Spring 2020 Issue (Part 2/3)
by Christopher Miguel Flakus
Emerald symphonies crack unexpected hollows in the heart
A moment passes, unannounced
Crucial summer sweat, an ice cold drink
And a meeting with your parole officer later in the afternoon
Everything wasn’t meant to be perfect
Eyes peer into the widening gap
Unable to heave the heavy silence from your back
Blue tattoos march across my body
Winding inky tendrils
Through my blood
Through my muscle
Through my bones
And the sun seems brightest as it sets
And the leaves like living eyelids, flutter
And a sheet of paper is pushed down the street
Scratched by a stubborn breeze
We weren’t meant to obey curfews
Or to sleep inside machines
We weren’t meant to eat the silence
Or to breathe with our eyes closed
We weren’t meant to handle hardness
Or to culminate in art
What may grow out of tomorrow?
What nights are yet to come?
How many hollow footsteps remain inside me, waiting to be born?
We pass the tankard
We invade the earth
We fill impossible stomachs
We hunger for completion
To fill the unfillable
Until nothing is left
And time is finite
And dreams are finite
And not even space
And the unknowable sprint toward truth
Is marked with hurdles
And the caves of the earth are alive with fire
Shaking with the rhythms of disparate drums
The beating of great, red hearts
Hearts full to the brim
Emerging from this chrysalis of summer
Sweat-slick and sad
Exhausted from aching miles and troubled walks
I cover one eye with the palm of my hand
And stare out over the sunken marsh
Losing every skill
I ever bothered to learn
Her dark sunglasses
Twin mirrors on top of her eyes
All I can see is myself
I cannot hear her
She cannot understand
Her white legs
Kicked between motel bed sheets
A blonde hair
Clinging to my pillow
Her black underwear
The kind with a tear in the lace
Of her back
In a makeshift ashtray
Her green eyes
Like cool water from a Texas creek
When all the silence in the world belonged to Apà
by Vanessa Ramirez
My father must know the dangers
“Write but never about me”
As if he knows my ears are able to hear
The silence that has rotten inside him.
He uses alcohol to disinfect it.
He doesn’t want me to say this
Because the world must never know
About this stoical silence.
In his silence, Amá screams.
In his silence, I dress into.
In his silence, I write an ode
To the empty air between us.
by Rosemary Miranda
Para aceptar esta llamada oprima ahora el cinco
How are you?
¿Que me cuentas?
Did you read the books I sent you?
Do you have a lot of friends?
Do you have a boyfriend?
You need to focus on school first
What did you eat today?
You need to eat
You know what happens when you don’t eat?
How’s your brother?
Queda cincuenta segundos
Bueno mami te quiero mucho...
by Tamara Al-Qaisi-Coleman
Her smile is light enough to run a room full of electricity
They are fueled by the stories of her Bebe
The village rejoices in this discovery
So they sit her by the fire and demand tales to keep her eyes upturned
An ounce of her laughter can run the village for a full day
When her Bebe is dying they set the recorder next to her mouth
Absorbing the final Qasas that leave her lips
The girl who loves her Grandmother
Is blind to the truth behind sweet words
Sits in the dimming light of sunset
Smiling and laughing at her friends who speak to her through Bebe’s mouth
On the day they buried Al Rawi
The girl sits in wait of her friends who come now through the box at the end of the table
When she asks for her grandmother, she is met with her voice
A ghost in a box
Her tears carry like ocean waves to shores
Crashing against the wall of her reality
The lights hum brighter as her heart drains
Her weeping a power they could have never perceived
When they play the stories, her eyes fill with flood water
Drowning her thoughts as the village grows into a city
by Heather Bayless
having first eaten, have
been starving ever since.
If our bellies protrude,
we will be unable to hold
food. When we cave in,
we will eat up
by Pallavi Narayan
Do you know how the dust collects here?
It forms balls, it coagulates, it chokes up the floor even
As one wanders distant, unaware, from home to work.
Do you know how the rain falls here?
It doesn’t permit dreaming into the distance, it overpours, even
As one scrambles out the umbrella, flopping, sopping on the train floor.
Do you know how smells gather here?
Cooking smells, heat smells, humid smells, they don’t even
Wait for one to settle, they settle around the nose, amass in the mouth.
Do you know how to order dinner here?
There are many choices, the dishes are hygienic even
As one is neutralised, sanitised, the clipped gesture a boon.
Do you know how the stomach feels here?
It is a delicate mass of rumbles, often for a good plate and drink even
As one rushes to the restroom, unable to keep it down, immediately.
Do you know how the weather changes here?
It doesn’t, really, and the water runs down one’s body, the sky and even
If it doesn’t, the shining heat parches oddly the throat, lapping tongue dry.
Do you see how the lights come on here?
They light up in even boxes, in the cardboard high-rises, even
As they threaten to explode the white ghost flats teetering on their stilts.
Do you feel the nape of your neck tingling here?
The lizard startles one from the nightmare of the lizard startling one, even
As one opens the kitchen cupboard and stares beadily, flicking, roaring.
Do you know how to line up the shoes here?
In orderly queues, they mirror the steps disciplined to match steps even
While the neighbours despoil the common area, blingy mismatched junk.
