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V4N10: December 1998 – January 1999

Austin Downtown
Arts Magazine

December 1998 – January 1999
Volume 4 Number 10

Table of Contents

Emily's Game by Christopher Hess. 1

Glory Train by Kelli Ford. 5

Morning Sex by Manuel Gonzales. 6

Palmetto Bug Serenade by Paul Klemperer. 7

passages/of a bitta fruit by sharon bridgforth. 10

Something When I Died by Sandra Beckmeier. 11

Thank the Lord for the Moonshine by Kelli Ford. 11

The Vampire Armand.. 13

In trying to consider The Vampire Armand a worthy successor to Anne Rice's earlier Vampire Chronicles, those all seem the same question.

Verities by Harold McMillan. 15

I know this guy, Mr. Smart E. Pants, who is full of more truth than any other person in my life.

When I Think of Free Speech by Tammy Gomez. 17

It is jeered over AM/FM radiowaves; printed in black ink on newsprinted metropolitan dailies; flashed in neon and professionally-lettered signage in shop windows, over doorways, and above us all on the skyscraping edifices of commerce and on roadside billboards.

Winter Poem by Karen Hubbard. 19

 

 


Emily's Game by Christopher Hess

The day Emily and I played a confused game of doctor in the back room of her parents' double-wide had all but completely slipped from my memory by the time I found out that she had swallowed a bottle's worth of sleeping pills. Things like that, surreal events that have a more severe impact on the formative years than anyone could know at the time, tend to slip into the back of the mind along with the multitudes of horrifying dreams that won't disappear and the bank of melodies and images and smells and sounds that occasionally resurface to confuse us for days on end. Death brings them out. So does sex, if it's powerful enough. They must live back there packed in to the rafters, leaning hard against the door, because whenever the latch releases some rush of yesterday comes bursting out, flooding the now, in an uncontrollable wash of recollection, nostalgia, and pain. Early one fall morning I got a phone call from my mother. This was a Wednesday, I believe, remarkable only because the heat of the long Texas summer had been gone for about seventeen days by then, and every morning at that point I still marvelled at the coolness of the air. When this happens, when the weather changes like this, it always means thinking back on the months that slipped by squelched by the heat and beyond, to the time spent as a kid in the suburbs of Chicago where now I would be hunkering down for the brutal winter ahead. She called to tell me that my dad was doing better, having recovered sufficiently from his elbow surgery to be able to go fishing again. The pickup was finally out of the shop, her painting class was going well -- watercolors now, she was comfortable with them -- and the small stand of grape vines had been covered for the season. We talked for a while, just talking, and before we hung up, almost as an afterthought she added, "Oh, I forgot to mention, remember Emily?"

After a moment, I did.

"She died. I guess she killed herself, unless it was an accident. I don't know. That's awful, isn't it? Who'd have thought?"

Her words came foggily through the hazy veil that forms behind your eyes, inside, as the parade of memories begins. Dust and cobwebs blown out the doorway into the front of your mind. Sleeping pills. I had already started, on the mention of Emily's name, to think in a flash about her, her family, neighbors who moved to Florida. A trailer in the woods. The news of her death rent the scene, cushioned though it was by the fog.

"Dead? She killed herself? Who told you this?"

"Susan. She still talks to them once in a while, maybe once a year, twice. I spoke to her a couple days ago, and she told me. It's a shame, isn't it? It makes me sad that I don't talk to Dorrie or Ted anymore. I thought of calling them, it just seems so... awkward. Out of the blue like that. Am I horrible?"

She had a built-in sigh that escaped when she was talking about lost pets or the death of someone she knew or kids who were a disappointment to their parents. I didn't really know what to think, hadn't thought about her or them in a long, long time. I agreed it was a shame, and we hung up.

If death can bring these memories back, suicide puts them all under a microscope, leaving you searching with ardor the old dusty slides of memory for a clue as to why this person with whom you've had contact while on this planet has committed the ultimate act of violence against herself.

From a kid's perspective, Emily had it made. It had been almost two years since her family -- her, her brother, her mom and dad -- moved from our suburban neighborhood. Her dad got a job in Florida, so they were moving. We were six, I guess, when she left, and at the time I'm sure it was fairly traumatic since beside the fact that she was a friend and in fact her whole family was friendly with my whole family, she was the only friend I had with a swimming pool. That was very important at that age. We couldn't get a pool because our backyard was a steep slope. So, in the summer I swam at Emily's and in the winter she came over to sled down my hill. When they moved, it was to a trailer in Florida, the sunny land of beaches and Disneyworld.

My grandma had moved to Florida, as most elderly people in Chicago eventually do, so I had been there once and told Emily that she was moving to a paradise. Grandma also lived in a trailer, a nice one in a "retirement village," and when Emily said she was living in the same thing, though not surrounded by old people but rather out in the woods, I was as glad for her and as jealous as I could be. Assaulting my parents with requests for them to get new jobs so we could live in a trailer in Florida did no good, so I was thrilled when, within the same year, they said we were going to visit. Grandma, Disneyworld, and Emily.

The trailer was all I hoped it would be. It was a double-wide, set way in the back of a trailer park that hadn't been fully developed yet, so it was sort of like they were in the woods. Like they were camping every day. On this first trip, Emily, my older brother and I spent the entire two days conquering her new world. We explored the brush and climbed trees, built makeshift fortresses in the weeds and peered into the windows of other trailers in the park. Countless adventures and dozens of mosquito bites made for a lasting impression, and it would be weeks before I quit pestering my parents about making this move ourselves. The trailer itself was nice, clean, I remember. They had one car, a long blue Oldsmobile, and a couple bikes.

It was the second visit that ended so abruptly. About three years later we made the trip to Florida again. I was almost ten by this time, and though I was hesitant about it, the memories of the first trip still flickered occasionally and I became excited about the prospect of returning to Emily's wilderness. We didn't write, really. Maybe once or twice. I remember speaking to her once on the phone, after my mother was finished talking to her mother. That's it, though.

