burn to my fingertips before blowing it out. Ella had been late, I told myself. I could very well have given up on her and left. She was the one with explaining to do. I struck another match, blew hard on it as it singed my skin. I struck a third and this time when it threatened my fingertips, I dropped it on the pile of decaying cast-offs. It flickered and seemed to go out, but then glowed yellow as it skittered around the remnant of a legless stool. I waited and watched the flames grow confident and incontestable, begin to blister the paint on our house, then catch the wood. I waited some more. Then I ran inside to rescue my family.

 

 

Donna Miscolta’s story collection Hola and Goodbye was selected by Randall Kenan for the Doris Bakwin Award for Writing by a Woman and publication by Carolina Wren Press in 2016. She’s also the author of the novel When the de la Cruz Family Danced (Signal 8 Press, 2011). Excerpts from her novel-in-progress The Education of Angie Rubio appear in The Adirondack Review and Crate (now the Santa Ana Review).

ELEMENTS OF LATINO LITERATURE by Antonio Lopez

Soliloquy: When right at the stoplight, your favorite Los Temerarios song is on and you

turn up the troca’s naked volume dial,

crooning to the anciana in a turquoise Thunderbird,

the monologues in every 80s Mexican song

“Como ha cambiado mi vida.

Desde que tú no estás.”

She pulls her roof back on y le gritas

“¡Wa- Wait! ¡Pero it’s a classic!

 

Onomatopoeia: When abuelito Güicho

hoisted nieta Mariana in the air, weighing at 10 kilos.

He bares his grizzly dentures—half pa’ asustarla, half por su peso.

Sunk in the green sofá, he squeezes her polka-doted lonjas

Until she summons a smile, y le contesta,

“Ahhh.”

 

Tragi-comedy: Watching Groundhog Day,

an allegory white people can stomach,

where for us, days seem to repeat;

to see snapshots of Watts and Ferguson,

and not know which year is which.

 

Still life: A genre depicting mostly inanimate subjects frontin’ mobility,

typically commonplace hoodrats which may be either natural

(bumwine winos, coke fiends)

or man-made (redlining, mass incarceration).

With origins in white flight, famous works include

:“Rogelio closing in on a crush,”

“Alberto selling drugs on the side,”

“Jessica playing unofficial interpreter for her single mother

as she picks up their monthly WIC stamps,”

“Mrs. Hall standing courtside

to the third playground fight of the week,

watching her fellow children of the sun

beat the living shit

out of each other.”

 

Prestige: To bury me on the 3rd subbasement of the New York Met,

6 exhibitions away from the Mesoamerican gold

where the Columbian custodial lady

will spray Windex and sigh,

“Mira todo el oro que nos robaron.”

 

Solidarity: Laying down next to me,

the fading grimace of a sarcaphogus

cursing the cardigan-clad surveyors,

three weeks into a wheatgrass diet.

 

Tokenism: The alternative ending to Apocalypto, where the Aztec body

(of work) came tumbling down from the Tenochtitlán templo

further, further until un dia gana el honor

to hang in art galleries, thousands of supplications

away where bespectacled, MOMA-bound gizzards

flock on the floorboard acrage, flare their divine-right hocicos

to declare,

“Yes, that’s

worth me looking at,”

gargling wine and cheese,

over this poem’s altar.

 

Orgullo: When my father admits to me,

as he passes the bowl of cebolla picada for my mole de olla,

that he teared up when mamá played the first three minutes of my

poetry reading “en su iPhone’s e-speaker,” and the words, “lo que caiga”

boomed from a privately-endowed lecture hall, and into the

stains of his white cotton shirt

so that at work, when he marched up the hotel’s

carpeted halls,

he heard his chest sing

un himno indocumentado.


Antonio Lopez is a poet.