Do you see a single lily rise out the fish pond here?
It seems a wonder of nature, a potted plant rising from the water even
As the goldfish are lit up and some nights the flower disappears, reappears.
Do you hear the wind snap and the glass break here?
It is a pin-drop silence only broken by mechanical voices, the traffic even
-ly rising in tempo then falling and all one can hear is one’s own heart, stopping.
POEM IN WHICH I TRY TO EAT FLAVORLESS SOUP AT PANERA AND INSTEAD LEAVE THREATENING TO PULL A GUN ON THE WHITE MAN WHO FOLLOWS ME TO MY CAR
by Kim Sousa
The tomato soup tastes like “America”
if it tastes like anything at all. I wanted rabada—Dad’s,
with mandioca, onions (green and sweet, both), cilantro
and the bode peppers he always got through customs, somehow.
On Twitter, Joaquin says, You can’t know a con artist and love one.
And I think, I love so many Brazilians.
My father’s only point of pride: my haggling, my shit-talking,
and, yes, my conning. Every game of dominoes I took with drunk ease.
And then, the long con of it: this ALL LIVES MATTER country. Shapeless thing
made into some conflation of two continents: “America.”
One country erasing mine and how many others? How many Mexicos
exist in the white imagination? “Remember The Alamo” and forget the rest.
I will not honor some treaty signed under some Texas tree by a general in white pants.
When they teach us his name, they do not even teach us
half of it—like God, like country.
Generalísimo Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón,
you could have stepped on Sam Houston’s supine neck.
They cannot proffer receipts for what was stolen (e.g., my rapist, never taken to court).
I’m sorry to tell you: this country is mine, too.
Its violence. Its guns. Mine, mine.
Its gnashing, course-correcting bullets—their points hallowed as I am.
I wear and tear at its skin: I starve myself into white submission, unwillingly.
Yes, I like the hand around my throat—until I don’t.
This country a lover that asks, Are you okay? Did you like it?
But never, Can you breathe?
How many times have I held the .357? How straight and terrible my aim? True.
And still, white men land-and-pussy grab, unbothered. Unbloodied.
And the trees now walk in silence, tired of our metallic mouths.
Root-first, they move towards water or a planet without us.
by Patches Lee
It had been a while since Adam and Lilith had left. I glanced at the road from the garden. It was still. Not like the trees in this wind. Allen was busy, digging around in the garden still deciding where to plant his kale, apparently, and Justine had since gone inside—the boredom weighing too heavily on her heart. I looked over at the front gate for some sign but saw nothing. Around the corner of the house, I could hear Allen humming to himself—the melody melding with the wind and the birds into a soft orchestra of background noise. I continued staring at the gate, feeling a strange sense of sedation.
Far beyond, the Appalachians stretched on—blue with distance and patterned with the shadows of clouds, strangely dwarfed by the squat giants on whose backs they slid. It was a pleasant day. I could smell the woods. It had rained that morning, and I could smell everything damp. It smelled like spring. Though its was sunny, it was in the low seventies, and breezy. The shade made up a cool camouflage over the brilliant spring borne green patchwork all around.
I kept staring at the gate. There it stood, ivy covered and rusted. Silent and unmoving. I strained to hear a vehicle approaching but was greeted with only the phantom howling of the wind in the mountains. I never heard the big trucks on the interstate anymore. Most of the time I couldn't hear it anymore, but sometimes—quiet times like this—it felt like if the silence got any louder my head would explode. I slapped my cheek lightly and shook my head. They'll be back any moment I reminded myself.
I stood up quickly, suddenly feeling restless. The well was working and I silently thanked the heavens. I put on a kettle, and walked into the pantry to grab the tea jar. It was still pretty full—Chamomile and Echinacea—but we'd have to dry the next bunch of chamomile soon. I glanced out the kitchen window for signs of life, but saw only the ferns at the edge of the yard--dancing in the wind. I whistled to myself as I poured the hot water into the teapot and watched the chamomile buds try to stay surfaced as the water swirled chaotically into the pot—the echinacea spreading throughout in small strands.
I kept whistling as I counted to myself as the tea steeped. I glanced at the kitchen clock. Half past four. What was I whistling? Something familiar. I kept whistling, trying to remember it as I stepped onto my front porch.
”Anything goes...” I muttered to myself, resolving the melody and at the same time realizing I'd been whistling Cole Porter's song. When was the last time I had heard that one?
Across the road, I could see the Jones' property—now overgrown all the way up to the road. Though the road stretched all the way back down the mountain, I couldn't see far down it as it twisted so much. I hadn't seen the Jones' in a few months since Eddie had gotten sick. Suddenly, I wondered if he was OK. I felt a twinge of bad neighbor guilt. I hadn't checked on him in so long. I decided that if I finished my tea before they got back, I'd walk down there and find out. I sipped the astringent warm yellow, and stared, entranced, into the mountains. They were so big. No matter how many times I'd seen them, they always took my breath away.
Before I'd taken my next sip I heard the unmistakable whining roar of a large truck in low gear climbing up the road. I shivered. Why would someone be driving a large truck up here? The diesel engine whined and whistled. An old one. That wasn't right. Nobody should be up here. I set down my tea, and reached behind the front door for my shotgun.