There was no Disneyworld this time, but we did get to spend a few days at my Uncle Allen's house in Miami. He had money. He had this big beautiful house right on a narrow concrete channel of water and he had a boat in the water and a slide and fishing poles to catch the odd-looking parrot fish and other saltwater inhabitants that were so bright and amazing to my young, landlocked eyes. We ate paella and there were always bowls of candy and nuts set out. It was from here that we left to go visit Emily and her family in their trailer. They still lived there, though her brother Gary had disappeared about a year before. (That's all I was ever told, that he disappeared, and no one knew anything else.) There wasn't the same excitement in the air this time -- my parents seemed uncomfortable with it and I was sorry to be leaving Uncle Allen's palace. When asked why we were going there, my mom would only say "We have to," somberly, and that was the end of it.

Driving the rough dirt road that led to the back of the park, the car bounced along the ruts and rocks with violent jerks, my father's muttering about the mechanical abuse held barely under his breath. When Emily first moved here, it was just beginning to be developed. I had expected paved roads and a lot more people this time around, but there were neither. In fact, there seemed fewer people, more cleared patches of earth being filled in with weeds in the wake of vacated trailers. The road was worse, too. And when we came in sight of the trailer, my stomach lurched a little. It was run-down, dirty, and uneven, the back setting slightly lower than the front despite the bricks and boards piled under it. There were three cars occupying the yard now; one of the two with wheels missing was the big blue Olds. It looked abandoned, and I thought with both fright and relief that they had all disappeared. More debris dotted the dirt surrounding the trailer, which I left off surveying when I spied Emily in the yard. She was bigger, definitely -- bigger than I was she seemed -- but she stood there smiling and waving as we drove up, and I returned the greeting.

It's awkward enough for twelve-year-olds of opposite sex to have a normal and sincere conversation, and add to that the decay of her surroundings, the change in her appearance, the lack of contact between us over the years, and the mysterious absence of Gary and we barely managed to get any words out at all. My older brother managed to weasel out of the trip to the trailer since, as he said, they weren't his friends and he wanted to go deep-sea fishing with Uncle Allen. So did I, but I was told it would hurt Emily's feelings, and so it was with not a little resentment that I stood, staring at a line I was drawing in the dirt with my shoe, offering one-word answers to the questions of my hosts. Once Emily and I made our exit and began to wander the woods surrounding her home, as we did years earlier, things got a little easier. We talked about school and friends we had made and places we'd been and our favorite TV shows, and before either of us knew it we were just as we used to be. Emily seemed happy enough, though she was a little quieter than she used to be. I figured that was just the way with girls.

We had an early dinner, after which Emily and I excused ourselves to go and look at her old National Geographics (I wondered if she kept them for the same reasons I did), partly because our parents were talking about money, again. It seemed to be all they talked about since we got here, and they weren't enjoying it. Especially my dad, who kept leaving the room to go outside and stretch his legs or something.

Back in Emily's room, the furthest door at the opposite end of the trailer, she closed her door, put on her radio and got a box of magazines out from under her bed. We sat on her floor and looked at them. She kept looking at me kind of sideways, flipping pages, then looking away when I'd look at her. Suddenly, horasely, she blurted out "I know what happened to Gary. He told me before he left. He's not dead, you know, but you can't ever tell anyone. He had to leave here, he'd of been killed if he stayed." She looked wild, her eyes wide and searching, looking into me. I didn't say anything. I was uncomfortable. I wanted to know what happened, but she held me frozen in her terror.

Then she asked, eyes narrowing slightly, "Do you want to play doctor? Have you ever?" My mouth simply hung open. I let out an "uhhh" sound, and she laughed at me. I didn't get angry, because that laugh, at least for the moment, returned her to normal. But now, she was leading me to the bed -- the operating table, she said. She'd done this before.

She would be the first patient, she said, as she got up on the table and pulled a blanket over herself. I still stood a few feet away, trying to compose myself, trying to figure out exactly what I was supposed to do. I shuffled over to her, as she squirmed under the blanket, grunting and giggling. "What..."

"You have to examine me. Here's a flashlight," she said, taking one from her nightstand. "Haven't you ever played this before?"

"Yeah, sure. Of course I have."

Laying there waiting, she looked almost scared. Not of me, not of what was about to happen, but about something. Like that maybe it wouldn't happen, or that it wouldn't happen right. I was self-conscious, almost scared, but I lifted the blanket anyway. It was dark under there, and when I turned on the flashlight I was shocked at the plump, naked body, swelling and falling with her hurried breathing about ten inches from my face. I had no idea what to do. I sat there, still, shining the light in small circles across her, wide-eyed in the stifled darkness. She said something, quietly, but I didn't pay attention. I felt the floor sway, the entire trailer move, as it did when her father got up and walked around. He was a big man, and Emily looked a lot like him. Emily stiffened, then sat up so quickly she hit my nose with her knee, snapping my head back with the blow. I got dizzy, and under the blanket I couldn't breathe very well. She was pulling it off my head frantically and saying something about her dad. The light hit my eyes and the glossiness of it startled me. My eyes were watering, but I touched my face and there was no blood. I felt like I was crying, though, the pain was so sharp and my eyes so full of water. "What the hell did you --"

The door flew open and her father stood in it, looking at me hugely, fiercely. I was scared, and I was still crying. He didn't notice. "Your parents want you. Get your stuff."

Emily's faint protests were halted with a single look, and I got up and walked carefully past him to the living room, where I saw my mom and dad standing by the door, also staring hard at me. I thought I was dead. "Let's go, honey," my mom said gently, looking past me at Emily's parents with something of a sad and angry look on her face, and with that sigh in her voice. I knew then she wasn't mad at me, but didn't know what was going on. I only know we left, and Emily was crying, and I barely had time to wave as I was pulled out the door and to our car. The painful secret that I saw in her eyes as I looked over my shoulder that last time was more than I could fathom. We were supposed to be spending the night, but we left immediately. I would never see her again.

