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Issue 167(b)

This issue features


Review by Janet Kaplan

Marta López-Luaces’ titular poem Architects of the Imaginary ends with a central question: “How can poetry exist in the face of terror?” That the question comes not at the start of the poem but at the end gives us the answer: Poetry, whatever else it does, faces terror. Poetry, whatever else it is, becomes the way to define terror, the way to feel through terror while in it, and the way to go forward, if only by a step.


López-Luaces’ question reminds me of course of Theodor Adorno’s dictum that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.”—But Adorno and López-Luaces both call for poets to write anyway, to continue their active engagement with the barbaric, terror-filled world by responding to it. As poets. From within it.


For López-Luaces, terror is what poets go through. She weaves the words of poets and exiles, philosophers and humanists, through her poems: they serve as epigraphs for and are part of the architecture of her poems. Thus, the terrors in the poems are multiplied. After all, when we define ourselves as a shared self rather than an isolated self, the more numerous our experiences become. It isn’t my past alone, but everyone’s past; not my future, but the future--and now is the very now that all of us on earth inhabit. And so the poet who is a shared self, who speaks more than one tongue and has lived in in more than one city, the poet who writes with the voices of the past and the present, from Abimelech to Alejandra Pizarnik, is counted among the Architects of the Imaginary. These architects are constantly redesigning, reconstructing and repairing a world hellbent on the blatant destruction of everything--from nature to the natural and healing human imagination.


At times the poems in this collection are serpentine, their lines Whitmanesque in length and epically breathless in cadence, as in the four-plus-page title poem, which reads as if it were a single unbroken sentence. The collection also contains poems that are broken into short lines, often elliptical, obscured or fragmented, as though writing through terror meant stepping onto a dark path through dense woods where one is grateful to find a single step forward.


Sinuous, seemingly endless, elliptical and obscured: the ways of the book are the ways of the natural world, the world of the forest with its unlit reaches, its fogs, mists, and midnight dews--its orballos--its sap and decomposition, animal hisses and howls, the unknowable that is the essential ground, the forest of profound dangers and primal material always crying out to be. To find not a path all the way through—but merely the next enshrouded step—is to stoop in the dark to unearth a word from the poet guides who have been there before and from the poet’s angel even if it is wingless on the ground. And, as López-Luaces writes in Tongues and Other Mysteries:


In the murmur-filled cavity

unquantified mysteries

cry out into the chasm.


[pg 52, Tongues and Other Mysteries]



López-Luaces’ poetry is a poetry of lyric precision and presentation, but it is not the poetry of hard definitions or the “clarity” of deforested land. Here instead we have acknowledgment of the dusk, the crepúsculo—and of the imagination of the crepúsculo. This is the eternal forest of eternal mysteries from which come:


songs

of strange

most unusual

birds


[pg 24, Reminiscences of Echoes]



Mystery is what summons the poet in the same way that God summons the prophet. But mystery itself is neither the goal nor the point of Lopez-Luaces’ work. The poet needs to enter the mystery, using language as her steppingstone, in order to face terror. The terrors of occupations and genocides, dissociative silences and border walls, and the ongoing threats of nuclear and ecological annihilation are the world’s terrors. They inhabit us. They begin to define who we are. And therefore the poet must face them, using her words. As López-Luaces writes in The Secret of the Gods,



The key

lies not in the mystery

but in the prophet’s

reacquaintance

with his own speech.


[pg 30]


Architects of the Imaginary / Arquitectos de lo imaginario by Marta López-Luaces / translation by G. J. Racz (2022, Gival Press)


About the Author

Poet, writer and translator Marta López-Luaces was born in A Coruña, Galicia, Spain in 1964 and lives in New York City. She holds a PhD in Spanish and Latin American Literatures from NYU and serves as professor of Spanish and Latino Studies at Montclair State University. She has published five books of poetry in the Spanish language, including Los arquitectos del imaginario, which was a finalist for the prestigious Ausiás March Award and was published in Valencia by Editorial Pre-Textos in 2010. Additionally, she has published two novels and a collection of short stories. Her novel Los traductores del viento (translators of the wind) was published in Madrid-Monterrey by Vaso Roto and was the winner of the 2014 International Latino Book Award for Best Fantasy Novel. It has recently been translated into English by Charlotte Gartenberg. Her work has also been translated into the Rumanian and the Italian, including the Italian-language poetry collection Accento Magico (magic accent). In May 2023, Los Tigres de Papel Press will publish Talar un nogal (cutting down a walnut tree), her next astonishing collection of poetry.


About the Translator

G. J. Racz is professor of Humanities at LIU Brooklyn, a past president of the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA), and review editor for Translation Review. In addition to his nine volumes of translations of the Peruvian poet Eduardo Chirinos and two of the Chilean poet Óscar Hahn, Racz has published translations of dramas by Miguel Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Jaime Salom, and Alberto Conejero.


About the Reviewer

Janet Kaplan's poetry books are Ecotones (shortlisted for the Sexton Prize; 2022, The Black Spring Press Group, London, Ltd.), Dreamlife of a Philanthropist (winner of the 2011 Ernest Sandeen Prize in Poetry; University of Notre Dame Press), The Glazier’s Country (winner of the 2003 Poets Out Loud Prize, Fordham University Press), and The Groundnote (1998, Alice James Books). Her honors include grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Bronx Council on the Arts, fellowships, and residencies from Yaddo, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Ucross Foundation, and the Vermont Studio Center. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and in the anthologies An Introduction to the Prose Poem (2007, Firewheel Editions), Lit from Inside: 40 Years of Poetry from Alice James (2012, Alice James Books), and Like Light: 25 Years of Poetry & Prose by Bright Hill Poets & Writers (2017, Bright Hill Press). She has served as Poet-in-Residence at Fordham University and on the creative writing faculty at Hofstra University, where she edited AMP, Hofstra’s digital-literature magazine. She’s currently serving as Editor and Co-Publisher of PB&J Books, Inc., a cooperative literary press.



Mark Fitzpatrick


Eve Without a Song


Even in her role as flower child,

she never sang a love song for her lover, Adam.

The thought never even came into her mind –

saying, “There’s no one else but you!”

would have made him look left, then right,

scratching his hairy, simian head.

‘There’s no one but you” in her day

was numerical. Not romantic.


Now, old and unbecoming, she rocks in her place,

watching the children of men, the daughters of the garden

play and test and profess undying love

(a rather unscientific idea)

to one special other.

She sees their delight, their affection, their heartaches at times –

all with such envy.


And from the corner of her eye,

sees the white-haired covered body of Adam,

snoring, filling the wicker chair with his fat.

He was “her only.”

But not by choice. By fate.


Copyright © 2022 by Mark Fitzpatrick.



About the Author

Mark Fitzpatrick is primarily a poet although he has had fiction, essays, plays and travel pieces published in such places as The Macguffin, Whiskey Island Review, The Small Pond Magazine of Literature, Oxford Journal, Qu, and other places. He has lived and worked in Brazil, Somaliland, Haiti, and Honduras. Right now, he is trapped in Connecticut.



Amanda Stopa Goldstein


Chapel Bells Toll for 215 Indigenous Children


What religion is this?

Where we all lose our mothers

Or our fathers don’t fight for us

And we kneel in cedar benches, in brick buildings

In awe of a new totem

Trade drums, ground-penetrating radar

For keys, cacophony

Remember a different communion

To really know the belly of the whale

To share salted fish

Honor in in honor of what honor?

An unthinkable loss

There is no religion

for the child that knows fear

or the child forgotten in a crowded room

for the child that waits in the dark

a moment of silence

to hear the one that was there

before them whisper with a new tongue

they will not come for you


Copyright © by 2022 by Amanda Stopa Goldstein.