But it was gone—not in its usual home right beside the front door. I wondered when Adam and Lilith were going to bring it home. I shook my head and slipped behind the front door, locking it softly. By now, from the sound of it, I could tell that whoever was driving the truck was in sight of the door. I peered out the window making myself as small as possible and saw it—a military style camo painted troop carrier. An old one. Like the army reserve or national guard might have. It pulled right up to my property line and stopped. Sitting next to the herb shed, their truck looked out of place—like a gun resting on a tea plate.
Having expected to see it full of people—presumably soldiers of some kind—I was surprised only two people got out, neither of them soldiers. They each wore blue jeans and tee shirts—though they also both had assault rifles slung on their backs, and--for some reason--gas masks or respirators, slung around their necks.
Probably more “volunteers,” taking advantage of the collapsed and fractured government. I wondered for a moment if the disease had gone airborne or if they simply had some sinister weapons that required breathers. When we had stopped getting AM emergency broadcasts was around the last time I'd seen a real government official. Federal troops had been promised but they had never come. It was about a week after that, the radio had gone quiet. I glanced at the clock in the kitchen behind me. It was still half 'till Five.
Nervously, I stepped back into the kitchen as quietly as I could—lamenting each creaky floorboard I stepped on, and pulled open the drawer under the knife rack. I reached all the way in the back, past the pile of kitchen towels until I felt cool metal. I pulled the small pistol out as quietly as I could and with my thumb, hit the small button over the grip. A cool metal magazine slid out and fell on my palm. I looked at the side of the magazine. Full. Who were these people and where were Adam and Lilith? I approached the door cautiously.
“Who is it?” I yelled, trying to sound calm.
“Just some friendly people looking for help!” I heard one of them call back. I paused for a moment, unsure of what to do. After all, I didn't blame them for checking. Not many people were left. I turned behind me and saw nothing; Allen and Justine had gone to hide when they heard the truck, no doubt. I quietly unlocked the door. I paused for a moment, holding my breath. I could hear them outside, feet shuffling nervously. As quietly as I could, I slid the magazine back into the pistol. It clicked in and I cringed, hoping it wasn't as loud as it felt. I flipped the safety on and tucked the pistol into the top of my boot, obscuring it from view with the cuff of my jeans, I exhaled, and opened the door. I was shaking. They smiled awkwardly. One of them, about six foot with messy blonde hair extended his arm.
“I'm Koby. This is my friend, Brandon.”
Warily, I shook his hand, straining to see beyond them. I was starting to really hope Adam and Lilith would get back already. I invited the two inside because the last thing I wanted to do was offend guys with machine guns.
“Come sit down!” I gestured them toward two chairs at the small table that now held the teapot. They nodded politely. I was taken aback at their behavior. They didn't seem like people who'd open carry for no apparent reason. I wondered what they were up to. Should I call someone?
“Would you like some chamomile?” I asked them as calmly as I could. My hands were shaking a bit.
“Yes please,” nodded Koby.
Brandon said nothing, but appeared amenable. I poured them both tall cups of the dark yellow chamomile. The room fell silent for a moment. Brandon stared at the distiller on the counter top. Koby stared at the grandfather clock. Four thirty. I stared out the window. We all sipped our tea. Suddenly feeling very awkward, I asked:
“So—how can I help you gentleman?”
“Well,” Koby started, “We were just curious because there's a small pickup truck parked outside with an oil puddle under it. We--” He paused awkwardly, “We didn't know anyone on the mountain was alive.”
I erupted into laughter. I didn't know what to think anymore, but these guys were funny.
“Yeah, there are five of us here if you'd believe it!” I said still chuckling. They exchanged glances. I ignored it and took another sip of tea.
“So where are these... other four people?” Brandon asked slowly. It was the first time I'd really heard him speak. He sounded concerned. I smiled wanly.
“Justine, my wife, and Allen, her brother are here somewhere, but Allen doesn't really like guns, so I suppose he's hidden himself, and I don't know where Justine is. Lilith and Adam, our roommates, left to get food earlier. They're back any moment.”
Suddenly self conscious they both grinned and sheepishly pulled the Kalashnikovs off of their backs, and got up awkwardly to lean them in the corner. I smiled warmly as they sat back down.
“Would you like some more tea?” I asked them as I poured myself another cup. The clock was showing another half hour until cocktail hour, but I doubted they'd want a drink.
“I'm actually good. Do you have a bathroom I can use?” Koby asked. I pointed him in the right direction and he got up, leaving his teacup half empty. I carefully got up to pour it out into the sink. I rinsed it out with olive oil, soap, and water, and set it to dry carefully. As I sat back down, Brandon asked:
“What's all that equipment for?” He gestured towards the distiller and various bottles on the counter. I chuckled.
“Essential oils.” I answered calmly. He looked wary.
“What kind?” He asked slowly.
“Oh all kinds!” I answered, waving a hand, “Peppermint, orange peels, chamomile even!”
He looked relieved.
“Ah, I see” He said, beginning to look rather flushed.