SHITTY LITTLE DINOSAURS by Rosebud Ben-Oni

There are birds arising in these flying little dinosaurs

 

There are a hundred birds in each of them

 

They never quite land

 

when they steal

our last piece of chicken

though we lay out premium seed

every night

& every morning

on the rooftop of my in-laws

where my husband & I sleep in a little room

We watch this happen

It’s like beasts awakening in cave paintings

It’s like coming back to life

extinct

without belief

in anything

but these flying little dinosaurs

who seem to know it all

who don’t listen to god

or natural law

Without fear they remain

forever

not dying

on a cross

or overlooking a promise

land they enter

wherever chewing through wood

& rag & screen

& when the clouds lay low in the afternoon

from the haze come dragons too

who descend to undo

clothespins & nails loose

At least five little dragons in each

whose true fire is their speech

taken from everyone

& everything

Muffled laugh track & hawk shrill

quarreling lovers

& siren

church bells

In august drench until the sky dims

the whole of hong kong screams out of them

It taunts & torments & yet

we never hear them coming

& they are never of one place

It never left this earth what they are

these shitty little dinosaurs

who won’t leave a single grape

to roll lonely on my plate

because once they were cockatoos in crates

crossing the south china sea this

they have not forgotten

Every night they escape

To not not arise from our skylines

while I hide my most precious things

as if these things will always be with me

as if the day will come they do not

return to the rooftop

where I’m not holding my breath

face pressed

against torn-up mesh

 

What they are this earth never left

 

I see the sunrise & sunset within seconds

 

There are

 

Hundreds & hundreds of birds arising in every one of them

DREAMING HOME by Ana Menéndez

I’m obsessed with the landed aristocracy: The great-great granddaughter of a countess who lives with her husband and four children in her family’s 16th century palazzo. The heiress who grew up on a 17,000-acre ranch in Uruguay. The scion of a shipping family who just renovated the 300-year old family home in Santorini.

I meet these exotic apparitions in the pages of thick, slippery magazines that arrive mysteriously in my house, sometimes tucked between the pages of the more austere New York Times, sometimes delivered, unbid, through the mail. Over pages and pages of saturated color, I am generously offered a privileged glimpse into the daily lives of families whose fantastic wealth stretches back to the time of the Medici. Unworthy, I am nevertheless invited into sitting rooms decorated with portraits of elegant Dukes, bathrooms of double height ceilings that loom over original marble tubs. Cavernous receiving rooms decorated with 18th century tapestries, hand-carved mahogany tables and amusing trinkets collected by generations of inhabitants including this flea-market find, an oil in the style of Tintoretto, scored just last year by the current owner on a visit to Rome.

Sometimes, I learn of the rigors of a two-year renovation (dead owls, rotting wallpaper) that ends by revealing magnificent frescoes, hand-forged bricks and ancient mosaics once trod by silk-slippered ancestors.

I don’t envy these people – not exactly. Neither am I tempted – not really — to ridicule them. My feelings, as I temporarily inhabit these full-color lives, are much more nuanced and complicated. I am gruesomely fascinated by these eternally wealthy bloodlines, and I simply cannot look away. I know the next magazine will arrive, the next family will open their Tuscan Villa to my commoners’ eyes, and I will succumb to the fantasy, as surely as my own peasant ancestors did, gazing from the doors of their wooden huts to the towers of unreachable wealth beyond.

* * *

I come from a long line of emigrants. Which is another way of saying, I come from enduring peasant stock – for sometimes the wealthy meet violent ends, but it is more often the poor who leave.

My great-grandparents on my mother’s side – illiterate tenant farmers from Lebanon’s northern hinterlands – fled their homes in 1908, chased by hunger and persecution. They hopped a ship to Mexico. When it stopped in Cuba, they got off. I imagine them saying, this is good enough. Or far enough.

My mother’s father also fled the poverty of Asturias in the early 20th century. He too found refuge, at least for a time, in Cuba. On my father’s side, they were also running: from Asturias, Canary Islands and, even, Scotland.