About the Author Amanda Stopa Goldstein is a poet and short story writer. Her work has been published in Philadelphia Stories, Spry Literary Journal, and the Bearer's of Distance anthology. She is the two-time winner of the North Country Historical Writing Contest. Originally from the Seattle area, she holds an MFA in Creative Writing and an MBA in Entrepreneurship, and is currently the Director of the Bookstore at St. Lawrence University, and teaches writing as an Associate Professor for the University of Maryland.



Jeanmarie Meadowcroft


Spirits, Having Flown

Once, I drifted

on a breath,

on a falsetto

And my spirit cries,

take me back—

—to bone-bleached beaches

and sun-blanched sidewalks

to the hum of air conditioners,

to vinyl furniture sticking

to sunburned skin,

to a salt-water soaked

sleep, so deep

so childhood true,

that only the gossamer

airs of the Gibb brothers

could wake me,

and they promised everlasting—

—love

is a memory,

a pre-teen crush on

a seaside resort,

a pop singer,

a song.

A salt breeze

takes me back

to dunes swept cool,

in shades of blue

mingling ocean and sky.

Love is a kite

floating in the evening azure.

They told me,

those Gibb brothers,

that heaven fades—

like a salt breeze,

like a gull’s cry,

like the last note of a top-ten hit.


Copyright © 2022 by Jeanmarie Meadowcroft.


November 2018, After Florence

The air has incisors this morning,

baby teeth, at best.

This is the South, after all.

A Charlotte lives outside my window,

weaving daily words.

I don’t know how she’s still alive;

I’ll hate to see her go.

She moved her golden orb web

to the lee side

before the storm.

All the Charlottes do

Around the block,

roofs are draped

in extravagant sheets of turquoise

fallen carelessly as clouds

A house without a roof is a naked thing,

peeping and obscene.

Hammers sound capricious punctuation

to the scattered talk from men working,

“A waste,” one says. “Gonna happen again.”

He’s right, you know.

Hurricanes lull you with a decade of relief.

But the coast is a catcher’s mitt,

waiting for the next pitch.

Florence brings tidal surges of money;

contractors scavenge like gulls,

breed like mosquitoes

in stagnant pools.

We take down plywood,

stow generators,

clean debris,

methodical as any Charlotte,

and wait for the next thrown strike.




Copyright © 2022 by Jeanmarie Meadowcroft.



About the Author

Jeanmarie Meadowcroft earned a Creative Writing MFA from UNC Wilmington. She taught at the NC Writers’ Network Conference and organized meetings of the NCWN. An excerpt of her novel was published in Cedars: An Online Literary Journal, and Interlude, a chapbook including her work was published by Southern Salon Press.

Gloria g. Murray


Amanda in Flight


“HELP! HELP! I’VE GOT TO GET OFF! PLEASE, PLEASE!” My cousin Amanda is screaming and banging on the small window of the jet. We are flying to Palm Beach, Florida, where her dad passed away from a heart attack only two days ago and her mother, in a state of shock and hysteria, is waiting for her. They were my favorite aunt and uncle, and Amanda was so grateful to have me go along. Being claustrophobic, she had never flown before.


She is screaming so loudly now the stewardess rushes over to us. She is starched and lovely in her professional outfit and her long fingernails are polished a deep violet to match her lipstick. Her name tag says: GINNY in violet and blue letters.


“What’s the trouble?” she asks, pointing to Amanda. “Are you not well?”


“I’m sorry.” I say apologetically. “She’s my cousin and she’s very claustrophobic.


“Sweetie, she says in that stewardess tone that really means you better shut the f- up. “You must calm down. You’re frightening the other passengers.”


Amanda stares at her as if she is something from another planet. “You don’t understand!” She stamps her foot, and it lands on mine. Her sneakers are very heavy. “I have to get off!” Her voice escalates as she tries to climb over my legs. I try to pull her back down at the same time the stewardess is trying to pull her up.


Come with me, sweetie, and we’ll give you something to calm you down. We’re trained for this sort of thing.” And I think what kind of training can one have other than being head nurse on a mental ward?


“I’ve already taken two Valiums and they didn’t work.”


“Oh, then we’ll find you something else, Ginny offers. “Perhaps something stronger—some brandy?”


“I DON’T DRINK!” Amanda is adamant. “I tell you I have to get out of here!” And she pushes her way over me, past the stewardess, who is holding on to me so as not to fall. She has caught her arm in the strap of Amanda’s bag.


“You can’t get off! Don’t you understand—you’re in the air—in mid-flight.”


“Of course, that’s why I have to get out. She begins running down the aisle, bumping into another stewardess who is serving a woman coffee and Danish. The tray goes flying and coffee is all over the woman’s satin skirt.


“What is going on?” The woman, sitting next to her husband who is holding a Chihuahua, says, “Who is this crazy person?” Ginny and the other stewardess try to calm her down. They are attempting to rub the coffee off the woman’s skirt with a couple of paper napkins. “I don’t believe this, look at my skirt and I’m on my way to my niece’s wedding. We’re having brunch in a very classy restaurant.”


Ginny, who is clutching Amanda’s wrists says, “We’re very sorry. The airline will certainly pay to have it dry cleaned.”


Really? the woman glares, “Now how would we do that before my brunch?”


“Who cares about your stupid skirt?” Amanda says. “I’m going insane. I have to get out of here—why can’t anyone understand that?”


I’m standing behind her, not knowing what else to do and I must admit a feeling of panic is starting to come over me. I fear I might start screaming and think—no, there can’t be two of us—one of us has to stay sane.


Some of the passengers are screaming: GET THAT WOMAN THE HELL OUT OF HERE! Twin boys of around four years are crying. At that moment an elderly, distinguished man comes over. Ginny looks relieved. “Are you a doctor?” she asks.


“Well, sort of…” he answers. “I’m a veterinarian—Board certified.”


“I’m afraid that won’t help. Ginny shrugs in defeat.


“Oh, but of course I can be of some help. I have some tranquilizers in here.” He points to his bag and lowers his voice, “Also pain killers and…and something even a little stronger.”


I begin to tremble. Afraid now what they might do to my cousin. Amanda screams, then cries out: “Oh, my god, they’re going to kill me,” and she pulls on my arm. “Don’t let them, Barb, don’t let them!”


“No, no one is going to hurt you, I promise,” I say firmly, but am feeling a little woozy, not sure if it’s the altitude, the situation, or my own nerves. “Give me your hand.” She puts her hand in mine. I can feel her nails digging in.


Now the Chihuahua is barking like crazy, as if he, with his dog sense, knows who the doctor really is. The doctor reaches out to pet him and the animal opens his small mouth and takes a large bite.


“Ouch! You little…bitch!” The doctor screams and grabs a muzzle from his bag. ‘‘Muzzle that dog, immediately!” he instructs the husband who is holding the dog tightly against him.


“Don’t you dare—can’t you see how agitated he is by all this commotion? That woman!” And he points to Amanda, “She’s responsible for all this.”


“I’m sorry sir,” Ginny says firmly. “You’ll have to put your dog in the carrier under the seat and he must stop barking.


Reluctantly, the man puts the dog into the carrier, holding it on his lap.


“Under the seat. You were informed of the rules.”


The man puts a treat into the dog’s mouth and places the carrier in front of his legs so he can still pet him. The doctor takes some liquid from his bag, pours it on his hand and winces. It is still bleeding, and Ginny offers to wrap it with some gauze.


The woman with the coffee-stained skirt pets the dog. “There, there, Chuckiepoo. The bad man is leaving. The other stewardess has left to attend to another passenger who is calling out for water.


The woman says to Ginny— “This has to be cleaned. Have you anything?”


“Well, we do have some cleaning liquid in one of the cabinets.”


“Fine,” the woman answers and begins to take off her skirt.


“Honey,” the husband says, “you can’t take that off here. For god sakes, go into the rest room.”