“Iboga, Moonflowers, and Jimson weed--” I continued quietly. “For allergies.”
A look of realization and horror was dawning on his face. Not wanting to break another one of Justine's good teacups, I grabbed it from his hand as he went limp and fell over. I walked over to the bathroom, and swung the door open. Koby stood staring at the wall, his mouth hanging open.
“C'mon buddy, this way.” I grabbed his arm and pulled him gently. He walked with me to the kitchen, where he continued staring at the wall.
“That wouldn't have them to the office any time though.” He told the wall.
“I know right?” I chuckled. Before grabbing the assault rifles and yelling to the back of the house
“Allen! Can you drive a Deuce and a Half?”
There was no reply. It still hurt when I had to think about it too much. That was the downside of being alone all the time. That was the whole reason I had so many drugs distilled in the first place, I supposed. Sometimes I thought I might be losing it. I couldn't remember how long it had been anymore. The clock still said half past four. I wasn't even sure if these poor guys really were who I suspected they were. I walked outside to the back of the house.
The scopolamine I'd dosed them with would last almost nine hours and I wasn't pressed for time. I knelt at Allen's headstone. The kale was thriving all around it. Allen would have been so happy. He never could get his kale to grow like he wanted—and here it was, dancing in the wind just like his silly daffodils.
“The fascists are back, my friend.” I stroked his headstone longingly. It could hurt so bad sometimes I didn't want to go on, but I was still hoping that Adam and Lilith would come back some day to save me from my thoughts. Maybe they would bring back the shotgun.
I couldn't bear to look at Justine's memorial. My cheek felt wet. I wiped the tears from my face and tried to think about what I was going to do with that truck.
Drink It In
by Brendes Buendia
My bronze arms folded tightly over my face to keep the daylight from scraping my eyes; I needed to get up, immediately. I had been hiding out in the Corolla that my brother and I shared; I was splayed out in the reclined front seat, blasting Sistema Bomb. My brother Art barreled towards me, steam piping from his ears. Carletta, my partner, tiptoed behind him. A cutting breeze pushed through the cracked window and stung my skin.
“Drink it in, boys.” My dad said that to me about 50 times when we first moved out here. It echoed in my brain whenever I got stuck in a low. I hadn’t taken my lithium in a few days. I thought I could go without it, but now, I’m stagnant, can’t get out of the muck.
“Benny, will you just answer me, for fuck’s sake?” Art implored, turning off the music.
My mind raced, and my mouth refused to move.
“Benny, c’mon. We’re gonna have to start without you if you don’t get up.”
“Go away.” I clutched the curly dark tendrils sprouting from my head and pretended not to feel my brother exhaling over me.
“Please, Jesus! Benny, you can’t just lie there. Everyone is waiting on you, the people from Ysleta del Sur Pueblo are asking for you. We look fucking disorganized if you’re not there. Shit man, you’re supposed to be the one leading us.”
He gave up on it, left the stupid door open too. A big red banner in the back seat was staring at me, screaming at me. “¡Vive la Raza hecho en Aztlán!” My abdomen rumbled with hunger. Arturo was right. I needed to be at the protest. We knew it would be one nasty clusterfuck, but we had to do it, or we’d lose the land.
It happened to our cousins in Arizona two weeks ago, but it will be different here. We’re going to take care of each other. Those guys out there, they got too zealous and stopped paying attention. They should have rested more. They had claimed their territory in the desert, held their ground for weeks in vicious heat. I asked mis primos about it, and they said that after a couple weeks in, buzzards started circling them, but they were really big and moved bizarrely, almost mechanical in the way they flapped and cawed. No one cared too much about them though. Why the hell would they? The buzzards got closer and louder; no one expected it. And those Grand Old Defenders, they’re cold, cruel sons of bitches. The buzzards shat everywhere too. Big piles of bird shit ripening in the sun like fruit, odorous almost to the point of intoxication. At the three-week mark, armed officers dropped out from the gargantuan birds. The soldiers had tranquilizer darts and ended up having to use more of them than they estimated because none of our protestors would willingly back down. When they ran out of them, the officers reverted to more primal tactics. Twenty-six lives lost. We took a pretty hard hit over there. The police force weren’t afraid of being seen as brutal, racist, or barbaric anymore, but they were afraid of our strength, our ability to organize and network all over the place like we had. It was starting to look like a full-fledged revolution.
I mean, we knew all this shit was going to happen when we left Cali. La Raza needed some leaders from the original Wall Demolition to come lead the forces in El Paso. When Art and I were elected, I was on a major high. I was recruiting, running marathons, writing reams of literature, rallying, reminding people of who they were and what they loved, raking in donations, rioting and rampaging like the sun would never go down. I spent nights without sleep, nights without being tired, night after night of being on fire, being insatiable, being a superhero. I was exactly who they needed out here in El Paso. But Super Benny died after I won the election, and I fell into the grave.
I rubbed my eyes furiously; maybe that would finally wake me. Carletta’s head popped into the window like a daisy in a desert.
“Aye mi Benito, todo bien?”