Varadero, Güines and Havana suited them all just fine. Until, of course, it was time to pull up roots and move again. As 20th century migrations go, theirs were relatively gentle. Enough so that I can joke now that if our family had a crest, its motto would be, “This is Bullshit, I’m out of Here.”

Otherwise, no, we don’t have a crest. No Counts or Duchesses dot my lineage. There is not a drop of blue blood in my veins. My middle-class parents left their modest possessions behind when they left Cuba in the early 1960s. And then they started over, in the family tradition.

My family, unless you count the green and white plates bought with S&H stamps in the 1970s, does not keep heirlooms. There is no august family homestead for me to return to. No treasure-filled rooms. No silver for my son to inherit.

My family’s legacy is of a different sort: Of humor, myth and constant movement. My writing and my restlessness stands as a kind of resonance to their lives, the hum left over from the explosion of their collective flight.

And yet I count myself luckier than a Duchessa in a Calabrian Palazzo. For a child of the 20th century – that era of mass migration, murder and upheaval – to have never experienced homelessness or statelessness is, after all, a special kind of good fortune. My movements, in contrast to those of my ancestors, have all been undertaken with joy. I’ve lived in places that don’t reach the level of family palaces, and yet still overflow with a comfortable luxury that my great-grandmother, married at 13 and a refugee at 15, would not have even been able to imagine.

Exile, Joseph Brodsky famously noted, is a linguistic event. For those of us living in the aftermath, it is also an inherited condition. We inherit first the stories and creation myths that are always travel-ready: light, easy to unpack, containing multitudes. Even those of us who proudly proclaim that we have unshackled ourselves from the political concerns of an older generation, still carry, deeper still, the DNA of flight and its corresponding refusal to commit to any place. We know – even if not consciously so – that if things get truly bad, we can always take off. We don’t call it cowardice. We call it a sense of adventure.

*

I am 47 years old now. Since I turned 21, I have moved 16 times and lived on four continents. I am the first voluntary exile in my brave line. And, a Cuban without a home, I pray to Jose Martí, patron saint of displacement: “In exile, men lose their moorings and find their bearings.”

I was three years old when I took my first flight. And I still remember it, albeit shaped in the surrealistic contours of childhood. In memory, my mother and I wave goodbye to my father, working in his yard, and ascend into the marvelous flying machine that, after impressive shaking that spills my Coca-Cola, lands in a different place entirely.

Flight never lost its romance. Throughout childhood, I would gaze at a plane flying over head and grow wistful, imagining the great adventures that awaited those secreted within. Even now, burdened by the memory of security hassles and middle-aged fears, I still feel a surge of wonder watching a 747 take off into the haze.

But it’s never been so much the act of flying itself, as the promise of movement, of renewal. Opening the door to a new house, getting lost in the streets of a new city, the seduction of arrival and the saudade of leaving: all of these wash me onto the shores of a barely expressible land, a place that exists for me alone, my private version – amid so much wandering – of home.

Home. How many emotions – both noble and ignoble – have been heaped onto the slender shoulders of that word? How many clichés have marred its romance? Is it ever really sweet? Is it where the heart is? Can the homeland ever be secure?

What does it mean to be from a place? And can one choose to be from nowhere? I was born in Los Angeles, went to elementary school in Tampa, high school in Miami, worked in Santa Ana, studied in New York City and, finally as an adult, lived in New Delhi, Istanbul, Cairo, Amsterdam and Maastricht.

“Where are you from?” people ask on my travels. And first I have to figure out what they really want to know.

One of the many reasons I love poetry is that it reminds us that we are not so unique. Lots of others have come this way before us.

In Miami, I am Cuban. In California, I was Latina. In India, I was Western. And in Afghanistan I was Woman. So I turn to the Zen poet Wang Wei, who smiles kindly and says, “In mountain forests, I’ve lost myself completely/ identity’s nothing but the role we play in public.”