“Yes, yes, of course.” Embarrassed, she pulls up her skirt, squeezes out of the seat and gives Amanda a glare. “Crazy bitch!” She waddles with the skirt mid-way, her stomach flopping over the top and heads to the back with everyone staring.


Amanda begins to cry. Her hands are clenched against my chest.


“Here take this.” The doctor offers her something from his bag, and then says to the husband— “I told you to muzzle that dog.”


“I will not!” the man shouts. “He was just agitated by all this. He’s never bitten anyone before and look—how quietly he’s lying in his carrier and…yes—he’s had all his shots.”


“I won’t take that!” Amanda shouts. “You’re going to knock me out—just because I’m afraid to be up in the air.”


A young woman in jeans and a tee shirt stands up. “You know she’s right. We’re up here and we can’t get out.”


“Yeah,” another voice bellows. “I guess we’re trapped.”


One of the twins stands up. “Momeee, I’m scared.”


“I wanna go home…I wanna go home,” the other one is crying. “We can’t fly…cause we have no wings. Where are my wings, momeee—did you forget them?”


“Look, what you’ve done!” the stewardess cries, “You’ve created pandemonium and we have at least another hour before we land.”


“I want out!” Another voice screams. “We’re trapped in this damn thing—in the air!”


“Oh my god!” another yells. “We’re really trapped!”


There is a nun stroking her rosary beads with her eyes closed and two women are embracing, pressing their lips together. Amanda has stopped crying now and is walking back to her seat with me holding her hand. The whole plane has become chaotic, and Ginny and another stewardess are running back and forth handing out cocktails and pills to whoever wants them. They’re all holding out their hands. “Me! Me! Me!”


And all this has calmed Amanda down. She sits quietly staring out the window. The dog stops barking, and the husband is calling for another cocktail. The doctor is slumped in his seat, his bandaged hand resting on his bag, his head bobbing slightly. The woman comes out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her, dragging the damaged skirt. The twins are both trying to sit on the mother’s lap who is attempting to calm them down with tootsie pops that have become caught in the strands of her blonde hair.


“They’ll stone us when we get off.” I whisper to Amanda.

“Do you think I was having a panic attack?”


“Yes, at least a ten!”


And for some reason she starts laughing and then I do too, trying hard not to think of the trip back, wondering if we have enough Valiums for both of us.


Copyright © 2022 by Gloria g. Murray.


About the Author

Gloria g. Murray is a published poet and playwright with work appearing in various literary journals, including The Paterson Review, Poet Lore, Flapperhouse, Dash, Adelaide, Glimpse, and others, as well as zine publications. She received the 2014 1st prize poetry award from Poetica Magazine and 3rd place poetry prize, Writer’s Digest 2017.



Carla Sameth


My Wife Who Became My Husband


He has begun to sound more mannish,

as if we were in an old-time movie,

maybe “My Fair Lady”— he’s as grumpy as Professor Higgens.

I’m not saying he wasn’t a curmudgeon before

but the first days after his top surgery, it was as if

he’d awoken in his real body, without breasts

being referred to as “he” and “my Husband”—

the latter a shock. And I was moved by his happiness

as if he’d finally landed on the right planet. But then,

I suppose the anesthesia and pain pills wore off

and as often happens with these things, there was

a downward movement as if the plane

went into a tailspin. He has no regrets but perhaps some

resentment that he couldn’t have been born

into the right body the first time around. After

that I couldn’t seem to locate the euphoria,

the sweetness of those early post-surgery days

when I could tend to him, and I felt even with his pain

he looked upon it all with wonderment,

as if he’d tunneled out the birth canal again, the right gender.


I had a husband before, also another wife,

but was sticking to women, though they too

can be a mixed bag. I cannot imagine living

my life with someone who tells me regularly

to “control my emotions” annoyed by my display

of tears, and declares “can we please stop

talking about feelings?” And yet, here we are.

This is not what I had in mind when I married

this woman. I knew she said she always felt more

like a man—granted a trans not cis man—and that

she’d joined a trans group with the VA. But the quick

leap into cutting off those lovely breasts

that were so sexy with the other masculine

trappings, her manera de ser (how do you say

this in English). She was butchy but tender

six pack, fit and tough, but vulnerable

for lack of a better description, with hair

long, tied back, neatly pinned to the top,

military style. The first time I saw her

after we’d met, she was waiting for me, leaning

against a building at California Plaza;

La Santa Cecilia was playing in the background.

Earlier, I’d been out with my friend Gary Stewart,

angel of single moms or at least this one,

a couple years before he would jump off

of a Santa Monica parking structure.

And we would both mourn.


That’s the time frame, this love first tiptoed into my life.

My thoughts were actually “she looks really young”

and “she’s cute and buff” but I want to talk about him now.

We’ve both gained weight since we married in 2016.

Rocky Road and streaming television sometimes

is what holds us together. He’s got angry scars

on his chest and the tone of his voice often matches

with raw irritation. I am always asking too much because

he’s working full-time, in school full-time, taking

two courses at another university. And getting shots

of testosterone. This is not what I had in mind

when I thought of our life together.

But I’m a long-hauler.


My third marriage, I no longer resort

to fight or flight as the only options.

But I don’t yet know what else there is.

I remember the photo the documentary photographer

took of “still-her” the night before surgery,

the light was just so, duskish, and

she lay back, arm behind her head,

shirt off, those sexy blue shorts that matched our

blue bedroom wall, her blue blue eyes.

A badass look, breasts falling just so and still there.

Tough, languid even, but sensual.


I long for that mix of shadow and light



Previously published in MetroWeekly, July 2022.

Copyright © 2022 by Carla Sameth.



Sashay


We do a short walk this time,

across Belvedere and back

in our Northwest Pasadena neighborhood.

I want to walk miles

but my hurting hips say otherwise

feeling as if Shakira were here

singing “my hips don’t lie”

only mine are not swinging

like hers. I wish Dakota

our Saint Bernard would teach

me how to sashay, move her

hips so sexy and gracefully,

big and beautiful that girl.

She lives for sniffing

and finding people, Milo says.


I tell my beloved,

She found us and we were rescued


We walk on home.


Copyright © 2022 by Carla Sameth.



About the Author

Carla Rachel Sameth was recently selected as the Co-Poet Laureate for Altadena, CA 2022-2024. Her chapbook, What Is Left was published December 2021 with dancing girl press. Carla’s debut memoir, One Day on the Gold Line, originally published in 2019, will be reissued by Golden Foothills Press in 2022. Her writing on blended/unblended, queer, multi-racial and single parent families appears in a variety of literary journals, anthologies, newspapers and blogs including: The Rumpus, Full Grown People, MUTHA Magazine, Brain/Child, Brevity Blog, Entropy, Anti-Heroin Chic, Global Poemic, Soren Lit, La Bloga, Call Me {Progress} Literary Journal/University of Alabama and The Nervous Breakdown. Carla’s work has been twice named as Notable Essays of the Year in Best American Essays. Her story “Graduation Day at Addiction High,” which originally appeared in Narratively, was also selected for Longread’sFive Stories on Addiction.” A Pasadena Rose Poet, a West Hollywood Pride Poet, and a former PEN Teaching Artist, Carla teaches creative writing to high school and university students and has taught incarcerated youth. She was selected as a Carrizozo Artist-in-Residence (February 2022). She lives in Pasadena with her beloved partner, Milo. https://carlasameth.com/




Wild Violets

© by Hendrik Werner.



Sharon Scholl


Wild Violets


Every year I wait

in expectation

for the first wild violets

to unfold their vivid petals

in abandoned meadows.

First a few clumps

then countless purple islands

dot the undergrowth

like figures tangled

in a Persian carpet.

They hover at shoe level

shy as all wild creatures.

Every year they reward us

for abandoning our duties,

foregoing human legs to squat

among the weeds and stare

at beauty almost too small to see,

too delicate to touch.


Copyright © 2022 by Sharon Scholl.