On the way to the hotel where we stayed instead, a sterile, roadside mimic of every other hotel room I had ever been in, I deciphered my parents' talk under guise of sleep. I remember clearly the feel of the cool vinyl car seat against my cheek, the way it curled the breath back into my hair, as I lay there listening, and thinking about the game I had just played, at what I had seen. They still didn't know where Gary was, no one did except Emily. I can't hope to understand what happened to make him disappear into the open blankness of the world outside his family, only that Emily had been burdened with his secret and, in her mind, his life, and it was hard for her, though I didn't know how hard. Some time I fell asleep, listening to my mother's voice, angry and sad with Emily's parents, feeling sorry for the girl "stuck in the middle of it all, that poor kid," with that built-in sigh.

 


Glory Train by Kelli Ford

I was crazy
     to call you last night
     knowing that half truth
         that you would not answer
and scared of the other
         that you would
and you did
         a looney 4 am
   "How ya' doin'?"
Sleepy smiles, "What are you doin' awake?"
    "Why didn't you call?"
"I was going to...tomorrow."
          I don't belive you
but don't care in my desperate delirium.
     "Why'd you make me suffer?"
"You suffered?"
      "Well, no, I missed you a little."

I was crazy to call
       sacrificing my seat
        on the Glory Train
to eternity
   for a few rushed moments
with you
      knowing we left our
Glory long gone behind us
   next to the blaring cableless T.V.,
my soundly sleeping body,
    the Amsterdam Ave. Hostel,
and an all night jam session
           at Small's

But the Glory Train just
       ain't bright enough tonight
and I can't even hear it's horn
       over the drunken laughter from the next room
and the sound of my feet tappin' all around.
It seems it just can't get
        here fast enough for me -- that ole' train --
not near as fast as you can anyway
        from just across town.

Yeah, I was crazy for callin'
               but you,
you're twice crazy for comin'
    at 4 am to knock on my door
no booty call here
     just some toes long since tapped out
and some arms worn
     to the bone
 from holdin' their own..
I need you tonight like I needed you
      before.
(sad lazy heart too spoiled to love on its own)

You're crazy for comin'. 
   Because you know all of this...
How far I came before lettin' it all go tonight.
     every phone call didn't
        put hope in my heart (the sad lazy thing) that it was you
and I didn't even think about
     where you were playin' last night before I rang.
I went on vacation without you
      and didn't even get you a gift....
Well, not much of one anyway.

You know you're crazy for comin'.
    Just as I know I'm crazy for callin'.
Startin' nothin' all over again
    for you to duck away from
and me to turn first
    to red wine and pretty boy faces
and then back to my knees (all prayed out)
and tonight
    back to you.
Startin' nothin' all over again.

C'mon Glory Train!

 


Morning Sex by Manuel Gonzales

Then it starts raining.

A hard rain, and fat drops hit her forehead, make her hair wet, and turn her blue shirt black. Maybe she's crying. I sit on the bed and watch her through the window. Her face blurs until I can't see her through the rain. I open the window, but the screen is wet, and still, I can't see. Doesn't take more than a slap to knock the screen out of the frame. I stick my head through the window and I feel the cold water run over my neck, down my shirt. Come inside? I ask. Please? You're soaking. She doesn't turn. She stands outside and she stares. I can see her face outlined against the gray sky. Sharp and pretty. Delicate. From where she stands, you can't see the red on her cheek. Water falls from my hair and rolls down my nose in small, tickling drops. I wipe my face with my night shirt, and my sleeve comes away dotted with red flecks. My head hurts and my jaw is sore. I look at the clock. Maybe we should go back to bed, I say. It's still early, I say. Nothing.

Should I make us some coffee? I ask.

She turns towards me and now I can see the red. Will you come inside? You'll get sick.

She looks away. Her hair is soaked through by now and I can see clearly the outline of her breasts beneath her wet gown. I pull myself back inside and sit on the bed. I look in the mirror and then I look around the room for a pair of pants. I find a sock and slip it on and go into the bathroom to brush my teeth, but instead turn back to the window. She is still there. She holds herself tightly. I should hold her tightly. Shoes. Under the bed?

I pick up a picture that fell from the nightstand during the night. The glass doesn't look broken, and so I place it on my pillow. The window is still open and the air is cool. Mist blows in from outside and the carpet by the window is wet. I take a towel from the bathroom and drop it over the wet spot, and standing on the towel, I look out the window. She is sitting now. Sitting, she is a little girl. Her head is propped on her knees, and her arms are wrapped around her body. At least when she was standing, she looked strong. Maybe even proud. She's rocking. Maybe she's humming. The rain is loud on our roof. Maybe I should put on some coffee.