I am a journalist and novelist. But I am not too proud to admit that truth resides with the poets. I once wrote an entire novel in a half-hearted attempt to say what Matsuo Basho had economically illuminated in a few lines:

“Days and months are travelers of eternity. So are the years that pass by. Those who steer a boat across the sea, or drive a horse over the earth till they succumb to the weight of years, spend every minute of their lives travelling. There are a great number of ancients, too, who died on the road. I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind – filled with a strong desire to wander.”

I am being only half facetious when I say that it must nevertheless be a burden to live in the same house your family has occupied for three centuries. The same year-hardened walls. The exhausted thresholds. A problem unique to the one percent, of course. But still enough to blunt our envy.

For travel is not enough. To live the world, you must live in it. Visiting New Delhi is different from setting up house there, waiting out the long seasons through the other worldly heat of summer, the bliss of monsoon and the leveling chill of winter. Visiting Istanbul is different from growing so used to the haunting call to prayer that it no longer wakes you in the night. The Cairo of the tourist is not the Cairo of the expatriate is not the Cairo of the wealthy Cairene, is not the Cairo of the slum.

Only by going to sleep every night and waking every morning for years and years in a foreign place can you come to terms with your own vanity, recognize your accepted truths for the borrowed garments that they are. Only after a life of movement, do you understand where stillness lies.

* * *

 

After Delhi, I move back to New York City for a time. Then Istanbul, where my first marriage ends. After a three-year stop in Miami, I leave again — this time, and for the first time, on my own. I land in Cairo in August of 2008. Two weeks later, I meet Peter, a fellow wanderer. Born in Czechoslovakia, he went on the road as soon as the wall fell. Just recently he’d lived in Miami. We learn that until we had both picked up and moved half way across the world, we had been neighbors in South Beach.

Early on, I make sure to close off any possibility of marriage. Even the most amicable divorce leaves scars. “Marriage is the tomb of love,” I tell Peter one day. We are floating in a Cairo pool, surrounded by expatriates and I am quoting Edith Templeton.

Two and a half years later, I give birth to our son in Amsterdam. We live for a time in Maastricht. And then in 2014, we move back to Miami. Peter and I both use that construction, “we are moving back”, though neither of us were born here, though we both lived other lives here. My parents and sister still live in Miami, so for me, the city is the closest thing to home. I am glad to return, though the city, the family and I have changed, irrevocably. Landing at MIA, the relentless sprawl of traffic and construction below us, Wang Wei returns to admonish me again: …nothing’s left of ancestral villages now./Out beyond cloud, it’s all empty as origin.

We buy a house, a three-bedroom, two-bath mid-century bungalow on a street named after a philosopher. It has a small yard and a wood deck out back. Less than a 10-minute walk away is the beach, where I run most mornings. My privilege, after half a life time of travel, remains intact.

Most surprising of all: we get married. One Friday afternoon in September, we take our son and my parents down to Miami Beach City Hall and swear to honor one another in good times and in bad. We exchange rings. Then we go for lunch at a favorite old haunt on South Beach. I order the fish. And by the time we return to our house, I can hardly breathe. At first I blame it on my dress – it was a bit tight. But when I take it off, I notice that my chest is covered with a violent red rash. My windpipe is closing. I take a Benadryl. I splash my face with cold water and lie down. After a few moments, I can breathe again. Later, a doctor tells me it was likely a reaction to improperly stored fish. But on our wedding day, my new husband takes my measure. He lifts a wry eyebrow.

“Clearly,” he says, “You are allergic to marriage.”

Maybe we’re both still worried that marriage might really be the tomb of love. I broke off one engagement in my twenties. Divorced my first husband in my thirties. And discouraged a proposal or two before finally returning to the altar at the age of 44. It’s no secret that I only succumbed this time because, unless we married, I would not be eligible to join my husband on his insurance plan.

But this late and gentle marriage suits me. Family finally suits me. I have a good man by my side, someone attracted to my ambition for a change. A man willing to take three years out of his career to care for our son — our funny, exquisite little boy – so I could do work that appealed to me. It’s almost as if I’ve received not a second chance, but a completely new life; a rare and precious do-over in middle-age.