About the Author

Sharon Scholl convenes a poetry critique group which has been active in North Florida for nearly 20 years. She is an editor of local literary publications as well as a musician/composer with a website of her compositions free for download (www.freeprintmusic.com). She enjoys performing as part of a piano duo and at age 90 manages to remain an effective human being.




David Allen Sullivan


To Eat a Peach

1.

gnarl it free with a twist and jerk,

bough pulling up and away, dig

teeth in right there, at the backend

of a Vermont summer, towels around

waists, post-skinny-dipped, know

the aureole sun burst of breasts,

defiantly proud of sixteen-year-old

bodies, the heft of them familiar,

every lick of dripped juice an invite

2.

thin-slice crescents of them on a cutting board—plucked pit swelling one cheek—layer them in a circle atop custard so their sunset skins twirl like the overhead crane shot of an Ethel Merman dance routine.

3.

use a press to squeeze

peach nectar into a tall glass

lace with a shot of vodka

spritz in soda water

lean in to hear its fizzy whispering

of what the night portends

4.

read how genetics instructs you that peaches and nectarines are actually one species, with only the existence of skin fuzz (or lack thereof) to set them apart.

5.

hike to a remote nunnery above Dali, in China’s Yunnan province, which is being refurbished, help tie off rebar for the new drainage channel being poured to direct rain run-off to the peach orchard where bottomless plastic buckets have been shoved in the ground, each surrounding a stalk with waxy leaves like hands unfolding from prayer. Visit the shrine to Guanyin. See how she’s made of crude plaster, garishly painted. One of her thirty hands extends far beyond the others in a superhuman stretch, fingers tickle a paper mache sphere of fruit nailed to a rafter.


6.

enter Xi’an’s historical museum and peer into the glass cabinet of fossilized peach stones found beneath layers of soil along the Yangzi, carbon dated to around 6000 BCE. The regularity of their placement suggests they’d been planted, but something interrupted fruition. Read that peaches are endemic to the rocky area near the mountains of what’s now northwestern China, and found their way west via the Silk Road.


7.

backyard peach tree’s stilted

with stakes to keep the weight

of the fruit crop from taking down

what’s sending up nutrients

into burgeoning hard nobs, to be shared

with wasps and birds and worms and us


8.

scent of cut meadow grass, of the-only-one-home-

after-school, of sweat-rich t-shirt stripped

at the watering hole, of the cyanide capsule

at its heart, danger of all that sweetness, of bodies

whose ripeness is bruised fruit, is hunger. 9.

leave the sugar and peach mixture to steep

under a muslin sheet; tomorrow, cook it

so the golden flesh turns burnt-orange,

but keep the fruit whole by prodding only

with a wooden spoon, ladle into glass jars

and cellar until you’re under winter’s flag.

10

experiment while camping: core a peach,

insert a sliver of butter, finger of brown sugar,

teaspoon of cinnamon, wrap in tin foil,

insert in the coal bed and wait until smell calls. 11.

taste the miracle in your hand

close your eyes

taste again 12.

taste the soil of Samarkand.

Samar: stone kand: town,

so it’s linked to nearby Tashkent,

where your graduate student guide

guides you to a field at night

to steal Han-nurtured globes

of sweetness and laugh as they bloom

in your mouths, teeth etched white,

peach pits hurled into the stream

before you lie back in the grass. 13.

Remember the last of the peach

sweetening your mouth, the thin

trace of peel you pulled free

of your teeth. Remember the obscene

pleasure of getting away with it.


14.

remind yourself he’s Uyghur,

that you can’t be in contact or he—

and his family—will be in danger.

Peach the last thing you shared.

15.

tear, again, into what you shared.

16.

let his name by Ilham. After praying

in the empty great mosque of Tashkent

he has you roll over on your back

and points up at the geometric vines

lacing the dome: See how their ends

swell? They suggest peaches, no?

17.

and now you can’t see anything else,

can’t taste anything

but all you’ve come through.

18.

all that’s entered you

becomes what peachness is.

19.

sound out the Uyghur he taught you: shaptul

20.

شاپتۇل

draw its shapes with his hand on yours



Copyright © 2022 by David Allen Sullivan.



About the Author

Santa Cruz poet laureate David Allen Sullivan’s books include: Strong-Armed Angels, Every Seed of the Pomegranate, a book of co-translation with Abbas Kadhim from the Arabic of Iraqi Adnan Al-Sayegh, Bombs Have Not Breakfasted Yet, and Black Ice. Most recently, he won the Mary Ballard Chapbook poetry prize for Take Wing, and published Black Butterflies Over Baghdad with Word Works Books. He teaches at Cabrillo College, where he edits the Porter Gulch Review with his students, lives in Santa Cruz with his family, and his website is: https://dasulliv1.wixsite.com/website-1.



Vee Weeks


When It Rains


I tucked myself into the cobwebby corner, grinding my spine into the rough, pointy rocks that made up the surprisingly sturdy walls of the cave, as a short, wide, glass bottle full of a yellowish-brown liquid came sloshing towards me. Walking was the only human characteristic he seemed to have. He had no face and couldn’t talk, and he wasn’t alone. When I peered over his glass shoulder— and gagged when I realized it was specked with a splash of vomit— I saw three similar-looking objects behind him. I couldn’t make out exactly what they were, but they were all around the same size as the bottle in front of me and were silently sliding towards me across the cave floor, which was made of the same material as the walls I was pressed against. The downpour outside, which had made itself known by pattering on the hollow walls, reached a crescendo, slamming mercilessly on the rocks and making me jump. Bursts of sharp pain shot up my spine, my whole body begging me to move away from the walls, but it was too late to go anywhere else now. The glass bottle’s comrades, I guess was the best word, were close enough now that I could see them clearly, which meant I was about two seconds away from being surrounded.


You’d think someone who’d been in this situation as many times as I have would’ve come up with a better combat strategy already but hiding in the corner was still the best trick, I had up my sleeve. I was severely outnumbered in these attacks, and the cave didn’t offer many hiding-places. It was basically just a hole carved into a mountainside, with a bunch of huge rocks structured so the whole thing looked like a large, uncomfortable tent with a ceiling. There were no crevices or holes in the walls, no secret underground passage, nothing like that. What you saw was what you got. Not to mention that if it wasn’t for the glass bottle’s comrades somehow producing their own blinding lights from what would be their stomachs if they were human, the cave would be completely pitch-dark. That’s how it always was for the first thirty seconds that I was here, before the glass bottle’s light flicked on from the other side of the cave, where the ceiling touched the floor at an angle, and it began slowly advancing towards me.

As the four comrades formed a semicircle in front of me, blocking any possible exit from my corner, I surveyed them to see what I was up against. My heart banged against the skin of my chest, threatening to tear it in half like a pair of too-tight jeans. It was the usual cast and crew, of course. That never changed. Maybe that should’ve comforted me, but it did the opposite. The only reason that regular monsters aren’t scary is because you’ve faced them before and know how to defeat them. But if I knew how to defeat these guys, I couldn’t be cowering in the corner in the first place. The monster who stood in the leftmost spot of the semicircle, whose metal body was an overpowering shade of dark red, like the sugary juice inside of a chocolate-covered cherry, clapped her hands loudly. She was the only one who had hands, and even then, they were severely underdeveloped compared to mine. Every time I ended up in this cave, she did that stupid handclap, so I knew what that signal meant just as well as the rest of the monsters. It was time for the cast and crew to film the pivotal fight scene of the movie: a dark red, robot-like husk of metal with hands and legs, a fat, teal-blue teardrop that floated rigidly up and down in the dewy air between the red metal husk and the glass bottle with yellowish-brown liquid, and a severely washed-out purple flower petal that floated in the air on the rightmost side of the semicircle, vs. a scrawny, nineteen-year-old girl with a coffee-colored skin tone and wide, vulnerable, caramel-tinted brown eyes who shook in the corner and tried to hide it. This would be the fight of the movie, ending with a clear winner and clear loser, and now the audience was waiting eagerly, eyes stretching out of their sockets to face the screen, to see whether or not justice would be served.