She stood there for a minute and tapped her fingers on the door frame, but I didn’t turn to her. A fire broke out on my cheeks and neck. Why would Art let her follow him over here? He knows how seeing my lows unnerves her. I pressed my face into the head rest; it smelled musky, like hair that needs to be washed.
Snakes writhed in my chest as I felt her reading me over. I’d resolved to prove myself worthy of Carletta, the martyr, the fearless lioness of a woman who’d been imprisoned, who’d been through hell and made it out in one perfect piece. She gave speeches for the movement and had this mystical way of making people listen, even when they didn’t think they should. But she didn’t know the right words to pull me out of my trenches. It scared her that couldn’t fix me.
The first time I fell into a really low spell, I had only been dating Carletta for a few months; we were two weeks out from our move to Texas. She had brought over some migas from Armenta’s, our favorite hole in the wall back in Pasadena, after I declined her invitation to go out earlier that evening. I wasn’t going to let her in, to let her see me like that, but Art was getting home just in that same instant.
When her eyes met mine, I scrambled for any explanation that wouldn’t give me away. I never tried to hurt her, but that didn’t deter from the fact that my actions, or lack thereof, affected her and elicited from her a new perception of me, of what I’m capable of.
Of all her questions, the ones she most easily could manage were:
“What’s the matter? Huh? Is it me, did I do something?”
“No, it’s not you.” I pressed my palms together and ran my finger across the scar on my knuckle.
“What is it then?” She sat at the end of my bed, her maroon lips bloomed to let out a sigh.
“I don’t know.”
“It’s me, love, you can tell me anything.” She reached for my hand, and I forced my fingers onto the back of my neck, as I peered into the cement ceiling.
“There’s nothing to tell, I don’t know.” I didn’t have the vocabulary for it back then.
“What do you mean you don’t know? You’re the only one who knows.” Frustration had begun to infiltrate her sunshiney expression.
“Jesus, I just…I don’t fucking know.” Her eyebrows tightened and she leaned a mile away from me. I tried to bring her back. “Look, I’m sorry, I just…”
“No, don’t be sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.” She fidgeted with her gold hoop earring and eyed my tangerine rug.
“You didn’t,” I sat up towards her. “I’m, I, guess, empty or alone…”
“Love, you’re not alone; I’m right here. You know I’m always here for you, right?” She grabbed my face to look right into hers. “Right?”
I was only dark for about three days. She convinced me to go to a psychologist and figure things out before we made the trip.
Arturo sat down in the driver’s seat.
“Aye hermano, what’re we gonna do with you?” Placing his hand on my shoulder, he was pleading with me now.
I said nothing.
“You can’t hide in here forever.”
“You shouldn’t have let her come with you. I don’t want her seeing me this way.” I snarled at him.
“I was trying to help you.”
He waited for me to reply.
“For Christ’s sake, man, you have to get the fuck up.” He shook me.
“¡Dios mío!” He snatched the bottle of water from my cup holder.
“I’m not playing games, Ben, we need to get going.”
After jolting me again, he poured the water on my head. I wanted to pounce on him and slap his smug little face, but my body resisted. Art slammed the door like it was supposed to hurt me. I stroked my sweater; blue shapes swimming in a line covered the material. My abuela gave it to me the first time I went back to Pasadena after having moved to Texas.
She had started painting again, and her house was overrun by desert landscapes and recreations of half-imagined memories. She was worried about me. I tried to explain to her why I’d been acting this way, but the fact that I was just taking pills to get better didn’t sit right with her.
“Hijito, escucha, no one is going to save you. You’ve got to remember to take care of yourself.” She patted my shoulders and face, anointing me in oil and her love. She fed me too much food and played her old music for me. The familiarity of her fruit-scented home adorned in terracotta and portraits of La Santa Maria gifted me with an ease that, although temporary, was deep and wide like a slow-moving river. I set up new her computer for her, and she sent me on my way, having been blessed and fed.
I stopped to get gas at 76 on Michillinda on my way out of the neighborhood; across the street by Coco’s Bakery, there used to be a hair salon called Belinda’s Beauty when I was a kid, but it closed, and the former owner started sitting out on the street corner because she had no money because no one cared about their hair because something majorly destructive was on the horizon. The nation was violently changing, and there was palpable proof right in front of me.
Art had taped up a 3X5 of our mom in the car. When I finally opened my eyes, I saw her, the goddess of complex selfishness, gazing back at me. I wished she had been here to march with us. She cared so much about the movement; her songs had become our anthems. Maybe she was like me. I had no way of knowing. I thought of her voice, its strength and beauty. I remember the last time I heard her sing: the first anniversary of the beginning of the Wall Demolition.
We had this huge festival in Los Angeles, and she performed there. I thought she knew that we were part of La Raza, but she was really surprised to see us. Looking back at it now, we should have reached out to her beforehand to tell her that we wanted to meet up. Maybe she wouldn’t have gotten so overwhelmed. We could have avoided her, no problem, but Art got it in his head that we needed to talk to her, so we did. She wore this black gown with blue and red flowers stitched all down the middle and big trumpet sleeves. The familiar scent of cinnamon wafted off of her, and I felt myself shrinking. Her hair had started graying, but of course she didn’t bother with coloring it.