I feel content, though not settled. Because I know this is not our last move. Even after all these years, travel retains its electric joy. Arriving is a kind of transfiguration. To open the front door to a new house, to inhabit a fresh layout and walk unfamiliar streets is to be reborn into a new and wiser self.

Two years later, after the insane, anxiety-laced election of 2016, I make frequent threats to move back to Europe. My suggestion to buy a catamaran and dock in the Mediterranean for the next four years is met with nervous laughter. I remind Peter of the family motto: “This is bullshit, I’m out of here!” One blue fall day my five-year-old son, the heir to our tradition, points at the long, white contrails of a plane passing high over head.

“Look, Mami, how beautiful. I would love to be on that plane!”

And yet: here we are in Surfside. We know the climate is changing. We know the sea is rising. We know we are vulnerable to the winds of politics and fate. And yet: We put in a new roof, install a new air conditioning system. We take down the old windows and iron bars and replace them with expensive glass that promise to keep us safe during a hurricane. We buy new appliances for the kitchen. We redo the landscaping, paint the walls, take out the old attic insulation and replace it with the latest thing. We build new bookcases and fit them with books in six languages. We hang our art on the walls, lay my two Afghan carpets on the marble floor. We fill our home with old objects and new promises of permanence. We do these things even though we know it is all temporary, because everything is temporary, even for the Dukes and Duchesses, even when we imagine it otherwise.

 


Ana Menéndez is the author of four books of fiction: Adios, Happy Homeland!, The Last War, Loving Che and In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd, whose title story won a Pushcart Prize. She has worked as a journalist in the United States and abroad, lastly as a prize-winning columnist for The Miami Herald. As a reporter, she wrote about Cuba, Haiti, Kashmir, Afghanistan and India, where she was based for three years. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Vogue, Bomb Magazine, The New York Times and Tin House and has been included in several anthologies, including The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. She has a B.A. in English from Florida International University and an M.F.A. from New York University. A former Fulbright Scholar in Egypt, she now lives in Surfside, Florida.

IN APRIL by Brian Simoneau

In April the potholes could swallow you whole.

 

Pollen squalls across roads and falls on crews that patch them up, flashing lights and orange cones as sure a sign of spring as blowing off work for opening day.

 

In April pitchers blow in their hands and players leave trails of rising breath as they hustle base to base.

 

In April you run through rain and wait for May.

 

Playgrounds swarm with children sprung from apartments, fences lined with smiling moms and dads.

 

In April the asphalt’s cracked and storms that pound the shoreline take away the shapes you know, undertow a grief you trust will sweep you off your feet without a word.

 

You tell yourself it won’t be worse in April. It is. Worse: there’s no explaining why. You lie

and say it’s the weather. Whether or not it rains the ground is wet.

 

In March the soil starts to thaw. By April soil’s soft enough for seeds.

 

The earth is soft enough for sleep, deep enough to swallow you whole.


Brian Simoneau is the author of River Bound (C&R Press, 2014). His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Boston Review, Cincinnati Review, The Georgia Review, Mid-American Review, RHINO, Southern Indiana Review, and other journals. He lives in Connecticut with his family.

MACHO by Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés

by Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés

Murderous thoughts consumed her as she peered under the fence in search of that cabrón Macho.

At first it had been cute, but now she thought it a stupid name for a stupid dog. He was ridiculous looking too—sticks for legs, long neck, antenna ears, freakishly barrel chested and three different colors. Mari had squealed at his photo on Craigslist.

“Look, a Chihuahua puppy! For free! Mira que cosa más linda, Raquel. I have to have him. Pleeeeze, can we get him? Look at that face.”

Raquel smiled at Mari’s pushed out bottom lip and baby-sounds.