If only this was just a movie. I thought wistfully as the red metal husk, in one motion, reached behind her shoulder, pulled out a set of bows and dark red laser beams that looked like arrows, and aimed the first laser at me.


I jumped to the left just in time, going temporarily blind as the red light scanned past my pupils, then collided with the rock wall, narrowly missing me. The impact with the wall instantly made the light on the laser sizzle out, deflating to an average stick of rubber. I heard all of this happen behind me, but I was really paying attention to the monsters. I knew they wouldn’t just stop at one laser, and there was barely any room for me to move and dodge attacks, so it was only a matter of time before my luck ran out. That was my last thought before the red metal husk and the teardrop attacked simultaneously, each one from a different angle so their weapons hit me from both directions. The red husk continued shooting lasers my way, while the other side of me was hosed down with water that contained so much salt, it made my arms and face swell up and stung every other part of my body. Neither of them stopped once to catch their breaths or anything, so even though I was getting tired and weaker, I needed to keep my guard up. It felt like buckets of water were being poured on my head, soaking my baggy T-shirt and shorts until I was wet, freezing, and stinging all over. So of course, I tried to dodge the torrents of water, but that only put me in the path of the lasers that continuously pierced every inch of my skin, making my insides burn relentlessly as if I’d been struck by lightning. I tried to tolerate the pain for as long as I could, dodging weapons despite the fact that my whole body was a weird mix of being frozen and on fire. I didn’t even remember collapsing on the floor, but eventually I found myself sitting there helplessly, my knees drawn up to my chin, staring down the superheated, pointy edge of the laser as it came barreling towards me.


Straight for my eye, was my last thought before the laser did, in fact, stab me right in the left iris.


I opened my mouth to scream, like I usually did at least once during these attacks, but no sound came out, which wasn’t very uncommon either. When screaming didn’t work, I clamped my teeth down on my lower lip until fresh, bright red blood began to roll off my chin and trickle down to my knees, where a pool quickly formed. I wanted to cry but could only do so out of the non-laser eye. With a couple of spaced-out tears streaming down my face, I flailed my hand around until it made contact with the wall, bringing on another shriek of pain, then grunted as I forced myself to stand up on shaky legs. I had no intention of fighting these monsters, but I’d had enough. I needed to get out of here and hopefully pluck this stupid laser out of my iris before it reduced my eyeball to a burned-out shell. Unfortunately, I was in so much pain that I lunged forward without thinking, reaching a fist out to punch the first thing I made contact with. I punched something soft and then immediately heard it tear a little.


Shit. I’d squeezed my eye shut by then and the laser prevented me from seeing out of the other, but I’d recognize that soft, delicate texture anywhere.


The sound of hissing built up until it filled my corner and was deafening. I immediately clamped my mouth shut and held my breath, but the thick, ashy-black smoke still passed between my lips anyway, nesting itself in my throat. The violent coughing happened a split second later, forcing me to collapse on the floor again, and that’s when I heard the glass bottle let out a loud POP! as it unscrewed its lid, and I cried again because I knew what was coming. The liquid sloshed above my head for a few seconds before dumping itself all over me. The smell of it alone was enough to make me want to puke, and I tried not to let a drop of it touch my tongue. I knew from past experiences that it tasted like disinfectant.


Please be over. I silently begged, even though I knew the final damage hadn’t been delivered.


Right when I was beginning to recover from an entire bottle of stinging liquid being dumped on me, all four of them attacked at once. Their bright lights crowded together, and I had to stare at the floor so it wouldn’t hurt my eyes, and then everything came down at once, just as I became aware that the downpour outside had turned into a raging thunderstorm. The liquid burned my tongue, the lasers burned my skin, the saltwater made my skin want to explode into a volcano of red blisters, and the smoke made me cough until I was sure a lung had collapsed. I cried again, of course, and if there was one thing I could’ve wished for in that moment, it would’ve been to just be able to fucking scream. I became aware of a distant vibrating sound in the distance, like a cell phone ringing, but I was in too much pain to care.

* * *

My eyes popped open, and I shot up in bed, kicking the sheets onto the dusty, white-tiled floor below me. I quickly reached my hand up to my left eye, breathing a sigh of relief when I didn’t feel the laser there. Turning on the lamp that sat on the desk beside me, I surveyed my body to check for any damage, like I did every time. My skin and throat were no longer on fire with pain, although the liquid did have a bit of an aftertaste in my mouth. But that was an easy fix. I leaped out of bed, shuffled over to the bathroom, and rinsed out my mouth a couple of times. I thought about screaming, just to check that I could still do it, but screaming in a dorm hallway on a Friday morning at 8 am. was generally frowned upon at Sarah Mudd College. At least I had a single room. I couldn’t imagine any kind of roommate being able to deal with me.


Wait a minute. Was my phone ringing?


I snatched it off my desk as I hopped back into bed, then opened it to see that, yes, I had a missed call from Saffy. Letting out a long, loud groan, I collapsed onto my pillow, staring at the Pikachu wallpaper until my screen went dark again, producing another, shorter groan. If it wasn’t obvious already, I really didn’t want to call her back, but I also knew there’d be repercussions if I didn’t. Mostly in the form of angry text messages that repeatedly said my name and nothing else, followed by verbal anger when I was finally annoyed into replying to her and she showed up at my room. If I’d have to see her no matter what I did, I could at least make it as painless as possible.


“Hey.” I greeted when I heard Saffy answer the phone.


“Helen!” she replied.


I cringed inside when I heard the amount of energy in her voice, imagining her sloppily attempting to do winged eyeliner under her pale-blue eyes and running a brush through her frizzy, black hair while she talked to me. “Why are you up so early?” I groaned.


“Why are you?”


“Because you called me.”


“Okay, jeez. Stop being so grumpy. Come on, let’s hang out tonight. I haven’t left my room in three days, and you know how I get when I’m inside for too long. Let’s go on an adventure.”


Yup. I knew the direction this call was going in before I even pressed the Call Back button. But there was no point in arguing. If I said no, she’d just come up with a million persuasive reasons as to why I should, and I wouldn’t be able to refute any of them. Plus, I got crazily lonely, too, when I was in my room alone for extended periods of time.


“Okay.” I replied flatly. “Yeah. Sure.”


“Cool. Come to my room at 5.” She hung up without waiting for a response.

* * *


“It’s just incredibly upsetting to me that he even made it this far. That America let him make it this far.” Iris’s blood-orange hair swished back and forth across the shoulders of her baggy, beige T-shirt that displayed the words “Girls Just Want to Have FUNdamental Human Rights.” As usual, when she talked, her voice was filled with so much passion that the rest of us were instantly brought to silence. “I was watching the news this morning—


“You watch the news? Since when?” Saffy cut in.


“Well, now that I changed my major to history, I’ve realized the importance of watching the news. Staying informed about events is a keyway to prevent history from repeating itself. There are so many ignorant people in this world, and it saddens me. So, I was watching the news this morning, and did you guys hear about what Darryl Tait did to that woman in 2001?”


“Which woman? There are a lot of women in this world.” I tried not to sound bored, leaning as far forward in my seat as possible and straining my eyes to look at the darkening road.


After meeting Saffy in her room and discovering that Jack was also there, the two of them convinced me to pick up Iris and Malika from their houses and drive around until we found some place that looked like it would offer a fun way to pass the time. We had just picked up Iris, who hadn’t stopped shouting over us in the ten minutes she’d been squished between Jack and Saffy in the backseat, and we were currently on the way to get Malika. Instead of living on campus, Iris’s dad drove her to school every day, and Malika had commuted, too, until she dropped out last year.