I look at the time again. Still early. Her alarm will go off in fifteen minutes. Then she'll get out of bed and go into the bathroom. She'll brush her teeth and wash her face. And by the time I wake up, there will be coffee next to the bed, waiting for me. I'll take a shower while she combs through her wet hair. I'll kiss her cheek and smudge her make-up and she'll hit me with her towel. Then she'll go to work, and then I'll go to work. Maybe I should put on some coffee. Then, maybe we'll take the day off. We'll drink our coffee in bed and then we'll make love. Maybe we'll see a movie. Maybe we'll go for a walk. Tonight, a nice dinner. I'll make salmon. She loves salmon. And shrimp, with a garlic sauce and white wine. Lots of candles. I pick up the phone and listen into the receiver. There's no one there.Then, I'm in the bathroom again, in my hand my tube of toothpaste. I hear something outside, and maybe it's her, so I go back to the window. But it's not her. It's thunder and the sky is darker and the water falls in sheets. For a second, I can't see her. Then she moves. She stands and looks at the clouds and at the rain and holds her arms up and open. Maybe she's screaming. I stick my face out the window and shake my head so that my hair catches the gutter water. The clouds grow darker and the sky, lighter. The sun is rising. I should turn off the porch light. I look for my other shoe. And then I make the bed. The picture is on the floor and I hit my toe walking to the other side of the room. Her alarm goes off. Beethoven. She likes Beethoven. I look at the floor and I see her skirt and I see her shoes. Her blouse is folded over a chair in the corner. A belt hangs over the doorknob. Her perfume is on the counter next to the sink. Next to her toothpaste. And her pills are in the medicine cabinet. Her book is on the floor next to the bed. Where is she? I check the window. The rain has stopped and the air smells clean. She is gone, and from the kitchen I can smell coffee brewing.

 


Palmetto Bug Serenade by Paul Klemperer

In preparation for an important upcoming show, Franz practiced his trumpet for many hours each day. Toward the end of the week, he heard melodies in his head continuously and when he closed his eyes the notes from the sheet music danced across the screen of his eyelids. Also, his dreams became quite musical. Some of them involved anxiety of course, this being a natural prelude to such a well-publicized concert.

In one nightmarish vignette, he was being harangued by the bandleader (an overbearing enough ogre in daily life, let alone in our poor protagonist's dreamworld). Franz realized he was playing badly, then saw that it was the result of enormous mittens on his hands. He pulled them off but instantly they reappeared. Flustered, he tried to keep performing but his trumpet was drowned out by the hoots and jeers of the audience, which was comprised mostly of desirable young women.

Many of the dreams, however, were simply fantastical. For example, the senses became interchangeable, so that the sounds of various instruments registered as smells. Stringed instruments such as the violins had the aroma of freshly cooked vermicelli with pork, whereas from the lower voiced brass (trombones, tubas and French horns) wafted the pungent fragrance of a fondue heavy with Gruyere, white wine and kirschwasser. In his dreamstate Franz had the ability to create various scents with his trumpet: the heady sharpness of a cognac, the soothing thickness of a capuccino, whatever he chose.

The night before the big show his dreams were the most vivid by far. At first the sounds from the instruments flowed out and upward in the form of bright colors, almost as if he were watching a Disney cartoon. But then as the mysterious experience progressed, the music regained its sonic texture, reaching into Franz's brain and soul, so that he heard the phrases as cogent expressions of thought. More direct than mere words, more comprehensible, more compelling. It was both wonderful and frightening, for he could see directly into the souls of his fellow musicians, share their deepest feelings, both humane and demonic.

From such a dream one might expect our hero to awaken with a start, but this was not the case. His eyes opened slowly, drinking in the early morning light of a sunny spring day. His flesh was intensely aware of the nurturing warmth of the sheets and blanket surrounding him (merely his own reflected body energy, and yet it seemed like the tenderest gift of Mother Nature!), and his heart was filled with happiness. It seemed the most natural thing to sing a song of thanks for such an auspicious day and Franz proceeded to do so. But, curiously, no words came to him, only a pure melody, which flowed from his mouth fully formed, the intent of his soul giving shape and cohesion to a series of luscious musical phrases which, though he found them resoundingly pleasing, were like none he had played or even heard before.

Shrugging this off as the lingering effects of sleep, Franz proceeded to shower and dress himself. It was only after he left his small apartment, strolled the few blocks to the inexpensive cafe where he habitually had his morning coffee and bagel, and seated himself at the counter that the full import of his condition began to make itself known. With a jolt Franz realized that the normal burbling of his fellow patrons' morning conversation was nothing of the sort. Rather it was the oddest assortment of musical sounds, as if gorillas had learned to sing like birds. It had seemed so natural that at first he hadn't even noticed! He stared around himself, transfixed.

Our hero was brought back to reality by the impatient figure of the waitress behind the counter. She was tapping a pen on her check pad, obviously awaiting his order. She spoke again, or rather sang to him again, a short inquisitive motif, ending with an arpeggiated major triad in first inversion. Franz's first reaction was terror. Surely I am going mad, he thought. His heart raced briefly and sweat broke out on the palms of his hands. But then reason asserted its mastery. She was only a waitress after all, not an executioner. Franz in fact recognized her as someone who had taken his breakfast orders several times before.

Bearing this in mind, he opened his mouth and sang. She registered no astonishment, but merely nodded and proceeded to bring him a cup of coffee. Franz realized that he had in fact been thinking of coffee. Perhaps he was not going crazy after all. The fact that she had understood him in some basic fashion gave him comfort. He was not as totally isolated in his newly found condition as his first anxious discovery had led him to believe.

The coffee was good and he sipped it, thinking, Well, what now? Of course he was merely keeping the fear of chaos at bay by the repetition of familiar habits. He took up a discarded newspaper, thinking that at least he could still read words if not hear them, but the mass of print was gibberish. Evidently in this new reality (for him at least) words did not, as one might reasonably expect, translate into musical notation.

Next Franz concentrated on the singsong of the people around him. It was different than overhearing conversation, more difficult, but not completely without logic. It was, he decided, a matter of hearing feelings and intent rather than linear, discursive information. The large man singing to his smaller tablemate, for example, was shaping a song both sympathetic and patronizing, with a tinge of wistfulness. He sang to the smaller man as his father had sung to him, or so it seemed to Franz from his position as a third party audience. Curious. This would obviously take some getting used to. It was a bit uncomfortable to be witness to such direct expressions of deep-seated and complicated emotions, and to be unable to distance oneself from them. Words had provided something of a buffer, he now realized. One could choose a proximity of intimacy through one's words. But that ability was lost to him now.