“Yea, he is pretty cute.” She kissed the top of her head. They’d only been a couple for the last three months even though they had been living together for a year. Becoming lovers was not in Raquel’s plan, though neither was adopting a dog. As soon as she landed a decent accounting job at a big construction company’s headquarters, she had spread the word among her friends that she needed a roommate ASAP since living at home with her constantly-up-in-your-business familia was not at all what she’d had in mind when she moved back to Orlando. Rent for the 2/2 apartment in a yet-to-be-gentrified area ten minutes from a getting-to-be trendy neighborhood was an even grand, minus utilities and WIFI. And the roommate had to be quiet.

Raquel’s plan was to take and pass the CPA exam in the next six months so she could get a better job auditing. Her ultimate goal was forensic accounting—discovering other’s mistakes or intentional book-cooking. But getting to her goal required intensive studying every night after work. Sometimes her eyes would tire and she drifted to daydreams, imagining herself driving a cream colored Boxster convertible headed to the beach. An ultramodern condo in one of those downtown high-rises springing up everywhere and a long cruise around the Mediterranean would be so nice. Then she’d wake up, her face creased from being plastered against the study guide, her laptop dead and only two hours until it was time to get up for work.

Mari was a Zumba instructor and didn’t mind practicing her routines in silence with her wireless in front of the big TV she brought with her when she moved in. Sometimes on her way to the kitchen, Raquel would catch Mari wearing her official gear, brightly colored tanks and coordinated parachute pants with zippers and streamers waving with her movements. It was sexy as hell but Raquel wasn’t interested so she laughed at Mari while badly imitating some fake rumba steps then shutting herself back up in her room.

They had been good roommates in that neither shared friends, occupations, nor interests and so they didn’t have to spend any time together. Then Mari found out that her girlfriend was two-timing her on the same day that Raquel saw her crush sticking her tongue through the forest of some aspiring-hipster’s bushy beard.
Raquel needed to talk to someone and Mari was there. She tried to explain the sense of betrayal she felt at the sight of them tucked into the hookah bar’s back booth until she noticed the tears.

“What happened?” Raquel touched Mari’s hand as she wiped her cheeks. “You ok?”

“It’s just that . . . my girl,” Mari hiccupped, exhaled and tried again, “My girl Milexi’s been cheating on me.”

“Ay, mama, I’m so sorry.” Raquel’s own face reflected Mari’s pained expression. She reached over to hug her close and started to cry too.

There was no need to exchange stories of past hurts; their bodies did that for them. As the early morning sun revealed Mari’s tranquil face, a smile Raquel couldn’t help stretched across her own.

 

Weekends Raquel and Mari would parade his highness around Lake Eola, always sporting an absurd little doggy shirt—he couldn’t tolerate the spiked punk collar. Faux leather biker jacket with itty bitty chains stitched at the sides, a camo vest with Duck Dynasty embellishments, even a muscle shirt. Nothing prissy or girly for Macho! Inevitably somebody would stop in their tracks to coo.

“Oh-my-gawd, is that the cutest!”

“Thank you.” Mari would always pick him up for them to get a closer look.

“What great coloring he has!” Given his huge penis, there was no mistaking his sex.

“He’s brindle,” Mari’d say to the admirer, then turning to the dog, “No es verdad, bebé?”

“What’s his name?”

“Macho,” Mari would grin. If the asker was Hispanic and sufficiently engaged, she’d finish with proper introductions:

“This is Raquel and I’m

Mari, Macho’s mami.”

Mari thought it was hilarious. A twist on marimacha—that ugly old name for dyke.

 

The little things that annoyed Raquel when Mari was her roommate became endearing habits once they were sleeping together—the half-drunk glasses of water in the fridge, the way she scraped clean the caked on pans with a knife instead of the scrubber, the sofa throw pillows hijacked into her room. Mari’s protein shakes’ ingredients took up two whole shelves in the fridge and one side of the pantry; Raquel didn’t mind. She could survive on ham and jelly sandwiches and café.

They had agreed to keep their separate rooms for sleeping—Raquel could study late into the night without disturbing Mari and Mari could crank up the ceiling fan (Raquel was convinced in her belief that sleeping under a fan caused sore throats).