“They agreed to keep her name anonymous until she decides whether or not she wants to go fully public with this information.” Iris reported. “But in 2001, Darryl Tait did something really, really messed up to her, and if she decides to pursue him in court, it could definitely ruin his potential presidency. We need his career to be ruined. It’s tragic enough that he already won the primaries. I wish I knew who that woman was so I could send her, like, a tweet or an email or something, just to let her know that as a woman in Tait’s America, I fully support her, and I think she’s so brave for finally stepping forward after so many years. I can’t even imagine what that must be like. Having to keep quiet about this for years out of fear and shame.”


“It’s not Tait’s America. He’s not the president yet.” Jack muttered. I pressed harder on the gas pedal, as if speeding up would somehow distance me from this conversation.


It hadn’t always been this much of a chore to hang out with my friends. I used to have a genuinely good time with them when we all first met, back at the beginning of freshman year. We used to go on adventures, driving through the towns near our college, taking trips to random fast-food restaurants while some of us were drunk, we even went skinny-dipping in a nearby, half-frozen lake one time. I can’t really pin down a specific moment when things started to change. It happened more gradually than that. Malika dropped out and started spending a lot more time at home, and Iris started going to the LGBTQA+ Club, which was also when she dyed her hair for the first time and made a bunch of T-shirts with slogans similar to the “Girls Just Want FUNdamental Human Rights” shirt she wore now. At some point, both of them lost interest in doing anything besides hanging out in my car while I drove through various places but never actually stopped anywhere. Even though Saffy had always been the one pushing for our crazy adventures, she suddenly started vouching for the idea of hanging out in my car, too, saying that it was easier to listen to Iris’s rants when we weren’t just in a dorm room with nothing to distract us. And now, somehow, it had escalated to the point where I’d look at Iris and couldn’t even imagine that she was the first one to casually strip in front of us and dive into the lake headfirst, screaming as her once-golden-blond hair made a giant ripple in the night-black, ice-cold water.


“How do you know she was fearful and ashamed?” Saffy chimed in. “Maybe she doesn’t want to go forward with this for other reas…


Her voice trailed off as Iris’s took over, rising in volume until she seemed to be on the brink of exploding with emotions. “There’s such a stigma associated with women who are victims of these types of crimes, and people need to come forward and share their stories so we can stop normalizing this kind of stigmatized culture.”


“Do you guys think it’s too early to start drinking?” Jack interjected as I pulled up next to Malika’s white-shuddered house and put the car in Park.


“Can someone text her and tell her we’re outside?” I asked. “I’m too lazy to get my phone out of my pocket.”


“It’s still daylight out, you fucking alcoholic.” Saffy teased, nudging his skinny, white arm with her elbow.


“I mean… Jack ran his fingers through the mop of thick, black hair that sat on top of his head. “It is almost 6 o’clock. See, this is why I’m glad winter’s almost here. You can start drinking earlier without people judging you.”


“Yeah.” Saffy snickered. “Never mind the disgusting slush and getting raped by the wind.”


At the word “rape,” Iris immediately shot up in her seat, elbowing both Saffy and Jack in the process.


I groaned inwardly, then attempted to break the tension that I knew was coming by repeating my question that had so far gone ignored. “Hey, guys.” I forced myself to giggle, trying to pass everything off as a joke. “I noticed none of you have texted—


“Did you just make a rape joke?” Iris asked indignantly. “That is so disrespectful to—


“I mean, that’s what it does.” Saffy quickly interrupted. “It goes under your clothes and—


I guess Malika had seen my car waiting outside for her because she was suddenly standing at the passenger door next to me, making all of us jump as it squeaked open.


“Perfect timing.” I muttered.


“OH MY GOD, HI, MALIKA!” Iris shouted over everyone else’s greetings, reaching over the cupholder to squeeze Malika’s shoulders into a half-assed hug. “I haven’t seen you in soooo long.”


“It’s been a week.” Saffy reminded her softly.


God, Saffy, I’m sorry that I’m just expressing the deep love I feel for my friend Malika.”


“That sounds so gay.”


“Well, that’s just what being a girl is like. You don’t have a real friendship with another girl if you don’t act like full-on lesbians in public sometimes. Right, Malika?”


Malika had wordlessly plunked herself down in the passenger seat and let out a huge yawn. I peeled away from her house. “What?” she asked, staring straight ahead at the glove compartment. “Yeah. We’re such lesbians.”


Iris let out a really high-pitched, unnecessarily long laugh, and then right when I thought we’d finally get a moment of silence, she immediately switched gears. “God, Malika, have you been watching the news at all? Because I was watching it this morning and Darryl Tait did this terrible thing…”


I wanted to squeeze my eyes shut and go to sleep, but then I’d crash the car and we’d all die. So as painful as it was, I tried my best to tune out Iris’s hysterical voice and stare at the endless, concrete road ahead, with flecks of distant traffic light colors dangling in the cloudy sky, surrounded on either side by extremely leafy trees. I was sufficiently lost in the scenery when Malika began talking, instantly bringing me back to inside the car.


“I don’t watch the news.” she was saying tiredly. Her brown eyes were glazing over like Boston crème donuts from staring at the glove compartment for twenty minutes straight. “It’s too much work and it’s biased.”


“Well, I watch the news because I’m a history major and I need to stay informed so that I can stop people from being ignorant and repeating the tragic, racist, and sexist events of our history. That’s why I debate a lot, too.”


That’s it. I wanted to erupt in a volcanic explosion of anger, and relief that I could finally heave that anger off my chest, but the thing about Iris is that you can’t get angry at her. I’ve watched Saffy try. She never gave anyone a chance to get angry at her. But I’d reached the point where I had to say something before, I lost it and crashed the car.


Remaining as calm as possible, I pointed out, “I’m a history major, too, and I don’t do that shit.”


“Yeah, and when the hell do you even debate with people?” Saffy added. “You just talk over everyone. That’s not debating.”


“I know, I’m sorry.” Iris let out another hysterical, high-pitched giggle. “I just get so passionate about fixing the ignorance in this world.”


“So are we gonna get drinks, or…


“Shut up, Jack. I am in the middle of a grand mission to make a difference in the world.”


“You’re in a car driving to…hey, Helen, where are we going?”


“What?” I’d drifted out of the conversation again, until I heard my name. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of looking behind me to face Saffy, where I then became distracted by the aggressively bright orange, two-seater convertible behind my car. The driver looked like she should be in some kind of shopping or beach commercial, with sunglasses and a bright, lipstick-covered smile mounted on a perfectly tanned face, and then someone shouted to me that the light we’d been sitting at had turned green, and without thinking, I lurched the car forward while still staring out the back window.


“HELEN!” Saffy shrieked. “THE—


Realizing my mistake, I quickly whipped my head around to face the windshield, then screamed and swerved away from the giant, black van I was about to collide with.


“Jesus fucking christ!” I pulled over to the side of the road, then sat there catching my breath while Saffy gave me a lecture where she basically told me to “watch the fucking road.” “Okay, that’s it.” I announced as soon as she was done. “We need to pick a destination and go to it now. I’m not doing this shit anymore. I already blew half a tank of gas and you guys never chip in for it.”


Malika’s head suddenly whipped up from the glove compartment. “What? Why are we on the side of the road? What’s going on?”


“Did you…did you actually not notice…you know what? Forget it.” Saffy let out a loud sigh of disgust.


“Malika, are you sure you’re okay?” Iris asked, sounding suddenly sweet. “You seem really out of it today. Is everything okay at home?”


“Geez, calm down. It’s not like she has abusive parents or something.” Saffy cut in.


“Is everything okay with you, Helen?” Jack added. “I mean, you did almost crash the car.”


“I’m fine.” I replied grumpily. “I guess I’m just tired.”