Having no sense of how to express monetary sums through melody, Franz threw some bills on the counter, more than enough to pay for his coffee, and retreated to his apartment. There, another rude surprise awaited him. His trumpet, it seemed, had become a stranger to him. The sounds which resulted from his exertions hardly resembled the music he was used to making on this instrument. The horn had become like an old lover that one meets accidently on the street. It felt cold and awkward in his hands. He could not hope merely to grasp and play the thing, but had to coax each tentative sound from the mysteries of its tubes and bell. It was not impossible, but it was frighteningly new.

He screamed a brief song of bitter frustration. How has this happened to me? And with the concert this very evening! He wanted to cry out to some omnipotent fatherly being. But there was only the sound of his own plaintive song, like a domesticated animal lost in the wilderness. He stopped and sat in the sudden heavy silence. The trumpet hung from his hands, dangling between his knees, like a detached and useless piece of a much larger machine.

Then he heard a soft, strange music, unlike anything he could have imagined or even recognized. It was reedy like an oboe, but fluid like the most graciously played flute. It seemed to pause on distinct notes of some highly esoteric scale, and then move on, reaching unforeseen heights and startling depths. Captivated, Franz forgot his earthly woes. Gradually the music, which had seemed to come from all around him, became more localized. Perhaps it was his growing sensitivity to this new sensory realm which now allowed him to feel the music as a physical presence in space.

The melody danced near his head, behind him, now over his left shoulder. Franz turned and saw the brief dark movement of an ordinary housefly. So this was the diva serenading him! What a fool he had been, wallowing in the regrets of a life lived yesterday. He lifted the horn to his lips and let the sound come, ugly and moist as a newborn child.

 


passages/of a bitta fruit by sharon bridgforth

i found the sandals of jesus
in the sand/they lay
twisted and large        the sandals of
jesus enrique torres de silva.

this was a miraculous find
something that had touched the feet of jesus/my lord he was fine!
all the girls said so/except cleo mae thompson
who called him droopy
but that was cause cleo had girls looking to find her sandals too. besides cleo and jesus was best friends
i guess she just didn't see him the same way everybody else did

cleo and jesus both had giant jet black-afros framing their thick-black faces/like
the sun darkly magnificent/sheened
picked and patted their curls always returned perfectly back in place/in the wind
the rain/in the glimpse of love.

cleo and jesus smelt like coconuts and sunshine summers they worked on cars from 6 till noon in cleo's garage then they'd head for the beach with sleeveless v-necks puka shells and cut offs/they'd sit
by the drummers and watch the ocean wind/and sun-set.

i never talked to anyone that actually kissed either of them, but i heard they were the best.
that's why no one understood it when jesus disappeared he was in
his prime!
nobody could believe that he just walked off        but i knew,
that look they called sexy
was really saddness. the way his lashes fell/half hiding his midnight eyes
i knew/jesus saw things other folk just didn't
except cleo-who was jesus, confidant.
i knew
jesus was somewhere trying to walk away from saddness. i know
that jesus found a better place to be.

cleo is still here.
she shaved her fro/black bare bald keeps her head greased with coconut oil.
cleo tattooed jesus enrique torres de silva round her neck, in place of the puka shells        which sit in a corner of her garage
round saint candles.
cleo don't go to the beach no more
but she does teach the young ones the fine art of righteous car care/and grooming.
naturally i gave cleo the sandals of jesus, which she placed with the saints.

whenever i want to remember jesus
i go to the beach to the place of the drummers and sit with the ocean and the sky and watch the big black sun/rest in the wind.

copyright ©1998 by Sharon Bridgforth

 


Something When I Died by Sandra Beckmeier

swimming to the surface
I see a moon,
a wise old woman
she is
looking upon me
in pantomime with the stars
laughing to the king of insincerity

I ask my inner mind about these
lessons of false pride
trying to be a someone
who isn't exploited
or seen
asking for a little something to write and to read

a blink of an eye,
storytime!
a little boy pounces into a covered wagon and we ride across the plains
with a bobcat running at our side
the Great Depression, all to see the years ahead and the moment of freedom
all that is whispered,
"I wanted you to have something when I died"

 


Thank the Lord for the Moonshine by Kelli Ford

"Thank the Lord for the Moonshine!"
my Granny exclaims happily
standing on her porch one evening.

I wish I had learned the Cherokee
word for great-grandmother
teacher, mother, gentle happy spirit...
                          Granny.

English never quite worked for her
as it should.  She quit school
in the third grade to work for her foster mother,

the witchdoctor, so her little sister
Waleesah could go
learn the white words and symbols.

I can see her now standing in the kitchen
           round happy belly,
a ruffley apron she made tied around it.

She dries her hands
wet from doing the dishes.
The soap is in a big round, yellow bottle with green writing.

I can see her    smiling    laughing    her fingers --
all 7 of them curled up and brown
smooth lined furrows for nails.

(Arthritis lived with her longer than I did)
      
I can't smell her anymore....Or remember if she had all her teeth.
But I can sure see her -- Hair salt and pepper
long ago.        Later all yellowed white.

A pious and humble bun sits on her head for church, cooking, and fishing
but at night, it lays long and beautiful down her back
as she brushes it in her gown
preparing to braid it into one thick silky yellow-white tail.

Just like JoJo, her daughter with black pepper hair
that loses more and more ground to salt every day,
in her pink gown, in the next room.

I didn't sleep with JoJo though...only Granny.

Granny wears a little birdie behind her ear that sings sweet songs to her.
Sometimes she can't even hear it as it whistles merrily away.
"Granny, turn your hearing aid down,"
someone says to her embarrassed chuckle.

Even with her birdie quietly sleeping on the dresser,
Granny wakes up before anyone
when JoJo has a seizure.

"Sister Jo's havin' a spell,"
she says quietly and runs from the bed
before I can even open my sleepy eyes.