Then Macho came into the picture. Not surprisingly, he shivered if the temperature went below 80 degrees but slept under Mari’s covers because, well, it was obvious from the start, he was her baby. Not a problem for Raquel. In her house, dogs slept on the floor. The problem came when the women sought each other out.

First Macho growled ferociously at Raquel—as much as a Chihuahua could—when she slipped into Mari’s bed. They laughed and laughed and put him out into the living room where he whined and scratched until he quieted down and they thought he had worn himself out. In the morning, Raquel gasped at the pile of veneer chips that Macho had gnawed off from the bottom of the door. He didn’t even look up from his yoga poses to acknowledge her.
That was when Macho began his crate-training but many times Mari would forget to close the door’s latch when she left for work and he would have a heyday pissing and shitting all over the place. If by chance the bedroom doors were left open, he only marked Raquel’s furniture and he’d find a way to climb onto her desk to chew up her study guides. If she got home before Raquel, Mari would usually clean up his messes but if Raquel got home first, she would let the dog out in the yard and leave the cleaning for his mami—no matter how tiny the messiness.

Then he bit Raquel, drawing blood on the tip of her nose when she approached Mari for a kiss. Only Mari laughed that time. Raquel was stunned.

“What? He’s a freaking Chihuahua. That didn’t hurt, did it?”

“Coño, Mari, can’t you see what he did to me?”

Macho’s half-closed eyes mocked Raquel.

“That little mother . . .” Raquel raised her hand.

“Hey, what’s the matter with you? He’s just a little baby dog.” Mari pulled away, cradling the dog.
Raquel felt defeated. She wondered how five pounds of skin and bones could cause so much animosity between them. Mari became guarded, and not just when she held him which she was doing more and more.
Before long Macho discovered a bitch five times his size on the other side of the backyard fence and he dug himself a pathway to her.

Raquel didn’t notice he was gone until Mari came home and she called out for him.

“Oh, yea, I let him out in the back.”

“You can’t just do that, Raquel. You have to stay out there with him.”

She didn’t wait for a response as she brusquely made her way to the back door.

Of course, Macho never came back when called. Mari found his tiny tracks in the sandy soil by a post; she could see him through the fence slats, nonchalantly sniffing the bitch’s hindquarters. After a long while Raquel came out to half-heartedly help, but it was apparent to both of them that Macho was Mari’s problem. And the fact that the dog turned out to be the cabrón-hijo-de-puta that he was, well, that was Mari’s fault too.

 

 

Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés’ work has appeared in Guernica, Kweli Journal, Literary Mama, The Bilingual Review, Caribe, and The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. Her books include story collections, Marielitos, Balseros, and Other Exiles and Oye What I’m Gonna Tell You; a poetry chapbook Everyday Chica, and a poetry CD. She is professor of writing and literature at the University of Central Florida.

WATER-BEARING by Daniel Barnum

slip on mud slick

 

just past the head

 

point of the path

 

land fairly un-

 

balanced on leaf

 

dust ground up

 

under feet bare

 

ground beneath

 

that rarely seen

 

at scale but never-

 

theless teeming

 
 

~~~

 
 

mud carpet made

architectonic with

monocot husks. how

close will trespass

let me see black

shapes approach

the forest’s front door?

banks built up

by roots, blistering

sorts of bark and

poison ivy’s allergic

blisses slope the cause-

way down into river.

branches wrenched

through liquid move-

ment back to gas

or solid. through three

transitional states

water remains

perfectly neutral

returning; rises

and dissipates

according to given

limits knows where

it’s going remembers

landscape at molecular

levels will not end

willingly becomes

whatever needs it

without thinking

 
 

~~~

 
 

mud shore frozeninto solidcross-hatch

 

crushedtallgrassland bows

 

under icepath cutsa gnarledstaircase

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

your thumb’sa compassat whatangles do

 

weather-felled limbspiercewinter cover

 

one way to knowwater isby hand