I hadn’t slept well all week because of my stupid cave dream. I briefly considered telling my friends about the cave dream, but when I opened my mouth to continue talking, I suddenly felt an aggressive desire in my heart not to tell them. I wanted to keep the dream to myself, if that makes any sense, without everyone either giving their own analysis of what it might mean or just flat-out glossing over whatever I said. If I told them about it, I’d have to think about it, and it was bad enough already that I had to lay awake for hours every night, dreading the moment I shut my eyes and got transported to that cave.


“Well, sometimes they kind of are…abusive. In an emotional way.”


“Wait, really?” For the first time since Malika got in the car, I looked over at her.


“I don’t know.” She paused to yawn. “My mom keeps pushing me to do all these things. She wants to see some therapist or something and get a job and take a course at a community college or some bullshit. Like, she thinks I’m depressed for some reason. Why can’t she realize that I’m actually really happy sitting in my room all day?”


“Um.” I muttered.


“I mean, it’s not like I just sleep. I actually do stuff in there. I make edits of scenes from my TV shows and post them. You guys should really check out my edits. I know some of them are shitty, but they’re really popular and there’s really nice girl who lives in Australia, and she keeps messaging me and asking for more edits. See? I’m even making new friends.”


After an uncomfortably long silence, Iris finally replied in that sweet voice, “I know making edits is a lot of fun for you, but it’s not healthy to stay inside all day. You should go out more often and then maybe you’ll feel better.”


“I feel fine. I’m not, like, depressed or anything. I just get tired sometimes, that’s all. I go out a lot. It’s just that you guys don’t always have plans to go out and then I have nothing to do.”


“You never used to get tired.” I argued quietly.


“So, we could go to the liquor store and get some drinks.”


Fine, Jack, you want drinks?” I yanked the car back onto the street without even checking to see if cars were coming from behind me. “Then let’s get drinks. At least someone around here can think of something to do besides drive around all day.”


I immediately regretted saying it when Iris, Saffy, and Malika all jumped to their defenses at the same time. To me, it just sounded like a series of half-baked excuses meshed together. “What? I don’t make you drive around all the time. If it bothers you, you should just say something. It’s just that no one has any ideas for what we should do. I would pay for gas, but I’m broke right now.”


I’m broke, too. I wanted to argue. It’s college. We’re all broke. But I knew saying anything else would just make them all justify themselves even more, and I didn’t feel like hearing it.


“Actually, if you guys are going to get drinks, can you drive me home?” Iris asked me, somewhere between her sweet-to-Malika voice and her I-watched-the-news-and-I’m-informed voice, as I pulled into the liquor store parking lot.


“You couldn’t have said something earlier?” I groaned. “You know, when we hadn’t driven so far away from your house?”


“Well, I’m sorry that I want to do more important things with my life than consume alcoholic beverages. While you guys have fun drinking substances that give you a false sense of happiness, I’ll be in my room, working on the book I’m writing.”


“You’re writing a book?” Saffy asked skeptically.


“Yes. Well, I mean, it’s not really a book yet. I’ve tried writing a few different paragraphs to start it off, but I can’t think of how to begin the plot. I’ve planned out all the characters, though. The main character is going to be this really sassy, chubby, Hawaiian, bisexual girl who has an interracial marriage with a white girl even though it’s not approved of in her society.”


“Sounds fun.” Jack muttered, clearly disinterested.


“Yeah, I think I should go home, too.” Malika released another yawn. “I’m just really exhausted and also kind of dizzy and nauseous. I don’t have money for alcohol anyway.”


“Don’t puke in my car.” I warned her. I tried to make it seem like I was mostly joking, but there was definitely an edge of seriousness in my voice.


“When was the last time you ate, Malika? You probably just need food.” Iris reasoned.


“What? That’s not the problem. I had food at home, right before I left to hang out with you guys. My dad brought home a pizza pie and I almost ate the whole thing. I have food all the time. Lots of food.”


“Okay. Just remember to take care of yourself.”


“You don’t need to act like her mom all the time.” Even Saffy was beginning to sound exhausted with all the passive-aggressive arguing.


“Yeah, I know. I just can’t help it. My mom is a nurse, so I’m naturally wired to be the mom friend.”


“So, you’re Malika’s mom and her girlfriend?”


“Yeah. We’re such lesbians.” Malika contributed in the middle of a yawn.


I sighed, then looked over at Jack. “Okay, so I guess you’ll buy the stuff since you’re the only one here who’s twenty-one, and I guess we’re splitting the pay three ways.”


“Actually, uh, can you drive me home first?” Iris asked.


“Are you serious?” I shot back.


“Yeah, I’m sorry…it’s just that I feel really uncomfortable driving around with alcohol in the car while we’re underage. My parents would kill me if I got arrested. Not that they really have control over me. I’m twenty years old. I can do whatever I want. It’s just that my parents get really protective of me because I’m the youngest. You know how parents are.”


“I feel really sick, too.” Malika added quietly. “So, I should probably get home before I throw up my lungs.”


“But…we’re literally right here…” Jack protested.


“Yeah, come on, guys. I don’t have a ton of gas left, as I said before.”


“Helen, please, I’m really nauseous. I think I’m gonna pass out.”


“You always think you’re gonna pass out.”


This, of course, led to another round of self-justification, but I wasn’t even listening as I pulled out of the parking lot.

* * *


God, they’re just so freaking cringy.” Saffy’s voice bubbled into a series of giggles as she tried to pour whiskey into a shotglass, but instead knocked the shotglass off her desk and spilled some of the whiskey on the floor.


“Dammit, Saffy.” Jack slammed his fist into the smooth, polished wood of the desk. Saffy’s laptop narrowly avoided getting smashed. “I paid good money for that.”


“We all paid good money for that.” I corrected him, slamming my own fist on the desk. I made eye contact with him for a solid five seconds before dissolving into laughter.


“What are you, the dad friend now?” Saffy asked Jack. “Ugh, don’t even get me started on Iris and her BULLshit. You think you get to…to…what’s the word…condescend. Yes. She thinks she can condescend since she does news and her mom’s a nurse. Ooh, big deal. My mom’s an accountant, but I don’t tell people what to do with their, uh I don’t know…. numbers.”


“You should tell them to stick their numbers up their asses.” Jack suggested, grinning as if he had just ended world hunger.


I envisioned an accountant in a fancy suit and tie, sitting at a desk and slowly pulling a giant, black #2 out of his ass while his client watched in horrified silence, and I laughed until my stomach hurt.


“I should tell Iris to stick that stupid girls-want-fundamental-rights shirt up her vagina instead of tampons the next time she gets her period. Let’s take #freebleeding to another level.”


“Wow, Saffy, did you just make a joke about women’s periods?” Jack was laughing so hard, he could barely get the words out. Imitating a generic girl’s voice, he continued, “That is a very stigmatized issue, and we need to watch the news, so we don’t have to be ignorant about women gushing blood from their vaginas.”


“Hey, don’t waste all your energy on Iris. Malika’s got cringe, too.” Saffy reminded him.


“Oh, yeah.” Jack put on a slightly different female voice and talked in a monotone, which didn’t go very well because he kept stifling laughter between his words. “Hi, guys. I’m a lazy bum who dropped out of college. I spend all my time watching TV and being sick in Helen’s car, and I never have energy for anything. But don’t worry, I’m not depressed, and my mom is a piece of shit. Cheers.” We all clinked our shotglasses together. I gagged when the liquid reached my throat. It tasted so much like disinfectant, but at least it got us drunk quickly.


“Yeah, I can’t believe she had the nerve to say her mom is abusive. Her mom is trying to help her because clearly, she’s depressed. Even if she doesn’t want to admit it. Honestly, she should just get a job if she doesn’t want to go back to college. But oh, you know, anytime her mom suggests something besides sitting in her room all day, it’s just too much for Malika to handle. Poor Malika. Her life must be so hard.”