I lay there scared hearing Granny talk to JoJo
calm, stern, and low    trying to hold her down.
They are big strong Indian women
so pictures fall off the walls

and knick-knacks from the shelves.
and JoJo's head hits things
like the piano bench and bed posts.

Granny grabs the wooden spoon she cut in half
and keeps beside JoJo's bed
and tries to get it between her teeth before she bites her tongue in two.

Granny's little brown curly hands get caught in the struggle
of the gnashing teeth and the half a spoon
but she keeps on caring for her baby.

Even when JoJo has to care for her
as she lays in her own bed alone....
They won't let me sleep with her anymore.

They say she is too sick.
The last time I sleep there, she keeps a red stained Kleenex
folded over and taped to her breast

as the hurt has surfaced in the form of a bleeding tumor.
She knows the Lord will heal her if it isn't her time,
and a doctor's knife and poison will not help an old Indian woman like her.

But I can tell that she is scared
and she hurts so bad
there in her own little house and bed.

I live hours away and am only a little girl.
I am not there
when she leaves.

My cousin Terry was --
     now she has Granny's same hurt
     trying to consume her from the inside out --

She wasn't in the room with Granny
when the hurt stopped.
But early that morning

before the sun thought about gracing the day
and Granny's moon was shinin" still,
Terry saw an angel leave the bedroom

and knew Granny had gone with her.
But I know she's still around.
            Right now.

I sit beneath a few cold November stars,
and most folks probably don't see a moon tonight in the orange city glow,
but I do.  I see Granny and her moon.

Thank the Lord for the moonshine!

The Vampire Armand


by Marlo Bennett

Is it for love or money? Love or greed? Love or Lestat?

In trying to consider The Vampire Armand a worthy successor to Anne Rice's earlier Vampire Chronicles, those all seem the same question.

While Chronicles 4 and 5 (The Tale of the Body Thief and Memnoch the Devil) are often considered to be books that don't belong in the series -- neither advanced the theories or legends of the earlier works, but were simply supernatural adventure stories filled with familiar characters -- The Vampire Armand postures itself as a deeper look at the characters and trials of the earlier works in the series. Titled similarly to Chronicle 2 (The Vampire Lestat) and told to a writer mostly in retrospect (as was the series' beginning, Interview with the Vampire), Armand offers background on Louis' and Lestat's long-time immortal acquaintance/enemy/friend, the vampire http://www.diversearts.org/ADAM/archive/v4n10/armand.jpgArmand. It details his mortal and immortal childhoods and his vampiric transformation, as well as giving us his perspective on events we've already heard in other books.

It's an attractive premise for a book, as Armand has seemed an interesting character since his introduction as leader of a vampire theater troupe in the first book. ("Vampires pretending to be humans pretending to be vampires. How avant garde," said one character upon her first visit to the theater.) But it reads like an amateur attempt at post-modern writing, and like an attempt to avoid thinking by rehashing old texts.

While Louis in Interview managed to intersperse his commentary and life story seamlessly, Armand, who's telling his story to Body Thief main character David Talbot, jumps in with the grace of ... well, of a fledgling vampire making his first kill. It's two steps away from being a story in which the narrator announces "Wait, I don't like where this is going. Just forget the last page."

Armand's childhood reads like Rice's 1982 Cry to Heaven -- but with vampires instead of castrati -- painstaking details of everyday life, of clumsy sex and of coming-of-age type adventures. And most of Armand's tales after becoming a vampire have been detailed for us in earlier works and don't benefit from our getting Armand's perspective -- he even tells us at one point we'll have to forgive him if he slips into using Lestat's already-published words at times, it's just that Lestat did such a good job of telling the story!

The real point of Armand seems to be taking our minds off the series' most popular vampire, Lestat; after all, not every work can be about him! The book's main action is inaction -- it begins with Lestat essentially lying in state as many of the world's immortals gather, hoping he'll come out of his convalescence and tell them about his meeting with Christ at the end of Memnoch. (That's why Armand is even bothering to tell David his story -- they're both there, waiting.)

As such, Armand's story makes him out to be the anti-Lestat. He talks about his centuries-long love affair with Louis, who is another complete opposite of Lestat despite having been made by him; Armand benefited from a loving maker, while everyone knows Lestat's maker was crazy and went into the flames seconds after making him; Armand wasted centuries fooled by another's creed/theology -- Lestat has never even bothered to listen to anyone else; and Lestat would never, no matter how true it was, tell us that he's using someone else's words to tell a story and therefore we might get bored with it. And Rice then turns Marius, one of the world's oldest vampires and Armand's maker, into a sort of substitute-Lestat -- he has blonde hair where it's always been described as white before, and we actually find him rashly making new vampires, which most immortals (but not Lestat) consider abhorrent.

Marius does have some beautiful lines at the end, all about loving and seeing truth in the world, but it's hard to accept that you've fought through over 300 pages to get to the one chapter of new thought.

Twenty-two years after the first Vampire Chronicle, it's hard to tell if Rice still loves her creations or if she just loves how many books they sell. The Vampire Armand gives us a lot, but we heard most of it long ago.

Maybe she's trying to snare a new collection of fans without requiring them to have prior knowledge of the series; or maybe this is the beginning of an attempt to return to the Chronicles' roots and she wanted to remind us of what we may have forgotten. Maybe she did it so that Marius could decide that the dark centuries of bloody religion hadn't ended, despite his earlier pronouncement, or so that Armand could think he'd truly found love in the most unexpected place.

But I think she did it for Lestat. He'll be back.

 


Verities by Harold McMillan

Verities. Truths.

I know this guy, Mr. Smart E. Pants, who is full of more truth than any other person in my life. Truths about life. About desire. Anger. Joy. Confusion. Everything from the mundane to the profound. He seems to have a handle on it all. He doesn't really say much (at least not much that I can understand), but you just know that he only understands truth. He lives it.