“Artie? Benito? Is that you? Son estos mis hijos?”
I gulped hard, “Yes, good to see you…” extending my hand to take hers.
Next thing I knew, I got wrapped up in a ferocious bear hug. She looked at us and grabbed our faces.
“My sons, my beautiful boys, look at you. You’re so grown. You’re so gorgeous.”
She seemed normal, amicable for the most part, but then something switched in her. Maybe a memory crept into her mind. She started apologizing, repeatedly, compulsively, hysterically. Then came the crying, and Art tried to tell her that it was okay, but she didn’t hear. Her green haired manager snatched her away and massaged her shoulders.
My dad Lance drove up next to the Corrolla; he brought some snacks over for us to ration out during the day. He let out an old smoker’s hack as he sat down in the car.
“Son, there’s hot coffee in this thermos. Benji…don’t you gotta get goin’?”
“At some point, I suppose.”
“When you boys get back this evening, tomorrow, whenever, Im’onna need you to take a look at the water heater. It’s been acting up, and I can’t do a damn thing ‘cause I burnt the shit outta my fingers on Wen’sdy, damn convection oven.”
“Look at those clouds out there; I hope it doesn’t rain all day.”
“That’d be too bad.”
“It wouldn’t stop you all, now would it?”
“No sir.” I smirked
“You gonna be standin’ your ground, rain or shine?”
“You know it.”
“Atta boy. Now come on, Art’s head is about to pop off, and Carly over there don’t look too tickled either.”
He patted my face and then squashed a bug on the dash as he stood up, out of the car.
My dad was an unyielding hippie. He was born to white ranchers outside of Austin but moved into the city for its music. That’s where he met my mother. Lance’s words never run out of his mouth, not like they’re trying to sell you something or trick you into doing what he wants. If he needs to say something, he just says it. I always wish I could talk to people like that.
My dad had this ancient emerald green pick up that had peeling paint and would switch off if it idled for too long. When we first came to Texas, I remember sitting in that truck, listening to Brothers by the Black Keys, one of those classic alt-rock albums from the earlies. Art and I had been telling Dad about El Movimiento and had gotten so riled that old Lance couldn’t keep up.
“And Americans had become so merged with their superiority complex that they couldn’t even hear us. Dad, you gotta read Borderlands. Anzaldúa was a visionary, she knew all this was coming even before the turn of the 21st century!”
I added. “Seriously, that book will bust your brain right open. It’s on the ban list, but I can get you a copy. They think they can take away our literature; they’ve got another thing coming. That’s for sure.”
“They can’t stop us from spreading the fucking truth.”
I grabbed his shoulder. “Cálmate, Artie.”
Lance chuckled, “You boys are really on to something here.”
Art started belting “Go Getter” with his tinny, snare-drum voice. The land bled from rolling hills to flat plains with daisies and dandelions scattered out on the green. The smell of pure heat and grass wafted in. I was so awake, violently and electrically awake.
I wanted to be back there, to drink that in. I opened the door and walked out into the dreary breeze.
Song of a Siren
by Laura Dunn
Edith stepped out onto the porch of her mobile home. It was just after dawn; the sun was sleepily rising over the horizon. This was her favorite time of day, when she felt she was the only person awake in the world. The brisk Autumn air sent a chill through her body, and she pulled her sweater in tighter to her body. A breeze blew in the scent of the sea, and she felt an urgent need to be by the water. She tied her waist length, jet black hair into a ponytail, pulled on the flip flops lazily left outside, forgotten from summertime, and hopped onto her bicycle. The beach was only a few blocks away, but she took a long route, breathing in the fresh air while stretching her legs. Her bicycle made her feel like a kid again, and for a moment she was lost in a fantasy of simpler days.
Upon arriving, she dropped her bike near the sea wall and kicked her shoes off. This part of the beach was empty, apart from a stray runner every so often. She walked slowly along the shore, basking in the sun as it warmed up the world slowly. Her tanned skin looked darker against the white sand in a beautiful contrast. The sand was cold beneath her feet, her toes were numb by the end of her walk, but she didn’t mind, it was a good feeling, but she couldn’t quite place what the feeling was. She decided to sit down and watch the waves, trying to meditate, or at the very least find some peace. She closed her small brown eyes and lifted her face up to the sun. Her world these days was not so calm.
Her husband, Rick, who was once kind to her was now a raging alcoholic, and a mean one at that. She, being a free-lance writer, worked from home, but in his mind, she didn’t work at all. If the house was not clean, or his dinner was not prepared by the time he got home from work, she was in trouble. If she went to the grocery store wearing makeup, he would spiral into a jealous fit. He was a large man, tall and muscular. Every inch of his body from his neck down was tattooed. His hair was blonde, but he was bald now. He had large, hooded blue eyes… she found them haunting now. He was so much larger than her, sometimes one slap to the face was enough to make her fall over. His job required they live in this small coastal town, where she knew no one. Working from home and her restrictive scheduling prevented her from meeting people.
She recently became pregnant, and thoughts of having one true friend in the world had made her so happy, but she lost the baby. She was devastated, but even worse, Rick beat her the night he found out and called her a baby killer.