“All right.” Normally when we reached the part of the night when Saffy and Jack drunkenly roasted Malika and Iris, I stayed out of it as much as possible and drank silently. But there were certain lines I couldn’t watch them cross. “You’re being a little unfair.”


“What? Everything I said is true. People just don’t want to hear the truth. But you know what? Sometimes you got to suck it up and hear things you don’t like. That’s how you be an adult.” On that note, Saffy snatched the flask of whiskey off her desk and poured herself another shotglass. She was careful not to spill it this time, although her hand was shaking. After chugging the entire shotglass in two seconds, she poured herself another one and drank that just as fast. “See? I know how to adult.”


I rolled my eyes, reaching for the flask so I could pour myself another shot, only to discover that it was already almost empty. “What the fuck, dude?” I stared into the tiny hole of the flask with one eye, confirming that only a thin line of amber-brown alcohol decorated the bottom of it.


“What?” Saffy demanded.


“How did we already drink a whole freaking flask of whiskey?”

What? It’s gone?” She yanked the flask out of my hands and confirmed it herself. “Goddammit. I only had…uh…three! I only had three shots. I’m pretty sure. Maybe four.”


“I only had…fuck, did I really have six?” I shrieked. Normally three or shots was my limit, too.


“Nah, you had five.” Saffy assured me.


“Guys. Guys, what if I get the poison?”


“The poison?”


“Yeah. Like, alcohol poisoning.”


“You silly cumquat.” Saffy giggled. “You need to be dead to get alcohol poisoning.”


“What?” But her giggling had loosened me up a little. “That doesn’t make any sense, you drunk piece of shit.” I suddenly realized Jack had gotten very quiet, so I turned my attention to the other side of me. “Hey, Jack, how many shots did you ha…


He was slowly getting up from the blue-cushioned chair he’d been sitting on, sticking his arms out firmly for balance as he got to his feet and almost stumbled to the floor.


“Uh, Jack?” Saffy asked. “Are you—


“I’m fine. I’m just gonna…I gotta… He collapsed on Saffy’s bed, on top of the blue and white blankets, then turned his back to us and went quiet again.


“See? He might have the poison.” Saffy gave my shoulder three hard pats. “You’re fine.”


“How does that make me feel better?”


“Eh.” Saffy shrugged. “Did you really have much hope for him? He was going to die from the poison sooner or later. He does this every time we drink.”


“I know, but it’s still…he’s a nice guy. He’s funny. I like him, even if all he ever wants to do is drink. He doesn’t deserve to die like this.”


“Well, maybe he won’t die until after we graduate and get jobs and never see each other again anyway.”


“What?” I asked, my eyes widening. “What do you mean? We’re…you’re not gonna keep in touch after we graduate?”


“Oh, come on. You really think you’ll still be talking to Iris and Malika? They’re a lost cause. They’re never going to do anything with their lives. Iris has a bit of a chance, but she doesn’t know who she is or what she wants in life. I mean, she’s so insecure that she can’t even have a normal conversation. She needs to stuff her opinions down everyone’s throats and justify everything she says when people call her out on her bullshit.”


“And you don’t do the same thing?” I retorted.


“What?” Saffy immediately went on defense. “What are you talking about? I don’t justify myself. If people wanted to call me out on my bullshit, I’d just suck it up and admit I was wrong. And I don’t shove my opinions down people’s throats. I just call the bullshit when I see it, and then people get all pissy because they don’t want to hear that they deluded themselves into believing what they wanted to hear.”


“What?”


“People think I’m a bitch, Helen.” Her lips spread into a small smirk. “And maybe I am a bitch, but at least I’m realistic.”


“Well…I guess you’re right about Iris.” I admitted with a sigh, because, I mean, there really was no way to argue against the fact that Iris sat in my car and shouted over everyone to share her opinions. “But, I mean, Malika’s going through some real shit right now. You’d be depressed, too, if your plans for the future were suddenly ripped out from under you. Where do you go from there? It’s really stressful. It’s not they tell you in high school what you’re supposed to do if you don’t go to college.”


“I don’t know. There are plenty of jobs you can get with a high school diploma. Malika’s just too lazy to put in the work of finding one.”


“She’s depressed.” I defended her. “Of course, she doesn’t feel like doing anything. She just needs time and support, and eventually she’ll realize her life isn’t over.”


Saffy scowled. “What are you, the new Iris? Oh, yeah, I also hate the how Iris talks to her like she’s a fucking psychiatric patient on suicide watch. It’s not like she needs to be coddled just because she’s depressed. Iris thinks she’s some kind of therapist, but honestly, she’s way too emotional to be a therapist.”


“Well, you need some emotion in order to—


“And I’m tired of you always defending them every time I rant about them.”


“What? I don’t always—


“You do it more than you realize. I just don’t understand why. What do they even do for you? Like, honestly. Think of one good thing that either of them has done for you recently. Even though you do shit for them all the time. You make an effort to see them, even Malika, even though she clearly doesn’t want to leave her house. You’re nice enough to drive twenty minutes off campus to pick them up—


“That was your idea.” I cut in.


“Are you serious?” Saffy snickered. “You think I wanted them to come? They’re such buzzkills. That’s the other thing about Iris. Whenever we want to do something fun, she backs out of it and pulls some lame excuse out of her ass about her overprotective parents, and then she acts like she’s better than us because she’s not doing it. She’s just…ugh. She’s so insecure and she tries to hide it by going on these rants about Darryl Tait and trying to make herself feel important and talking in the most pretentious way possible so she can sound smarter than she actually is. But anyway, you were nice enough to drive to their houses and pick them up, just so they could sit in your car and dump their emotional baggage all over you. Think. When was the last time Iris wasn’t shouting some stupid rant from the backseat? When was the last time Malika actually had energy and didn’t just sit around and take up space and not contribute anything to the conversation?”


“Is the whiskey wearing off?” I asked, yawning. “You’re talking like a smart person.”


Saffy sighed. “So, what do you think about what I just said? Do you agree that Malika and Iris never do anything for you?”


“I guess they don’t.” I admitted. “But… When do you ever do anything for me besides dump your emotional baggage all over the place? But it was around 1 in the morning, and I was exhausted, and I didn’t feel like arguing anymore, so I kept my mouth shut. “They’re just going through a rough patch right now, especially Malika. They’re both insecure about a lot of things, but once they get over themselves, they’ll go back to the way they used to be, and we can have fun adventures and—


Saffy exploded at that point. Her face turned crimson with anger, and she blurted out something even she had never said before. “You know what your problem is, Helen? You live in the past. Don’t you get it? Iris and Malika are gone. They’ve changed and they’ll never go back to the way they used to be, and you need to get your head out of your ass and accept that. They’re not the same crazy, fun people they used to be. What, do you think it’s buried deep down inside of them, and you can heroically pull it out? There is no deep down. They’re just two insecure, depressed lumps of nothingness who sit in your car and waste your gas and try to get you to wallow in their self-pity. Look, I get that you want to help them, but you need to accept the fact that sometimes there’s nothing you can do. You have to let them go before they drag you down with them.”


My brain had been plucked dry of arguments. “Whatever.” I sighed. “Let’s just make sure Jack’s still alive.”

* * *


My dreams are always more intense when I’m drunk, so I wasn’t surprised when I was already tucked into the corner of the cave, trying desperately to dodge a slew of lasers, smoke, saltwater, and yellowish-brown liquid coming rapidly from all directions. However, when I slumped further down towards the floor, crumpling myself into a ball so some of the weapons would fly over my head, I realized the sturdy rocks were slowly disappearing. For no reason that I could tell, huge chunks of the floor— thankfully not near me yet— were dropping down into the pitch-dark, soil-covered abyss that was probably the inside of the mountain. As usual, raindrops were assaulting the rock walls and the exit, demanding to be let inside, pouring louder and stronger than I’d ever heard them pour before.