Don't get me wrong, I guess someone could lie to him. He can be fooled, gullible little guy that he is. But he's a quick study. He understands the value of manipulation and farce, but he only uses them in his quest to gain insight into the meaning of life, the nature of truth, the limits of my intellect, or to simply get me to do what he knows to be the right thing.

I can't really fault him for that. To his credit, he manages not to come off as an arrogant know-it-all. I'm convinced that he has absolutely no concept, no idea of what it means to be wrong. He never admits fault. He never apologizes. He can't even bring himself to mouth the words, "I'm sorry, I was wrong." It's true, he is never wrong!

Now believe me, most of the time this guy is a joy to be around. His honesty is totally refreshing, innocent, naive. But you know that feeling you sometimes get when you're hanging out with someone who is just too perfect? They know everything. They make you feel dumb and inadequate. Sometimes it's just a drag to hangout with someone who's never wrong about anything. Well, maybe not a drag, just high pressure. Like walking on eggshells, you know that at any minute you could misstep, make the wrong move and really screw something up bad. And you know that if that happens, it's your fault -- after all, little Mr. Perfect doesn't make mistakes.

And when you do mess up, he's gonna be the first one to let you know about it. So, you got Mr. Know-it-all, laughingly, smugly right, correct, righteous, never makes a mistake, and you do something dumb. He lets you know just how stupid you are for making the wrong decision. You're tired. You're frustrated. You're out of patience and this wise guy is screaming at you -- again. And the worse thing in the world is, once again, you know that Mr. I-don't-make-mistakes is indeed in fact right, again.

Like I said earlier, he only knows truth. He is right, I am wrong. He's screaming at me about it. And, once again, I'm praying I've not done anything to hurt him or to permanently injure our relationship. He has the real power here. I know he's the smart one, I'm the dummy. I'm at least smart enough to know that. He's trying to teach me so much and I'm insecure about my ability to measure up to his high standards. I'm afraid he'll find out I'm just faking my way through.

He never actually comes out and says anything directly to me about it. But, man, that little Mr. Brainiac has no hesitation about getting right in my face, looking me in the eyes, opening his little-big mouth and screaming full-throttle at me. He's toned it down some, but he actually went through a period where he would scream at me non-stop for up to an hour. Made me feel really bad. Dumb.

The really cool thing (and I guess I should actually say something nice about this guy) is that he is so forgiving of my mistakes. He's just very matter-of-fact about almost everything. I mess up. He screams at me about it. I learn. I apologize for being wrong. No judgment, truth is Truth. I can live with that. We share a good laugh and a drink. And we're back to being best friends.

Being best friends is the best part. Really, I learn so much from this guy. I know the theme here is supposed to be about "truth," but I think truth is really the underlying thing that I'm talking about. Honesty, truth, is really what being a "good guy" is all about.

I don't think any of us can actually remember it, but there was a time in all of our lives when we only knew truth. That's it. That's all we knew. Hadn't lived long enough to learn from the experiences of dishonesty, lies and deception. Back then our entire existence was all about expressing truth, absorbing everything we could and simply looking to find the deeper truth embodied in whatever was presented to us. It wasn't about being stuffy, serious, arrogant or heavy. The whole thing was all about how simple this life could be -- if the baseline assumptions were based on an honest quest for and acceptance of truth.

My friend, Mr. Wise Guy, has managed to keep his place there in naive innocence. Puts pressure on me to not violate that trust. I know that he will be nothing short of honest with me. If I can manage to come up to his standard, then we connect in such a way that we indeed share his understanding of verity, truth, trust in what is.

I guess the thing that worries me about this relationship is my inability to come up, really, to his level in all of this. You see, he will -- at least for a while longer -- always be right. I'm older, have graduate degrees, have wisdom beyond his years, but he beats me every time. Even without saying it, he just knows, he's just always right.

But I have faith. I'm a quick study, too. The very next time that I'm sure it's his -- Mr. Smart E.Pants' -- wet diaper and it turns out he's really just hungry for some strained carrots or needs a nap, I'll act like I knew it already, was just testing him.

After all, I gotta use whatever (imagined) advantage I've got, while I've still got it. I might have a slight edge now, but sooner or later, Mr. Wise Guy is not likely to be as forgiving, naive,or innocent as he is now.

[Harold McMillan is the publisher of Austin Downtown Arts magazine and proud father of Mr. Always Right, seven-month-old Hayes Michael McMillan.]

 


When I Think of Free Speech by Tammy Gomez

When I think of FREE SPEECH.

FREE used to be the word. It was the perfect term to apply to the following abstraction: the concept of man/woman existing and playing/working/creating in a liberated space or liberated state as a liberated, self-determining -- or FREE -- being.

FREE, anymore, is a quasi-taunt or a barker's seductive cry. It is jeered over AM/FM radiowaves; printed in black ink on newsprinted metropolitan dailies; flashed in neon and professionally-lettered signage in shop windows, over doorways, and above us all on the skyscraping edifices of commerce and on roadside billboards: FREE kittens, FREE lunch, sugar-FREE, FREEway, sodium-FREE, FREE t-shirts, FREE cigarettes, smoke-FREE, FREE admission, guilt-FREE, FREE for all. The term FREE, hence, has come to represent the condition of HAVING or NOT HAVING something, creating a popular use for the word FREE that has nothing to do with the spiritual, creative, and political dimensions of personhood and has everything to do with adding -- for use by a capitalist culture of consumerism -- one more word to a late 20th century U.S. vocabulary focused so happily on ACQUIRING AS MUCH AS WE WANT FOR NOTHING.