“You went and got an abortion, didn’t you? Fucking think you’re some kind of feminist, I bet. I see that garbage you write.” He’d said.
She hopped back on her bike and went straight home. She did her work for the day, cleaned up the house, and had dinner on the table by the time Rick came home. This was her mundane routine, sometimes she believed the monotony would kill her at the ripe age of 28, if Rick didn’t first. He wouldn’t do it on purpose, she thought to herself. That night she dreamt of the sea.
For the next several weeks, she made a routine of going to the beach every morning to be with herself. She walked along the shore, she dreamt of silly things, lives she could never have. She wrote about them sometimes. When one morning, she, being so lost in her thoughts, walked so far out that she ended up at a part of the beach normally closed off to the public. She’d accidentally ignored the signs. It was beautiful over here, not touched by man. There were lots of rocks, so she assumed it was closed because it would be dangerous for the average swimmer. Here, she thought, would be a perfect spot to be alone. She sat down and watched the waves for a while, when she heard a great deal of splashing. Looking around she saw a glimmer of something incredibly shiny, and she walked towards it. At first, she saw nothing. Then, low between the larger rocks, sat a young woman. She was topless, and she was singing a song that seemed to be in another language. She was the most beautiful person Edith had ever seen. The woman had a symmetrical face, big pouting lips, great big green eyes, dark smooth skin, and dreadlocks that were fashioned into a high bun on her head. Out of curiosity, she called out to her.
“Hello!” She said.
The young woman looked around startled until their eyes met. She giggled in a high pitch. For a moment the woman looked as though she might say something back, but she suddenly dove into the water. Following her, was a large and shiny tail. It stuck out of the water as she swam away until she disappeared entirely. Edith blinked in astonishment. Had she imagined it? Was she losing her mind? She stayed put in the spot she saw the girl for hours hoping she would return, but she never did. Edith’s eyes grew heavy, slowly she fell asleep to the sound of the waves.
When she awoke, she realized she was still on the beach, the sun had set. It was dark now. Had she slept here all day? She stood up and dusted herself off. Ready to make her journey back home, she noticed the woman was back, and she was not alone. There were several other beautiful creatures, all with tails. They were watching her. They smiled sweetly, white flashes of teeth in the dark. The same girl from before was singing her song. They beckoned her to come closer, and she did. She felt she was under a spell, but she was not afraid. She stripped off her clothes and walked into the water. The women surrounded her, giggling, and she felt happy, safe, like she belonged. Maybe they will be my friends, she thought to herself.
Then, the woman stopped singing. All of the creatures’ faces suddenly changed. They were no longer beautiful women, but something sinister. They hissed and clawed at her. Edith let out but one scream before they pulled her down into the darkness of the sea with them, unable to fight back in the trance they’d put her in. In her last moment, she sighed, free. Free at long last. Then, there was nothing.
by Paul Caradec
by Patches Lee
An Interview with Vanessa Ramirez
by Madelyne Lehnert
Vanessa, you have been such a joy to have as a former intern on The Bayou Review, but also a two-time graduate with your bachelors in English with a Creative Writing Concentration, to a Masters in Rhetoric and Composition, to now a professor of English at UHD. How has being a student at UHD for you?
My time at UHD was a little hard in the beginning. I found the transition from high school to undergrad really hard and still carried some of the bad habits that I had back in HS. But once I began to take upper level English courses that fulfilled my major, it was a game changer! My professors were amazing in what they taught me. The English professors here and extremely fabulous in that they really know how to inspire a fellow English major like me. I quickly dropped those bad habits and became completely in love with my academic career. I began to make friends, which is the best part about UHD is that the classes are small enough to let you do that. Especially in the English field where we all talk about the book before the class begins. The classes, when the teacher is not lecturing, is exactly like a book club. I miss that about being a student at UHD. I miss the intellectual conversations with my peers and professors. I can talk about my love for my field as a UHD student all day haha. If I could do it all over again, I would in a heartbeat. That’s how good the professors are at UHD, but also, that’s how good it feels to be an English major at UHD in general-- enough that I came back for my Masters, which brought my passion for reading, writing, and teaching to a higher level.
Your work focuses a lot on the stereotypical expected Hispanic gender roles, what inspired this work?
Well, firstly, that I am Mexican American. But it is also inspired by my fascination with gender roles. I like taking these studies to a deeper level and how they connect with a particular generation, age, race, culture, background and so on. Growing up in a traditional, Mexican household, I got to see a lot of that. My Apá, I love him, but if you look up the definition of machismo, you’ll see a picture of him with his stoic face and all.
In your piece, “When All the Silence in the World belonged to Apá,” you mention this stoical silence, what does this mean to you? Has it affected you growing up? Do you wish to change this?
Stoical silence from my Apá means that part of his machismo is to put on this stoic character, always serious, even in pictures, and always hiding his true emotions. It’s affected me in that I got to see this resistance and learned how to carry this resistance within me. Breaking out of that was hard. But it also means that I get to create beautiful art, like my poetry. I have often met people after open mics that they can relate to my poetry. I have met people who roll their eyes and say “yes, that’s how my dad is too!” haha. I don’t know why it has to be this way, but it is. And I definitely want to change this. I think I’m already on my way, not just be speaking and writing about it, but by breaking the statistics myself. I’m not going to be a housewife, leave my parents’ house only when I get married, depend on a man who plays the silent machismo character.