Hey! I just realized that, to my knowledge, no one (e.g., Nike, Mattel, or GE) has appropriated the classic Roger Daltrey scream (from The Who's Tommy soundtrack) "I'M FREE!" for a television commerical. But it's inevitable. Some ad agency audio engineer is probably tinkering digitally with Daltrey's full-throated melodic declaration at this second; "I'm FREE!" could send lots of shoppers crazy for wrinkle-FREE slacks or some such product. Maybe it will accompany the visual display of 200 bunnies shooting across a grassy meadow, newly-Energized by four brand new double AAs. That's the way of FREE enterprise.

But before we get locked into a cynical mindswell, why not consider that "I'm FREE" could possibly remain completely FREE of advertising connotation and manipulation for the body-hunger satiation of a pleasure-driven mindless nation population?

Whoa.

Who is FREE, besides, of course, the Who's Roger Daltrey? And how can we determine WHO if we can't remember HOW we used to be FREE or how we previously used the term in its original meaning?

I think it induces less anxiety to wait in a crowded parking lot for a FREE cowboy boot than it does to reflect on the U.S. national anthem phrase "land of the FREE." Which is perhaps why my parents dragged our red-white-and-blue festooned asses over to a western boot store in Arlington, Texas, directly after our curbside viewing of a 4th of July Parade many many years ago. The western boot store was represented in the Parade by a horse-drawn pioneer days-style stagecoach bearing a very provocative banner. On the banner blazed the words "FREE Boots Today!" Of course, several hundred parade-watchers, clamoring for FREEdom in any form, noted the retail store address and made our way expectantly to the steaming paved parking lot where we waited patiently, without question, for the boots to arrive and to become our very own. As it turned out, the brilliant (yeah, right) method of distribution involved flinging the boots -- one at a time -- over the heads of the crowd and down, down, down to inevitably topple upon someone's arm or a popsicle-streaked child's face (as actually happened). If you were lucky enough to catch one FREE boot, you then had to negotiate the crowd to find the individual who'd been hit by the matching boot, and from then on it was anybody's guess as to who ended up with the complete pair of FREE boots. After about two sweaty hours of trying to both catch the FREE flying boots and avoid being knocked unconscious by them, we truly learned that FREEdom had a price.

And I thereafter realized that we clamor for FREE things, no matter what humiliations we have to endure to achieve or acquire them. Which brings me to the point that is most pressing and depressing me these days: the preponderance of incidents wherein an individual is oppressed and his/her words are suppressed. It is this discriminatory use of the muzzle on FREE speech -- censorship -- that has me feeling around my mouth ever so often. Has the muzzle been clamped upon your voice yet?

Please allow me to introduce (or re-introduce) you to Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Indiana 10, and Martin Espada, who all have faced resistance when exercising their First Amendment rights.

Mumia Abu-Jamal (journalist) -- The publication of his highly-acclaimed book of essays, Live from Death Row, served to kick open the cellroom door, offering a much-needed glimpse into the day-to-day quality of existence for death row prisoners in the U.S. However, after the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) initiated a campaign of hate-motivated censorship tactics (even threatening the book publisher), their public pressure resulted in NPR's decision to drop Mumia's recorded voice from their broadcasts just one month after they had hired him as a regular commentator for All Things Considered. Mumia continues to sit on Pennsylvania's Death Row, waiting for people to hear and believe his claim of innocence.

The Indiana 10 (Indiana State prisoners) -- For performing an act of non-violent resistance behind bars, the Indiana Department of Corrections has charged 10 men with "conspiracy to riot" and "threatening" prison personnel. On May 28, 1996, these men merely agreed to maintain a period of complete silence during mealtime to "voice" their dissent and to show brave solidarity with Tommie Smith (aka Ziyon Yisrayah), whose execution by the state was imminent and inevitable. (After several execution stays, Smith was finally "killed" on August 1996.) The Indiana 10 wielded neither hand-crafted shanks nor calloused fists of rage; they merely sat silently without eating. Now they have been removed from the general population and face 3-5 year extensions to their original sentences for having an opinion about the death penalty and its unjust use in the case of Tommie Ziyon Smith.

Martin Espada (poet) -- National Public Radio may have permanently severed ties with Espada, a regular contributor to their nationwide broadcasts, because of one poem. NPR reneged on its agreement to air a commissioned piece by Espada when it was discovered that it paid positive tribute to Mumia Abu-Jamal. This was a big no-no as the public radio network struggled to keep corporate and government funding levels intact by eschewing content and perspectives that might offend conservative tastes.

Mumia (prisoner-journalist), Martin (poet-commentator), and the Indiana 10 (prisoner-activists) still struggle to be heard; their voices cry "FREEdom!" But they are not alone.

There are other situations like this; I learn about them every day through alternative channels of communication/information that reduce the local daily to a quite laughable excuse for employing the hundred or so Austinites it takes to keep hundreds more cloaked in a swath of silence thicker than cellblock walls (or your earwax) on a cold night. Who would dare to command our silence? Can we FREEly speak about censorship of truth in America? And who among us is willing to stand and demand protection of our right to speak that truth?

Thank you. You are now FREE to go.

"A rare and courageous voice speaking from a place we fear to know: Mumia Abu-Jamal must be heard."
-- Alice Walker

In remembrance of Ziyon Yisrayah, let his last words forever be written upon our hearts: "All that is necessary for evil to prevail, is for man to do nothing."

[Tammy M. Gomez is a poet/activist and producer/host of Mandatory Prison Talk on Tuesdays 4:00-4:30pm, KO.OP (91.7 FM) Radio, Austin, Texas.]

 


Winter Poem by Karen Hubbard

it is nearly raining
unusually warm this misty December
overtures of the gray rain
moisten the lips of brown undressed branches

and yet
at our best
we are
as air and angels

Dr. Karen Hubbard is an Assistant Professor of Biology at City College of New York. In 2000, she won recognition from the American Women in Science organization for "Outstanding Woman Scientist." When she is not studying senescence using SV-40 transformed human epithelial cells as a model system, she raises a teenage daughter and composes poetry.

 

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