Your work shows that you are a powerful Hispanic woman. What is your biggest piece of advice for other women writers out there?
My biggest advice is to not be afraid to write everything. Don’t be afraid to write the ugly truth. If you want to write about the machismo in your household, do it. Be angry about it, that’s even better. If you want to write about breaking the traditional expectations from the Hispanic culture, write about it and be blunt. My Apá has told me to not write about him. He tells me to write, but never about him. He’s read some of my writing, and I don’t think he likes what he hears. But that’s the truth.
What is a piece that you are most proud of and why?
The piece that I am the proudest of that has been published in The Bayou Review is probably “In a Mexican Household” because it is the story of my life in a home where sometimes it’s warm and sometimes it’s cold. Sometimes it makes me feel guilty about describing my parents that way, but hey like i said, tell the truth and tell it bluntly.
What does the Bayou Review mean to you? And how has your experience been with it?
This is a good question! I mean, I’ve been published many times simply because I submit every semester and each semester is shocking to see that some of my work has been accepted. The Bayou Review to me means growth. Through each volume, I can see the growth and improvement in my writing. It also gives me a sense of community. My favorite part is going to the open mics, where everyone who was published reads a piece and we encourage each other. It’s a time for local writers to meet, to speak with professors, and make new friends.
Do you ever get scared sending in your work to literary magazines?
Oh yes! I remember being a sophomore and hearing about The Bayou Review. I was in my first creative writing class when the professor told us about this magazine. I was like what? No way, man. I can’t do that. But the following semester I gave it a chance and I didn’t get anything in. Then the following, I got one piece in and that, to me, was victory! I still get scared to submit. I think it’s always going to be scary, but once it’s submitted, there is hardly any fear there, mostly hope.
Do you have any writing traditions?
I don’t really have a specific one. If I am writing at home, I always have to clean and dust my desk before writing. I listen to Jack Johnson, Joseph, or The Lone Bellow. I can’t listen to upbeat music when I write. Sometimes I like to read or journal for 30 minutes before writing. For a while, I would go to a coffee shop near my job every Tuesday and Thursday and write for two hours. It didn’t matter what I had to get done, what other things I had to do, those two hours were for nothing but writing. It felt like my way to put the world in pause. I do have one tradition that is always consistent and that is no phone! I don’t like texting or being on social media when I write. Writing time is precious.
What does writing mean to you?
Oh man! This is the question, huh? haha. Writing means freedom, escape, room for growth, room for learning, for experiencing through different characters and all those corny things. But most importantly, writing means advocacy. I write to advocate against machismo, against traditional Hispanic gender roles, against traditional, conservative, and Hispanic expectations for women. It means power. And sometimes it’s not always about advocacy. Sometimes writing is just room for expression when I’m in love, when I’m angry, when I want to scream something into the world and say “hey, this is my voice. Listen to it.”
How is it to be a professor and still partake in literary magazines like The Bayou Review?
It’s awesome. As a professor, I am big on vulnerability, transparency, and the freedom of expression. I am open with my students because it allows them to be open with me, and it begins to show in their writing. It’s probably my favorite thing about teaching writing, is seeing them grow and become comfortable to incorporate their voices even through an academic paper. I’m definitely a big advocate for student voices. I tell them all the time that using their voice is probably the most powerful thing they can do. Being published in The Bayou Review is just a way to show that. It’s like practicing what you preach, you know? I love to encourage students to submit. Especially when I see a student who gets a little poetic on the free writing prompts, asking them when I will see them in The Bayou Review is a sign of encouragement.
Do you have a piece that makes you cringe?
Ugh, yes, haha. What kind of writer doesn’t have that? It’s so embarrassing, but I used to write fanfiction and poetry about Johnny Depp haha. But you know what, when I was writing fan fiction in middle school, it got me to practice my writing and I don’t regret that at all. Can I go back and read my fanfiction? Nope. No way. I try, but it’s just so cringy haha.
Who are some of your inspirations, and why?
Gillian Flynn and Stephen King is one of my inspirations for the thriller genre. I especially like the way Stephen King unnaturally unfolds a scene just like a movie. For the YA genre, I really like some of Rainbow Rowell’s work and a little bit of John Green. They make dialogue look so easy. When it comes to writing about my heritage, writers like Sandra Cisneros, Maria Viramontes, and Norma Elia Cantu. Recently, I’ve been inspired by the poetic prose in Tommy Orange and Delia Owens’ fiction works. For poetry, I like Yesika Salgado, Norma Elia Cantu, Emily Dickinson. But, honestly. I have to say that my biggest inspirations are local Houston poets. Going to poetry readings is always inspiring and it leaves me with hunger and the need to write. There’s always something great about hearing poets that come from where you come from you know? Especially nowadays when you see a lot of people of color participating in these poetry events.
I know I can speak for many that having Vanessa Ramirez once again on The Bayou Review is a huge inspiration as well. Thank you, Vanessa, for your wonderful answers.